NBA punishment of Robert Sarver sparks strong criticism; City of Phoenix to investigate

The conduct of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver prompted point guard Chris Paul to tweet, “I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read” in the report. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The NBA’s punishment of Robert Sarver has sparked widespread criticism, including strong social media responses from a Phoenix Suns player and executive.

Following the announcement of a suspension and $10 million fine for the Suns and Mercury owner, NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed the media Wednesday to explain the league’s punishment. This follows a year-long investigation of Sarver’s workplace misconduct, where he was found to have used racial slurs on multiple occasions, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearances of female employees and engaged in inappropriate misconduct with male employees.

Suns point guard Chris Paul, who is also the president of the NBA Player’s Association, reacted to the news and said he viewed this punishment as “falling short” compared to the findings in the independent investigation.

“I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read,” Paul tweeted. “This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated.”

Dean Stoyer, the Suns’ chief marketing communications officer, responded to Paul’s tweet by thanking him for “standing up and speaking out.”

The suspension raises multiple questions about the investigation’s impact, including if Sarver’s behavior violates any ethics or morality clauses used by the City of Phoenix, which owns Footprint Center, where the Suns play their home games.

The City of Phoenix did not immediately respond to interview requests from Cronkite News but later issued a statement from Mayor Kate Gallego and several councilmembers that they have “asked the city staff to investigate any actions, we, as leaders of the City of Phoenix, can take in light of the details substantiated in the report.”

Additionally, with the WNBA season over for the Mercury, their focus flips to free agency. However, under the current leadership and with the allegations against Sarver, Phoenix could see a difference in interest from free agents.

“If you’re a free agent, do you want to come to a situation like this?” asked Keith Pompey, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s NBA beat writer. “I think this going to impact people, especially when talking about the WNBA, where it’s all about equal rights and being outspoken. Then you have the owner of the team, doing what he did, it’s going to impact (the organization).”

Many have pointed to an incident involving former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014 for context. Sterling was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million following a leaked audio recording of Sterling making racist comments in a conversation with his girlfriend at the time.

Paul and the team threatened to sit out of a playoff game shortly after Sterling’s recording became public. This put Silver in the necessary position to put his foot down and act with executive power. Sterling was forced to sell the team to a new owner, cutting him completely out of the league’s picture.

(Graphic by Quinton Freestone/Cronkite News)

“Pressure is what changed that situation,” longtime sportswriter Howard Bryant said. “With this story, there was no pressure. With the other story, Adam Silver had to negotiate quickly to avoid the embarrassing situation of a playoff basketball game being cancelled due to a boycott over the owner.”

Silver stated Wednesday that the league did not think about forcing Sarver to sell the Suns. Even though both Sarver and Sterling were found to have made racial comments in the work environment, Silver believes the cases are not the same.

“For me, the situations are dramatically different,” he said. “In the case of Donald Sterling, it was a case of blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of people. We heard those words and there was a follow-up from the league’s office and that became public as well about what Sterling even subsequently said about his actions.

Silver acknowledged the league did think about extending the length of Sarver’s suspension, but decided not to, he said, because Sarver took accountability for his actions in his statement following the league’s announcement of his punishment.

“One guy’s saying racist stuff, but the other guy is saying sexist stuff, and harassing people,” Pompey said. “I understand what the league is trying to do … because they don’t want to punish this guy more severely.”

The Suns announced Thursday that team vice salesman and minority owner Sam Garvin will be appointed to interim governor until Sarver returns, a decision that also inspired backlash.

Former Suns marketing employee Ashley Silva, who has been vocal about her experience with the Suns and Sarver on Twitter, pointed out that Garvin openly supported Sarver and dismissed claims against him since the beginning of the investigation. Former Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald also signed the November statement of support.

Others who have criticized Sarver’s punishment include LeBron James, who tweeted that “there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior.”

Former players Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson also criticized the NBA’s reaction.

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.

Quinton Freestone(he/him/his)
Sports Digital Producer, Phoenix

Quinton Freestone expects to graduate in spring 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism.