‘Unforgiving climate’: After strong pushback, Suns majority owner Sarver says he will sell team

Robert Sarver will begin the process of selling the Suns and Mercury, saying in a statement it had become clear “that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past.” (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – From a fan opening a champagne bottle in front of Footprint Center to another one nearby reflecting on the treatment of Phoenix Suns and Mercury employees, the response to news of Robert Sarver’s decision Wednesday to sell the team was swift and strong.

That included a reaction from Suns Legacy Partners, LLC, the sports and entertainment entity that manages and operates the Suns and Mercury, who said in a statement the decision “is in the best interest of the organization and community.”

“If I’m managing a large company, or even one like the 20-person company I work for, you can’t treat your employees a certain way and expect to have no repercussions,” said Suns fan Patrick Daniala, who was eating lunch near the team’s arena when the news broke.

Earlier, another Suns fan was caught opening a bottle of champagne outside Footprint Center, telling ABC 15, “We’ve been waiting for this for so long.”

The results of an independent investigation commissioned by the NBA were released Sept. 13. Suns majority owner Robert Sarver was suspended one year from team activities and fined $10 million.

Just over a week later, Sarver announced in a statement that he will begin the early stages of selling the Suns and Mercury.

“In our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible – that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” the statement read. “For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”

Suns point guard Chris Paul was among those who voiced frustration with the 43-paged report that detailed the misconduct of the longtime owner, calling it “unacceptable.”

“Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read,” tweeted Paul, who is entering his third season in the Valley.

“This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated.”

The report produced strong responses from recognizable sponsorship brands as well as local businesses.

PayPal, the jersey patch partner of the Suns, has a contract with the franchise that expires during the 2022-23 season. CEO and President Dan Schulman said in a statement that the online payment giant would consider not renewing its contract with the Suns if Sarver did not step down.

Local businesses who sell Suns merchandise and memorabilia have also been affected by the release of the league’s findings, and one collectibles salesman said he saw a major hit in merchandise sales.

Suns fan Patrick Daniala said “you can’t treat your employees a certain way and expect to have no repercussions.” (Photo by Grace Edwards/Cronkite News)

“Last week, for instance, I attended a farmer’s market, and I did not sell a single Suns piece,” said Jeff Thalblum, who has operated a sports memorabilia business for years. “In my opinion, the news of Sarver selling the team is the best news in Phoenix Suns history.”

The news broke just days away from the Suns’ scheduled media day with players and coaches. During the sales process, Sam Garvin, vice chairman and a minority owner of the Suns, will serve as interim governor.

“Well that’s a start,” Mercury guard Diamond DeShields tweeted in the wake of Sarver’s announcement.

The first preseason game of the 2022-23 season will be a game at Footprint Center against the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian National Basketball League Oct. 2.

After a flood of strong reactions from the sports community on the Sarver investigation and its findings and his intentions to sell, it’s likely the 60-year-old won’t attend and his 17-year tenure as majority owner will come to an end.

Sam Stern sam stern
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Sam Stern expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Stern has interned with Sports360az and Take it Easley Productions, and he is an editorial intern at the Phoenix Business Journal.