Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver said he’s going to sell the teams, a week after the NBA suspended him for a year and fined him $10 million following an investigation that uncovered racist and sexist workplace conduct.
Sarver said in a statement Wednesday that he’s unable to separate his controversy from the NBA and WNBA teams.
“Whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury,” he said.
“I do not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world," he said, adding that he deeply regrets having used words that overshadowed his nearly two decades building the organizations in Phoenix.
Sarver and his representatives couldn’t immediately be reached for additional comment Wednesday afternoon.
Sarver announced his decision after the NBA players union, the National Basketball Players Association, and some high-profile players criticized the league's punishment for him.
The players union’s executive director, Tamika Tremaglio, said in a statement: "Mr. Sarver’s reported actions and conduct are horrible and have no place in our sport or any workplace for that matter."
LeBron James said in a series of Twitter posts last week that the NBA "definitely got this wrong."
"Read through the Sarver stories a few times now. I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong," James said.
"I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this aint it."
Perennial All-Star Chris Paul, the Suns’ starting point guard, also said on Twitter that the "sanctions fell short."
“Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read. This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated,” Paul said. “I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”
The NBA last week barred Sarver from all NBA and WNBA buildings, “including any office, arena, or practice facility,” the league said in a statement.
He also isn't allowed to participate in any NBA or WNBA event, represent the teams in any capacity, have involvement in any team business or basketball operations or play a role in any league governance, the NBA said.
The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed under league rules, the NBA said, and it is the biggest financial penalty ever handed down to one person in pro basketball history.
The league investigation was sparked by a Nov. 4. ESPN article chronicling long-standing allegations of racism and misogyny within the Phoenix basketball operation.
The NBA commissioned a New York-based law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, to lead the probe, and investigators interviewed 320 people, including current and former team employees.
Sarver, team management and employees “cooperated fully with the investigative process,” the NBA said.
The probe found that Sarver, who has been managing partner of the franchise for 18 years, “on at least five occasions” repeated “the N-word when recounting the statements of others.”
He was also found to have “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women,” the NBA found.
He also “engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees” that “constituted bullying,” the league found.
“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.