The NBA asked a law firm to investigate the Phoenix Suns after a report released Thursday with detailed allegations that owner Robert Sarver has a history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents during his 17-year tenure at the helm of the franchise.
ESPN said it interviewed more than 70 current and former employees of the story team, including some who detailed Sarver’s inappropriate behavior. Most of the allegations come from anonymous sources, but some have been recorded.
In ESPN’s report, Sarver denied or disputed most of the allegations through his legal team. The Suns also vehemently denied the report in a lengthy statement released Thursday.
“I would welcome an impartial NBA investigation that could prove to be our only outlet for rehabilitating my name and the reputation of an organization I am very proud of,” said Sarver.
Sarver will make his wish come true. The NBA released its own statement from Executive Vice President of Communications Mike Bass saying the allegations were extremely serious and that the league asked the law firm Wachtell Lipton to initiate a full investigation.
“The NBA and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees,” said Bass.
“Once the investigation is completed, its results will provide the basis for any league action.”
Among the allegations: Former Suns manager Earl Watson said Sarver was upset that Golden State striker Draymond Green used the N word during a game in 2016 and that the owner repeated the N word multiple times. when he expressed his disappointment. Watson said he told Sarver he can’t use that word.
Watson was the Suns manager for all or part of three seasons before being sacked for three games in the 2017-18 campaign.
Sarver said in his statement that Watson was clearly not a credible source.
“Even though there are so many inaccurate and misleading things in this story that I don’t know where to start, I would like to be clear: the N word is not part of my vocabulary,” Sarver said.
“I have never called anyone or a group of people the word N, nor have I referred to anyone or a group of people with that word, either verbally or in writing. I don’t use that word.”
Watson made his statement through the Toronto Raptors, where he is now assistant coach.
“I’m not interested in engaging in an ongoing de facto battle,” Watson said.
“Instead, I want to applaud the courage of the many players, executives and staff members for fighting toxic environments of racial insensitivity, sexual harassment and micro-aggression with their truth.
“Basketball and 17 years in the NBA have given me the financial privilege of telling my truth, but we can’t forget those who have to keep quiet for fear of losing their jobs.”
The report also describes a story about how Sarver passed employees a photo of his wife in a Suns bikini. The report states that more than a dozen employees also said Sarver had a history of lewd comments in all staff meetings.
The Suns hosted the Houston Rockets Thursday night and Phoenix manager Monty Williams talked about the relationship before the game. Williams said he has not spoken to Sarver since the ESPN story was published and that if he heard the owner say any of the things that have been alleged in the story “he would not be in this place”.
“My reaction is that it’s a lot to work out,” Williams said.
“There are so many things there and it is still not clear to me, as far as the facts are concerned. As someone who is the keeper of the program, I find all these things being said of a serious nature. These allegations are delicate, it is an understatement.” .
Williams added that he would understand if any of his players didn’t want to play Thursday night because of the situation, but said none of them had expressed that sentiment up to this point.
The NBA Players Association said in a statement that it “is continuing to review the allegations in ESPN’s history today.
“We consider these allegations serious and applaud the League’s decision to conduct an investigation. We defer any further comment until this trial is concluded.”
In the ESPN story, Bass claimed that the NBA has not received a misconduct report at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence.
Sarver has owned the Suns since 2004, and 59-year-old businessman Phoenix also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
The Suns are coming out of one of the most successful seasons in their history, making it to the NBA Finals with stars Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton before losing in six games to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns also made it to the final in 1976 and 1993, but have never won a championship.