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NBA Launches Investigation Into Suns, Sarver Over Sexism, Racism Allegations

The NBA announced Thursday that it has launched an investigation into both the Suns and majority owner Robert Sarver, who has been accused of racism and misogyny. 

“The allegations contained in today’s ESPN article are extremely serious, and we have directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to commence a comprehensive investigation," said NBA Executive Vice President, Communications Mike Bass. "The NBA and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees. Once the investigation is completed, its findings will provide the basis for any league action.”

This comes after ESPN's Baxter Holmes published a lengthy report that included more than 70 former and current Suns employees describing a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace created by the owner of Phoenix's NBA team and the WNBA's Mercury throughout his 17-year tenure. 

Among the allegations reported are instances of Sarver using racially insensitive language, making lewd and misogynistic comments and fostering an environment in which "employees felt they were his property," writes Holmes.

"The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale," one Suns co-owner told ESPN about Sarver. "It's embarrassing as an owner."

Prior to the NBA announcement, Sarver said in a statement that he would support any league inquiry to the allegations made against him.

"I would entirely welcome an impartial NBA investigation which may prove our only outlet for clearing my name and the reputation of an organization of which I'm so very proud."

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However, he did mention that he continues "to be shocked by the false reporting from Baxter Holmes." He denied the n-word being in his vocabulary, adding that it's "abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in." 

Sarver also called former Suns coach Earl Watson "not a credible source." Included in ESPN's report, Sarver asked Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, why Warriors forward Draymond Green "get[s] to run up the court and say [n-word]."

Jason Rowley, president of the Suns, said in a statement, "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."

Rowely went on to attack ESPN's reporting, saying, "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." 

The Suns "retained defamation counsel" because of the reporting, but will "welcome any investigation by the League to review and respond to these false accusations."

Some of the alleged incidents included in the report are as follows: 

  • Sarver using a racial slur when trying to explain to a staffer why he preferred hiring Lindsey Hunter, who is Black, over Dan Majerle as head coach in 2013. "These [n-words] need a [n-word]," Sarver told the staffer of his team, according to the executive.
  • Sarver once asked a female employee whether he "owned" her to determine whether she worked for the Suns.
  • Sarver pantsed a former Suns account executive in front of more than 60 employees at the team's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. When he reported the incident to HR, the representative allegedly said, "Please don't sue us for sexual harassment."