A Black basketball operations staffer told ESPN he has …

A Black basketball operations staffer told ESPN he has heard Sarver say the N-word multiple times. Sarver once used the N-word when trying to explain to a staffer why he preferred hiring Lindsey Hunter over Dan Majerle as head coach in 2013, according to a high-level executive who heard the remark. Hunter was a first-year Suns player development coordinator while Majerle was in his fifth year as a Suns associate head coach. “These [N-words] need a [N-word],” Sarver told the staffer of his largely Black team, according to the executive.

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Interviews with more than 70 former and current Suns employees throughout Sarver's 17-year tenure describe a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace under Sarver. Some told ESPN that he has used racially insensitive language repeatedly in the office. Employees recounted conduct they felt was inappropriate and misogynistic, including Sarver once passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees and speaking about times his wife performed oral sex on him. Some said the longtime owner fostered an environment in which employees felt they were his property, even once asking one woman whether he "owned" her to determine whether she worked for the Suns. "The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale," one Suns co-owner said about Sarver. "It's embarrassing as an owner."
NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said the league has not "received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence." NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said she was not aware of any reports from players of misconduct by Sarver or the Suns. "Apart from [point guard Chris Paul] and James Jones, we have not had much official contact with the team and none that I can think of with Sarver."
Current and former Suns employees told ESPN that Sarver is known to say he is "brutal to work for," a line he has repeated over the years, even in job interviews. Sarver has told executives they were "paid a lot of money to put up with my s---." "If the commissioner comes in and investigates to see what the f--- is going on in Phoenix," one current business operations employee told ESPN, "[he] would be appalled."
The Warriors took control in the fourth quarter and cemented a 106-100 win, dropping the Suns to 0-3. After the loss, Suns majority owner Robert Sarver entered the coaches locker room, Watson told ESPN. "You know, why does Draymond Green get to run up the court and say [N-word]," Sarver, who is white, allegedly said, repeating the N-word several times in a row. "You can't say that," Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, told Sarver. "Why?" Sarver replied. "Draymond Green says [N-word]." "You can't f---ing say that," Watson said again.
Sarver denied Watson's characterization of the incident: "This is absolutely untrue. I remember the game and topic clearly. I of course never used the word myself. During this conversation, I said 'N-word' without saying the full word. The word itself never crossed my lips. "Let me be crystal clear: I never once suggested on that night (or ever) that I should be able to say the N-word because a player or a Black person uses it." The player, through his agent, told ESPN that he thinks using the N-word might have contributed to the technical foul but does not recall speaking to Sarver that night. Watson told ESPN there was no player in the room when Sarver made the comment.
Said a former Suns basketball executive: "There's literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me." Through his legal team, Sarver denied using racially insensitive language. "I've never called anyone or any group of people the N-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by the N-word, either verbally or in writing. I don't use that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in."
Watson said he explained to Sarver the optics of a white owner asking a Black coach to fire an agency led by a Black agent, Paul. "Yeah, I understand what race you two are," Sarver replied, according to Watson. "So I'm asking you, How bad do you want your job?" Watson said he told Sarver that he wasn't going to fire Klutch. "You can do whatever you want," Watson said he told Sarver. "You own this team, but my culture is not for sale. And I'm not for sale."
In Watson's first year leading the bench in Phoenix, Sarver asked about the state of the organization and where Watson thought it could improve. Watson told Sarver that it suffered from a lack of diversity. "I don't like diversity," Sarver replied, according to Watson and a basketball operations staffer with knowledge of the interaction.
More than a dozen employees recalled Sarver making lewd comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him. Four former employees said that in several all-staff meetings Sarver claimed he needed to wear Magnum or extra-large condoms. Former employees said he asked players about their sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others. "Women have very little value," one female former staffer said she felt. "Women are possessions. And I think we're nowhere close to where he thinks men are."
Current and former employees said women often did not feel valued and were ignored when they said so, a sentiment that led to frequent departures. "Especially with the younger girls, I felt like I was abandoning them," said one female former employee. "I felt bad for leaving. It was hard. And so I was happy when [I learned] all of them are out of there." "It breaks you," said another female former employee. "I'm hard to break, and it broke me." "It wrecked my life," said a third female former employee. "I was contemplating suicide."
Sarver's habit of second-guessing coaches included working with then-rookie Ayton on shooting 3-pointers, an element of Ayton's game the coaches didn't believe should be his focus, then-members of the coaching staff said. In another instance that season, Sarver went into the training room to talk X's and O's with rookie guard Elie Okobo. Veteran guard Jamal Crawford left the room. "He actually got up off the table and walked out of the room and said, 'I can't f---ing listen to this s---. I gotta get out of here,'" a second former staffer said. The former longtime staffer in the room confirmed the scene to ESPN. Crawford declined to comment.
Duane Rankin: Monty Williams said he likes Mikal Bridges speaking out after GSW loss. Bridges said #Suns were mentally weak. "I like it when guys self reflect and not afraid to talk about the things that matter" Williams said that's part of Bridges showing leadership, wanting to be a starter
The headlines that the story sparked were the kind of thing that might drive any self-respecting coach away. The most damning among them? Sarver, as sources confirmed to The Athletic, once filled former GM Ryan McDonough’s office with live goats as a way of telling him that the Suns needed to find a GOAT — a Greatest Of All Time-type talent — of their own. In the end, with Sarver’s message meant to comedically dovetail with an event that celebrated Phoenix Mercury star/WNBA legend Diana Taurasi on that same day, the goats defecated in McDonough’s office and the tale became instant NBA lore (to be fair, sources also say the amount of fecal matter was exaggerated, and that it was akin to a cat doing its business inside a litter box. But we digress …)

Booker finished with a game-high 26 points, but took issues with the officiating and his team's play all night. It reached a boiling point when rookie point guard De'Anthony Melton once again turned the ball over after stepping out of bounds. "Take his ass out," Booker shouted across the court to Suns coach Igor Kokoskov. "Put Elie in the game"
After the game, Booker and Melton were having a fun conversation in the locker room as cooler heads had prevailed. Still, Booker didn't hesitate when it came to talking about Melton's turnovers when asked about his frustrations with the rookie point guard. "I told him the court don't move," said a grinning Booker. "P.J. Tucker used to do that all the time (to him). I used to hate it, but it's just part of the game. It's a learning experience. Just knowing the floor and how to run the floor on the wing. He's usually a point guard and probably never been in the corner that much. It's a tough learn, but he'll pick up on it."
Before Friday's game against New Orleans, Jackson went into greater detail about why he missed the autograph session. "I got a phone call like right before the event was supposed to start," Jackson said. "I had to rush over to my mom's place. Really wish I could've been there, but I couldn't. I don't think you're going to schedule something and not just show up. If I could've been there, I really would have."
After tending to his mom, Jackson said he considered trying to make his way over to the event. "The time was too far in by the time I got done doing what I was," Jackson said. "I was going to rush over to the event, but I got a phone call from the guys there and they said don't worry about it. It was a little late."
"Honestly, It shouldn't have never been public knowledge," he said "We have team rules. We've been fined in the past before and you've never known about it. That shouldn't be public information."
One longtime former player remembers the owner barging into the locker room following a loss to officiously instruct big men on how to set better screens. A former assistant coach was floored when Sarver confronted his boss on the way from the court to the coaches' office immediately after the buzzer to berate him on his substitution patterns. Another former coach was taken aback when Sarver marched into the head coach's office at halftime and insisted the team run a trap at an opposing point guard who had abused the Suns' defense.
FOUR YEARS AFTER naming McDonough general manager, Sarver acquired some live goats from a Diana Taurasi event at Talking Stick Resort Arena and planted them upstairs in McDonough's office. The stunt was both a practical joke and an inspirational message -- the Suns should find a GOAT of their own, one who dominates like Taurasi. The goats, unaware of their metaphorical connotation, proceeded to defecate all over McDonough's office.
But just as troubling as invading the work spaces of his players and coaches, say those who have worked for Sarver, is his meddling in personnel decisions. An individual who has worked in the Suns' front office says Sarver, in his best moments, poses challenging questions that can help frame a conversation. But often, process can get derailed by impulse.
McDonough was regarded as less capable at communication, people skills and fostering relationships with players. There's a strong sense that McDonough, in a characterization that was made by several sources, prioritized job security ahead of personal conviction. Though Sarver had a tendency to meddle, sources say McDonough's struggles to forcefully make his case on strategy and personnel matters demonstrated his ultimate failing as a GM: an inability to manage an owner.
Jones' detractors concede he has fulfilled his role as front-office emissary to the locker room, where players genuinely respect him and have responded to his counsel. But many of those who have observed Jones say that, on his best days, he functions more like a consultant or junior exec in charge of player programs, and less like a commanding general manager, which is his current title.
"There's a perception of what a GM is and what a GM does, that you have to log the hours and open up the laptop. I've never purported to be that guy," Jones says. "I think it would diminish what Trevor does. He's a star when it comes to the cap, scenario planning, contracts and negotiations. And he's been really good the whole time he's been here. We have different responsibilities. My primary focus has been to manage and improve the performance and relationships within our different units: our coaching, performance team, development. The players -- that has been my focus."
Jones is universally regarded as bright, but there's a collective sense that he lacks the curiosity or hunger that a relative novice in such a position should display. Former players such as Elton Brand, Malik Rose and Sean Marks throw themselves into every facet of basketball operations, from the G League to cap strategy. In contrast, sources say, Jones seems content to defer to Bukstein. Jones also relies a great deal on another young front-office associate who was initially hired as a liaison between former coach Earl Watson's staff and the analytics department, but has less than two seasons' experience in the NBA. Sources say that much of the Suns' front office finds this confounding.
Duane Rankin: "We don't deserve an all-star break. We need to work on our game as players. I know me, I'm going to be at all-star weekend, but right after that, I've got to touch a basketball and still polish up on things. I hope that everybody has that same mindset." #Suns Devin Booker
Gina Mizell: I asked Kokoskov about the closed-door meeting after Denver loss: “It’s a healthy, good thing...we call ourselves ‘family,’ and a family’s got moments where you have to close the doors and discuss some things. Trust me, there’s no drama. There’s no story behind it.” #Suns
The Suns extended what is usually a 10-minute cooling off period to almost an hour talking about, well, they didn’t reveal what they discussed. “We’re just going to keep everything in-house,” Suns 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford said in a calm, relaxed voice. “We had a nice talk. That’s it.” The locker room was initially opened after the 10-minute cooling off period, but the media was asked to go back outside. Another 40 minutes went by before it was open again. Hmmm.
So when asked what led to the postgame meeting, Devin Booker looked up and said: “What meeting.” Really Devin? “I just showered,” Booker said. Wasn’t that a longer cooling off period than normal, though? “I like long showers,” Booker said with a grin.
That led to Ayton talking about being an “emotional guy,” which showed itself when he and Booker, who is out with a hamstring injury, exchanged words with the media present in the locker room following the 10-minute cooling off period. While they didn't scream at each other, Booker and Ayton clearly were at odds.
“I start to feel stuff,” Ayton said. “When I don’t sense it, that the energy is not there, that’s when you start to hear my mouth. I don’t care who it is. Nineteen-year vet or 15 years, it doesn’t matter. We all have a job to do and I have to step it up a little more, too. Just show more. Even if I think I’m showing more, just show extra. Exaggerate it a little bit just to make it spread. Make it vocal. Make everybody see it.”
Phoenix’s top two players, Booker and Ayton, exchanged words after the 10-minute cooling off period as members of the media entered the visiting locker room for the tail end of that conversation. These two have had words before on the court, with Booker correcting Ayton on what to do on certain plays. Both have agreed to hold players accountable, but this felt different. “I’m an emotional guy, too,” Ayton said. “I start to feel stuff. When I don’t sense it and the energy is not there, that’s when you start to hear my mouth. I don’t care who it is. Nineteen-year vet or 15 years, it don’t matter. We all have a job to do and I have to step it up a little more, too.”
From Jamal Crawford, one of the more positive players in the NBA, slamming the ball on the floor at the end of the third quarter to the friction on the bench between Bridges and Kokoskov, the frustration was apparent. “How long have you been around basketball,” Suns veteran Trevor Ariza asked a reporter in a calm voice when asked what the conversations are like on the bench when trailing by 25 after the first quarter. “So what do you think the conversation would be like after that? “Probably not very positive." Ariza laughed. “Exactly,” he said. “Not too happy, but again, that’s on us for not playing hard.”
Being 4-21 can bring out the worst in a team and Kokoskov, a first-year NBA head coach, has the challenge of trying to keep the Suns together just as all seems lost right now for an franchise having its worst start ever. “At this point, we’ve got to just look in the mirror,” Suns reserve center Richaun Holmes said. “We’ve got to change something.”
Booker isn’t certain how to make this happen, but he knows the Suns need to establish the type of closeness that allows them to get on each other. “All good teams have that trust and chemistry where you’re able to get on each other and know it’s for a better purpose,” Booker said. “I don’t think we have that right now. We’re not comfortable with each other. Step on each other’s toes. We don’t push each other. I think that’s what we need to do.”
Scott Bordow: News: Suns are saying Chriss isn't suspended per se but won't be at Sunday's game. They're describing it as a cooling off period. Chriss was not at practice today. Both McDonough and Triano told me thy're handling it "in house."
Storyline: Phoenix Suns Turmoil?
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