Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns since 2004, has been suspended for one year and fined $10 million, the NBA announced Tuesday, marking the end of the league’s nearly year-long investigation into Sarver’s conduct and the culture within of the Suns organization.
The league’s investigation came after ESPN published a November 2021 story, based on interviews with more than 70 current and former employees, that included allegations of racism and misogyny in a sometimes hostile and toxic workplace in Phoenix during Sarver’s tenure.
Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, must also complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate behavior in the workplace.
While the NBA says Sarver has “fully cooperated with the investigative process,” sources tell ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Adrian Wojnarowski that he doesn’t buy into the idea that he deserved a one-year suspension and $10 million fine for his behavior.
Sarver and the team previously denied nearly all of the allegations and said they welcomed the league’s investigation.
In a release of its findings, the NBA said the investigation found Sarver used the N-word at least five times “while recounting the statements of others.”
There were also “instances of unfair behavior towards female employees,” the NBA said in its statement, including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments about employees’ appearances.
Sarver treated employees in a “demeaning” manner, including “yelling and cursing.”
As part of the suspension, Sarver is not allowed to be around any NBA or WNBA facility, including offices and practice facilities. He also may not be a part of any NBA or WNBA event or activity, or represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private manner.
“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and disappointing,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in the statement. “We believe the result is the right one, considering all the facts, circumstances and context exposed by the extensive investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to uphold proper standards in NBA workplaces.
“I hope the NBA community will use this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people everywhere and the values of equality, respect and inclusion it strives to represent. Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need . recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior. On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all those affected by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better.”
Led by New York law firm Wachtell Lipton, the investigation included interviews with more than 320 current and former employees as well as Sarver, the NBA announced. It also examined more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos.
The Suns were given access to human resources records and thousands of internal emails, those sources said. Specialists from Deloitte, a global accounting firm headquartered in London, and from Kirkland & Ellis, a Chicago-based law firm, were also involved in the investigation.
In interviews with Wachtell Lipton’s attorneys, some of which were conducted in person, by phone and by video conference, Suns employees confirmed a range of allegations published in ESPN’s November story, presented others and provided documents, including emails.
The league’s investigation marked the third of its kind centered on a team owner since Adam Silver became the NBA commissioner in 2014 — with all three cases led by Wachtell Lipton.