NBA Rumor: Robert Sarver Scandal

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That’s not punishment enough, not to send a message that changes behavior — and it’s not enough for some current and former Suns’ employees, reports Baxter Holmes of ESPN (Holmes was the one who broke the original story on Sarver the Suns’ work culture nearly a year ago). “It’s barely a slap on the wrist and shows us the league truly doesn’t stand for diversity, equity or inclusion. I’m grateful to have the validation after being told I was insane, a bitch, and being dramatic. That definitely lets me breathe a little. But I’m angry. The league failed us when they had the opportunity to stand behind its values.”

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Marc Stein: One senses, though, that this saga is far from over. Public pressure on Sarver, as well as the NBA regarding Sarver, has come nowhere close to Sterling levels — presumably because there is no TMZ recording, as with Sterling, of Sarver’s misdeeds. Yet that climate could change. We’re less than two weeks away from Suns Media Day on Sept. 26, which is the latest we will start hearing frequent questions posed to Chris Paul and other Phoenix players, as well as Coach Monty Williams, about Sarver’s ongoing operational control of the Suns. It really shouldn’t fall on them to make up for punishment this light, but the reality is that how players and Suns staffers — and, of course, sponsors — react will have a significant influence on what happens next in terms of a potential external push to urge Sarver to sell the team.

Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver will be retiring as executive chairman from Western Alliance Bancorporation in June, ending a two-decade tenure with the nearly $56 billion asset company. The company’s recent announcement of Sarver’s impending departure comes amid the NBA’s investigation into the Suns and Sarver, which the league launched in early November 2021 after ESPN published a story detailing allegations of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace during Sarver’s 17-year tenure as majority owner. Sarver has denied allegations in ESPN’s story.

A coalition of social justice activists is demanding the ouster of Robert Sarver as majority owner of the Suns, citing the numerous accounts of racist and sexist behavior revealed in an ESPN story last November. The group—which includes members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network—detailed its concerns in a March 11 letter sent to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and on a website it launched today, under the hashtag: #SackSarver.

Robert Sarver to be interviewed as part of NBA investigation

The lawyers leading the NBA’s investigation into the Phoenix Suns are preparing to interview Robert Sarver regarding the accusations against the team and its majority owner, sources close to the investigation told ESPN. Sources said more than 300 people have been interviewed as part of the investigation, which the league launched in November after ESPN published a story that included allegations of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace in Phoenix during Sarver’s 17-year tenure.

Suns General Manager James Jones pulled the curtain back on it a little more during an interview Tuesday on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports. “It’s going,” Jones said. “I mean, the NBA, their timelines are their timelines, but we’ve been just business as usual. All that stuff will take care of itself, but we’re in good shape and hopefully, we’ll wrap up soon because we know these are important issues, but more importantly, we’re getting to that part of the year where we want to strictly be about basketball and I think we’ll be there soon.”

Over the past week, the lawyers informed the former employees that they would be released from the agreements in order to speak freely for the investigation, the former employees said. Those who signed NDAs will not be fully released moving forward, the former employees said, and are being released only for the purposes of participating in the league’s investigation. Some who signed NDAs have already met with the lawyers while others have interviews scheduled in the days ahead, current and former employees said.

In the interviews, the lawyers stated that confidentiality and anonymity will be granted if the employee requests it, sources said. In addition to general biographical information, the lawyers have primarily focused their questioning on racially inappropriate or misogynistic behavior from Sarver, current and former employees said. Three additional lawyers from Wachtell have been brought in to help conduct the interviews in Phoenix, current and former employees said.

A former Suns human resources employee previously told ESPN that the organization would often make a settlement agreement when an employee threatened to sue or raised issues that could lead to legal action. It’s unclear how many former employees have signed non-disclosure agreements, but team sources said the number of former employees who signed NDAs, along with the total amount spent on severance packages, is of interest to minority members of the Suns ownership group.
1 year ago via Puck

Bob Iger interested in buying Suns?

It’s crunch time for Bob Iger if the outgoing Disney executive chairman wants to announce another gig before he leaves the company at the end of the year. Several options are still on the table, I’m told, but one potential scenario could be particularly interesting: NBA owner. Iger has told at least a couple friends that he’d love to front a bid for the Phoenix Suns if the hoops team were to become available, which it just might in the next couple months.
1 year ago via Puck

He’s close with Silver, thanks to years of Disney’s ABC and ESPN broadcasting games. And he’s even closer with Chris Paul, who was president of the NBA Players Association when the Covid “bubble” games were staged at Disney’s compound in Florida, and who happens to play for the Suns. “I consider him a very good friend,” Iger said of Paul last year. Iger has long harbored sports ambitions, at one point pursuing an NFL team in his L.A. hometown, which, of course, is just a short 45 minute private flight to Phoenix. And Iger and his family are close with billionaire private equity mogul Tony Ressler and his wife, Jami Gertz (yes, the actress), who own the Atlanta Hawks.

The 23-year-old claimed that he hadn’t heard about the episode with Rose, because he’s following Paul’s and Devin Booker’s lead to limit his social media usage. “Them dudes, they’re the most famous athletes in the NBA right now and they block it out,” Ayton said. “I can block it out, too.” The report regarding Sarver, however, was too seismic for a member of the Suns to possibly avoid. So Ayton fell back on focusing on what was in his power to control—a standard mode for professional athletes at large. “All I do,” Ayton said, “is put my head down and work.”

Among the eulogizers that night was Robert Sarver, the Suns and Mercury majority owner who, following last week’s lengthy ESPN report that prompted an NBA investigation, stands accused of misogyny, racism and creating a toxic work environment in Phoenix. (In statements, Sarver has denied most of the allegations.) A month after the event, at Wendy Heckmann’s request, Sarver’s executive assistant sent a link to download a full recording of it to nearly two dozen members of the ownership group and some of their spouses, according to a screenshot of the email obtained by Sports Illustrated.

Made aware of this story on Tuesday night, neither the Suns nor Sarver chose to comment. An NBA spokesperson told SI that the league is aware of the video. Heckmann’s widow Wendy told SI on Tuesday that Sarver’s remarks were in keeping with the spirit of the event, and she was not offended by them. “It was a roast—that’s what my husband wanted,” Wendy Heckmann said when reached by phone. “He wanted everybody to laugh at his expense, basically, and tell funny stories, and that’s what everybody did.” She added, referring to the reported allegations against Sarver, “That is not the Robert that I know. Robert is a really good person and I’ve never heard him say anything derogatory or anything with any kind of racial flair or any kind of sexist flair or anything—he’s never done that in my presence.”

A repeated theme in ESPN’s report was Suns employees saying that Sarver’s brand of humor offended them or made them uncomfortable—that what he found funny, they found demeaning. The comments in his roast raise similar concerns, according to a current member of the Suns organization who first saw the video as it circulated within the franchise. “I would characterize [the video] as being inappropriate, outrageous, and consistent with Robert Sarver’s pattern of behavior over the years,” the person told SI. Distributing the video within the Suns organization, the person added, delivered a clear message: “That this behavior is not unacceptable for others to follow.”

When reached for comment, Penny Sarver confirmed she sent the messages and said she looks forward to the NBA’s investigation. “Over the weekend, I decided on my own to reach out to a few people to try to set the record straight and to share how disappointed and hurt I am by the lies that are circulating about my husband and The Suns organization,” Penny Sarver said. “I shared the betrayal that I felt and I touched on some of the pain that we are going through as a family. “Any suggestion that I tried to ‘intimidate’ anyone is as silly as it is wrong and outrageous.”

“This is Penny Sarver,” one message began. “I know a lot of bridges were burned between you and Robert and you are very bitter. I want to remind you that real lives are at stake here.” Later, the message added, “Please put your hatred aside and realize the hurt you are causing by spreading lies and fabrications. Is your time in the spotlight that important? If something happens to one of my children, I will hold you and Earl Watson personally responsible. Think about your own child for a second and imagine the tables turned.”

Baron Davis seems to believe the troubling allegations against Robert Sarver are true … ’cause the ex-NBA star tells TMZ Sports he thinks the Suns owner “is a piece of s***.” The former Golden State Warriors guard said he sat next to the 60-year-old at some point during the NBA lockout in 2011 … and he clearly got a bad vibe from the dude. “Are you surprised?” Davis said out at LAX on Friday of the racist and misogynistic accusations against Sarver. “God damn, man. Look at that motherf***er.”

Robert Sarver responds to racism and sexism allegations

What is your overall reaction to the entire ESPN story? Upset? Angry? Robert Sarver: “More than anything, I’m frustrated and sad. I’ve taken responsibility for mistakes I’ve made, but most of the claims from nameless ‘sources’ are false or too vague to even sensibly address. Those who have known me for decades know I don’t use the language attributed to me, and they have gone on record to say that the accusations of racism and sexism are false. It is just not who I am, and it is directly contrary to the values at the center of the Suns organization. I am devastated that these false attacks are what our fans will associate with this organization that I love.

Draymond Green on Robert Sarver allegations: It wasn't the first time I've heard some of them

To put things into context, seven years ago, 10 members of the current Suns roster were under the age of 21. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges — the young core that makes up this contender — weren’t in the NBA yet. Paul has a unique vantage point aside from the unfortunate déjà vu of dealing with an issue of this magnitude. His experience, leadership and guidance will be critical for a team and group of players who have never experienced anything along these lines. “I mean, I’m here,” Paul told The Athletic. “That wasn’t the plan — you don’t plan any of these things to happen. But like I said, it’s a great locker room to be in, a great coaching staff. So, you know, anything that happens, we sort of deal with it together.”

After the game, Paul spoke to reporters and was asked to compare the current situation to what happened with Sterling and the Clippers. “I don’t know; I don’t know,” Paul said. “I feel like, you know, situations are different. You know, we dealt with that in that time… when all that happened. I think right now, like (Suns guard Devin Booker) said, we’re not insensitive to everything that was said or what-not, but we don’t know all the details, right? So the NBA will do its investigation. And in that time, all of us on our team will continue to play and do what we do.”

Speaking Thursday on ESPN’s “NBA Today,” Vince Carter, who briefly played for the Suns, offered his own troublesome anecdote about Sarver. “I’ve heard and kinda experienced this as a player coming back after I played there,” said Carter. “He walked into the locker room, from what I was told from two teammates that are reliable and [I] trust in what they say. He wasn’t happy with me playing well coming back into Phoenix. “We were winning the game and he wanted them to take me out,” Carter went on. “Put me on the ground. ‘Don’t let him have fun in our building.’ He felt like I was trying to show him and the team up.”

Jason Rowley, President & CEO on behalf of Suns Legacy Partners, LLC: “The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article. Our two organizations have always worked hard to create an environment that is respectful and diverse; where racism, sexism and damaging behavior of any kind are not condoned. Today’s story contains false information and narratives perpetuated by a reporter who has struggled unsuccessfully to match the facts to a story he decided he wanted to tell a year ago. He twisted statements and circumstances to fit his preconceived narrative. He broke every rule of journalism by first deciding on his findings and then cherry-picking events and unreliable sources to prop up his demonstrably false claims.

Sarver is the team’s controlling owner and owns approximately 35% of the Suns, a person familiar with details of the ownership structure told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about those details. Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi is the team’s second-largest investor, USA TODAY has learned, and he released a strongly worded statement Thursday. “I have been made aware of the allegations against Robert Sarver, the managing partner who runs the Phoenix Suns,” Najafi said in the statement. “The conduct he is alleged to have committed has stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable.

Najafi is the CEO of Najafi Companies, a private investment firm based in Phoenix. The Suns’ web site says the company has “ holdings in sectors including sports, consumer, media, technology, and real estate.” Late last year, Najafi made a significant investment into Formula 1’s McLaren Racing, making him a vice chairman of the auto sports team. Could Najafi, who joined the ownership group in 2009, and other shareholders try to force Sarver to sell his shares or somehow overtake him as the controlling owner? Certainly possible.

Schultz, who according to his Twitter bio is not currently employed by ESPN, joined Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo to provide further clarity on his report of the report. “This report is a monster,” he said. “As bad as you might think it might be for us to be having this conversation, it’s worse. What I was told some of the things that are going to surface in this report, including sexual harassment, it is jaw-dropping. There’s just no way that with all of these people on the record, men and women, that he’s going to be able to survive this in my eyes.”

Suns GM James Jones backs owner Robert Sarver

Suns general manager James Jones and CEO Jason Rowley both backed Sarver. Jones said the rumors didn’t describe what he knows about Sarver and Rowley said Sarver was not a racist or sexist. “I will also say that reporter in this instance has shown a reckless disregard for the truth. He has harassed employees, former employees, and family members; used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up. His tactics throughout this process have been without any basis in journalism ethics or even morality,” Rowley added.

“This story is completely outrageous and false,” Rowley said. “It doesn’t represent — at all — the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years. He’s not a racist and he’s not a sexist. I will also say that reporter in this instance has shown a reckless disregard for the truth. He has harassed employees, former employees, and family members; used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up.”
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