Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, fined $10 million and banned for a year by the NBA over racist and misogynist remarks and workplace issues, said Wednesday he will sell the team.
Following the punishments imposed last week, NBA players union chief Tamika Tremaglio called for Sarver to be banned for life and NBA stars LeBron James and Chris Paul declared the penalties not severe enough.
Major sponsor PayPal said it would not renew its deal with the team if Sarver were still involved and Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi called for Sarver to resign.
“In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear… whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” Sarver said in a statement.
“For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and (Women’s NBA) Mercury.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in imposing the other penalties that he didn’t think the violations rose to the level of forcing Sarver, the Suns managing partner, to sell the club as had been done previously with former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling over racist remarks.
But in announcing the sale, Sarver declared, “This is the best course of action for everyone.”
The 10-month probe looked back over issues that existed for nearly 20 years in the Suns workplace.
The NBA had commissioned the investigation in the wake of a damning ESPN report on the club’s “toxic” work environment.
Investigators found that Sarver “engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies.
“This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; sex-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying,” their report said.
Sarver said Wednesday he thought the one-year suspension would give him time to make amends.
“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together,” Sarver said.
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.”
– ‘Got this wrong’ –
But he said the quick and vehement condemnation directed at him by players, sponsors and executives meant any making amends would need to come after he removed himself from the Suns and Mercury.
“I do not want to be a distraction,” Sarver said. “I want what’s best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA.
“In the meantime, I will continue to work on becoming a better person, and continuing to support the community in meaningful ways.”
Investigators, from the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, said multiple witnesses told them Sarver’s aggressive behavior often seemed intended “solely to provoke a reaction from employees — to embarrass them or assert dominance over them”.
However, they added that the investigation “makes no finding that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”
Nevertheless, calls were swift for Sarver’s permanent removal from the league, with four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James saying the league “definitely got this wrong”.