A slap on the wrist? Suns fans react to NBA’s punishment for owner Robert Sarver

While Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver’s suspension provides some relief to fans after an extended investigation, others believe the NBA needed to issue a harsher punishment. (File photo by Karrissa D. Herrera/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The NBA announced Tuesday that Phoenix Suns and Mercury managing partner Robert Sarver will serve a one-year suspension from the league and will be fined $10 million, the maximum amount for an owner, following the league’s investigation into workplace misconduct.

For some Suns fans, the findings and punishment are a long time coming.

“I’m happy something finally happened and hopefully ownership starts moving towards the right direction,” Suns fan and season-ticket holder Brendan Sodell said. “Even besides the racism issues that’s happened, there’s just been way more that he’s done. Personally, I don’t think he should be allowed back.”

Sarver, who bought the Suns and Mercury in 2004, had been under investigation by the NBA for nearly a year. The investigation focused on his treatment of his employees during his tenure with the team. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes shined a light on Sarver’s allegations last November, detailing stories regarding Sarver’s hostility towards Suns employees. Following the article, Sarver denied the allegations and stated that he welcomed the investigation, which ultimately painted a negative picture about Sarver’s tenure as owner of the Suns.

The NBA’s investigation found that Sarver’s choice of words and actions exemplified a toxic workplace. This includes use of racial slurs on multiple occasions, making inappropriate comments about the physical appearances of female employees and engaging in inappropriate physical misconduct toward male employees.

During his suspension, Sarver is not allowed around any NBA or WNBA facilities and he’s not allowed to represent either the Mercury or the Suns at any public or private events for one year. In addition, the league is mandating him to take a training program focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace.

“I’m disappointed in how minimal the punishment is,” Suns fan Cami Parrish said. “I think (the NBA is) just trying to seem like they are doing something about this while making sure other owners know there won’t be a severe punishment if caught doing something similar.”

The Suns Legacy Partners, which includes both the Suns and the Mercury, stated in a press release that they’ve strengthened their culture and are focused on creating a workplace where all employees are valued. Sarver also released a statement following the announcement of his suspension and downplayed the NBA’s decision.

“While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees,” Sarver said in a statement. “I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.”

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The NBA’s decision comes at the end of a busy offseason for the Suns. They re-signed Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton to long-term extensions, strengthened their bench by signing former Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie and re-signing Bismack Biomboyo, and were the talk of the league following trade rumors with future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant. However, this week’s development may be the most important news from the offseason and could have the potential to be a distraction for the team.

“Ownership is something that should not be problematic, and it should not be something that interferes with the team and the game itself, ” Parrish said. “I don’t think this should be something that the players have on their minds and unfortunately it is. I would love him to have to sell the team so they can focus on what they’re supposed to do: play basketball.”

Former Clippers owner Donald Sterling faced a comparable situation in 2014. Sterling was banned from the NBA, fined $2.5 million and forced to sell the team following a leaked audio recording of Sterling making racist comments in a conversation with his girlfriend at the time.

There’s a potential scenario where Sarver is forced to sell the team. According to the rulebook, 75% of the owners are needed to vote out and force another owner to sell the team. However, this is an unlikely situation because owners are fearful that if they vote Sarver out, it could happen to them too.

For now, Suns fans are relieved and satisfied with Tuesday’s step in the right direction.

“This sort of behavior within the organization all starts with Sarver,” Sodell said. “As I said before, hopefully we can move forward without Sarver and focus on the good going on with the team.”

James Dalpino jayms dal-PEE-no
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

James Dalpino expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in communications. Dalpino has interned with Back Sports Page and the Pecos Independent Baseball League.