NBA insiders say the punishment for the Phoenix Suns owner wasn't harsh enough

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver was suspended for a year and fined $10 million.
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver at an NBA playoffs game in 2021.
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver at an NBA playoffs game in 2021.
Photo: Harry How (Getty Images)
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The National Basketball Association’s investigation into the workplace conduct of Phoenix Suns team owner Robert Sarver has resulted in his one-year ban from the league and a $10 million fine.

Critics of the punishment say it doesn’t go nearly far enough, with some asking why Sarver isn’t being removed from the league permanently.

The NBA’s independent investigation, conducted by partners of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, found that Sarver engaged in “racial insensitivity, mistreatment of female employees, [and] inappropriate commentary related to sex or sexual orientation.” The ban also applies to his involvement with his Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team the Phoenix Mercury.

Rumors of Sarver’s behavior toward his staff and players have simmered for years. So the findings of the NBA’s investigation come as no surprise to reporters and analysts who have covered the league for decades. Nevertheless, in a league comprised primarily of Black players, and renowned among all major sports leagues for its player-friendly policies, the decision to allow Sarver to continue to own the Suns franchise isn’t sitting well with everyone.

Sarver is being compared to former Clippers owner Donald Sterling

Several of the critics speaking out about Sarver’s punishment referenced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA for life in 2014 and forced to sell his team after a recording surfaced of him making racist comments. Sterling was fined $2.5 million and compelled to sell the team, which was sold later that year to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

“I am confused by this as well,” Fox Sports reporter Melissa Rohlin tweeted. “Why did Sterling get banned for life while Sarver only got suspended for one year?”

“On top of an investigation finding sexist and other inappropriate comments—none of which we have details about, [I don’t know] how you justify allowing him to keep the team,” wrote Bleacher Report writer Tyler Conway.

According to a recent report (pdf) from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 87% of NBA team owners are white, while 3.3% are Black.

Sarver will not have to sell the Phoenix Suns

Sarver purchased the Suns in 2004 for $404 million. The team is now valued at $1.8 billion.

“I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision,” Sarver said in a statement released through the team following the NBA’s decision. “This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”

However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, citing unnamed sources, reports that Sarver was not happy with the final result of the investigation.