More than 70 former and current Suns employees described a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace created by Robert Sarver, the owner of Phoenix's NBA team and the WNBA's Mercury, in an exhaustive report published Thursday by ESPN's Baxter Holmes.
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."
"There's literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me," another former Suns basketball executive told ESPN.
Incidents detailed by ESPN, include:
- Sarver making inappropriate comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him.
- Sarver asking former coach Earl Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, why Warriors forward Draymond Green "get[s] to run up the court and say [n-word]."
- 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 asking a female employee whether he "owned" her to determine whether she worked for the Suns.
- Sarver creating a culture in which a number of employees, especially woman, described incidents of being subjected to, or witnessing, verbal barrages from male executives.
- Pantsing a former Suns account executive in front of more than 60 employees at the team's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Sarver, through his attorneys, acknowledged using the n-word once many years ago to "describe the importance of having each others' back." And he characterized a number of the incidents cited in the report as untrue.
On Oct. 22, when reports of a possible story were made public, the Suns denied any misconduct, specifically racial or gender discrimination in a three-paragraph response, saying they "urge everyone not to rush to judgement here. Especially based on lies, innuendo, and a false narrative to attack our organization and its leadership."
Sarver's legal representation also told ESPN to contact 10 specific individuals to discuss Sarver, including Mercury general manager and Suns chief financial officer Jim Pitman. Pittman said, "[Sarver] has been consistently on the side of women and the WNBA. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who has served as a Suns consultant and the team's general manager, told ESPN, "I never saw anything that suggested racism or misogyny, and I was very surprised to hear those allegations because that's not the person that I know."
NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN she was not aware of any reports from players of misconduct by Sarver or the Suns.
"Apart from [point guard Chris Paul] and [general manager] James Jones, we have not had much official contact with the team and none that I can think of with Sarver," Roberts said.
Sarver, 60, purchased the Suns in 2004 for around $400 million. The Suns are now valued at $1.8 billion, according to Forbes.
While from 2010–11 through 2019–20 the team did not make the playoffs, last season Phoenix reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
The Mercury have also reached the Finals four times throughout his tenure, winning three titles and most recently losing to the Sky just a few weeks ago in the 2021 WNBA Finals.
The Suns are 3–3 this season and are set to play the Rockets at 10 p.m. ET on Thursday.
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