PHOENIX – Suns fans came to Footprint Center and went home happy after seeing Devin Booker and Chris Paul guide the team to a 123-112 victory over the Houston Rockets.
But one fan of note did not see the team pull off the win in person: Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver.
On Thursday morning, ESPN published a story about Sarver that contained allegations of racism, misogyny, sexual harassment and general misconduct in an unsafe work environment. Sarver and the Suns have put out statements “vehemently” rejecting the allegations. The NBA has since launched an official investigation into the claims laid out in the report by Baxter Holmes.
While the fan mood inside the arena was upbeat, outside it was more muted, with some reacting to the report with a shrug of resignation.
“There is clearly a lot of tension and unresolved racial trauma just stemming from the history of this country,” said Brittine Young, a 21-year-old college student. “So it’s not necessarily surprising that people still kinda hold those views.
“I mean, as a Black woman, I still have to essentially convince people that I’m smart, and I’ve worked for NASA, so it doesn’t surprise me.”
Anthony Garcia, 32, said as a father, the news particularly bothered him.
“I don’t know if (the allegations) are 100% true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are,” said Gracia, who added that as a parent of a daughter and a person of color, “It just doesn’t feel that great that’d he’d be saying things like that.”
Although Suns players and staff are attempting to steer clear of addressing the situation while the NBA investigation runs its course, they were asked before the game during media availability.
In a tense room, Coach Monty Williams spoke carefully to express his opinions on the report.
“All of it (allegedly) happened, before I was here,” Williams said. “And based on what you know about me – the little you know about me – if any of that stuff happened while I was here, I wouldn’t be in this seat.”
Williams acknowledged the strength and the unity of his team in the face of adversity, something it has faced time and time again.
“When we went to the bubble, nobody thought we should’ve been there, we got tight. Last year, in the playoffs, everybody doubted us, we got tighter. We made it to the Finals, everybody said well, you wouldn’t be there if this didn’t happen, injuries and such – we got tighter.”
The players revealed that very cohesion in the game, as a 34-15 run late in the third quarter powered them past the Rockets. Devin Booker led the way with 27 points, while Deandre Ayton, recovered from his right leg contusion, scoring 16 points with 11 rebounds in 25 minutes before fouling out.
Afterward, Chris Paul said the team will attempt to move forward with the rest of the season.
“I think for us it’s about controlling what we can control, and that’s hooping, that’s basketball,” he said. “That’s what we did today and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Backing the players and coaches instead of management was a priority several fans inside the arena stressed.
“I’m here to support our team,” said Veronica Philpot, also known affectionately as “Suns Tutu Fan.” “They deserve our support and these employees deserve our support, more than anything.
“If they are victims, then we certainly are also victims, so we are here to support them.”
Christian Phyfier said, “I obviously support the players, just because of who I am, being a sports agent and working in the industry.”
The team will continue to try and quiet the outside noise. The Suns finish their five-game homestand on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks before embarking on a one-game road trip to Sacramento to play the Kings on Monday.
For Sarver, the road ahead remains unclear and will stay that way until the NBA’s investigation brings the truth to light.