NBA owner suspended 1 year for racist, sexist comments

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Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver has been suspended one year by the NBA for sexist and racist language after the league launched an investigation following a bombshell report from ESPN last year.

Sarver was also fined $10 million, the maximum allowed by the league, which will be donated to organizations addressing race- and gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

The league handed down its suspension on Thursday after the Nov. 21, 2021, article triggered an investigation that included 320 interviews with current and former Phoenix employees, according to the NBA.

PHOTO: Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver takes images on Feb. 16, 2022, during a game against the Houston Rockets at Footprint Center.

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver takes images on Feb. 16, 2022, during a game against the Houston Rockets at Footprint Center.

Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports, FILE

Sarver had owned the Suns and the WNBA’s Mercury since purchasing the team in 2004 from previous owner Jerry Colangelo.

The report details at least fives times Sarver used the N-word “when recounting the statements of others.” The ESPN article detailed a conversation between Sarver, who is white, and then-coach Earl Watson, who is Black, in 2016 which he repeatedly used the N-word while questioning why Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, who is Black, could use the term when Sarver could not.

Sarver also allegedly allegedly “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, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees,” according to the report.

Sarver also yelled and cursed at employees, the report found.

Suns Legacy Partners, Sarver’s company that oversees both franchises, released a lengthy statement saying the issues were “historical matters” that they had addressed in recent years.

“Robert Sarver is also taking responsibility for his actions,” the statement read. “He recognizes that at times during his eighteen years of ownership, his conduct did not reflect his, or the Suns’ values, and was inconsistent with the advancements the management team has taken with Robert’s full support.”

The independent report was conducted by the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. In addition to the hundreds of interviews, the investigation also looked at more than 80,000 documents, including emails, text messages and video, the NBA said. Sarver cooperated throughout the investigation, according to the league.

Still, the NBA said, “The investigation made no finding that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”

PHOTO: Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver watches the team play against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Phoenix, Dec. 11, 2019.

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver watches the team play against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Phoenix, Dec. 11, 2019.

Ross D. Franklin/AP, FILE

The league said in addition to Sarver’s misconduct, other employees within the organization committed similar transgressions and the human resources function was “historically ineffective and not a trusted source for employees who subjected to improper workplace conduct.”

Sarver, 60, will not be allowed to have any involvement with either team for the course of a year. Sarver made his fortune in banking and real estate.

When the story emerged during last year’s NBA season, Suns star Devin Booker told reporters, “I wasn’t aware of the situation and in my seven years I’ve been here. I haven’t noticed that, but that doesn’t make me insensitive to the subject.”

“[The NBA will] do their due diligence, bringing out facts instead of he said, she said,” Booker said at the time of the just-launched investigation. “I’m sure the NBA has it in good hands and will do the proper research to find out the truth.”

ABC News’ Bonnie McLean contributed to this report.

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