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Update on Sarver investigation, including coalition asking Silver to oust Sarver

Phoenix Suns owner is under heavy fire for his actions over the past 18 years.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Robert Sarver’s 18-year ownership of the Phoenix Suns franchise has been bookended by the joy of governing one of the best and most exciting teams in the NBA led by a sure-fire Hall of Fame point guard.

When he bought the Phoenix Suns in 2004, he was blessed with the arrival of the Seven Seconds or Less era immediately upon watching the ink dry on the paper. They never made the NBA Finals, but they did reach the Western Conference Finals three times in six years.

And now in 2022, as ugly allegations swirl and a months-long investigation into his actions behind the scenes comes to a head, he gets to enjoy the best team in the NBA make a second run at the NBA Finals in as many seasons.

Check out this article for details on the allegations and investigation:

There’s a possibility, however small, that these allegations of racism and misogyny could force Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand into pushing Robert Sarver out of his ownership position with the Suns.

Assuming the allegations, from dozens of former Suns employees, are true, his actions fall somewhere between Donald Sterling (who was forced out) and Marc Cuban (who was not) along the spectrum of inappropriateness. Sterling was caught on tape and was an outright racist. On the other end, no one ever caught Cuban in any act of misogyny or even proved that he knew first-hand about the actions of his employees. Cuban himself was never accused of any wrongdoing beyond negligence.

Sarver comes closer to Sterling than Cuban for sure, but it all comes down to actual evidence.

The current status of the investigation by the league’s lawyers is that they have interviewed 300 or so people and will soon interview Sarver himself.

Now, civil rights and community actions leaders are starting to mount pressure to conclude the investigation and remove Sarver as owner.

The American Sports Accountability Project has a website where they post this letter, and ask others to sign the petition along with the cadre of civil rights leaders who have officially signed before the letter went to Adam Silver on March 11, 2022.

National Basketball Association

Attn: Commissioner Adam Silver

645 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022

March 11, 2022

Dear Commissioner Silver,

As individual advocates and representatives for organizations seeking to advance racial and social justice throughout the United States, we are profoundly disturbed by the reports of racism, misogyny, and abusive behavior allegedly committed by Phoenix Suns majority owner, Robert Sarver. There is zero tolerance for such behavior in today’s society and we expect the NBA and its leadership to hold Mr. Sarver accountable for these despicable actions, as was done in the case of Donald Sterling.

Mr. Sarver has a notorious and extensive record of abusive, racist and misogynistic behavior spanning nearly two decades. His victims include players, coaches, front office staff, team executives, players’ family members, and many others. The accounts that have recently come to light are grotesque, with numerous instances of Mr. Sarver, a white man, freely using the N-word to refer to his players and coaches. He is also alleged to use sexually explicit, misogynistic language in the workplace, including about the female body. In another example, Mr. Sarver is said to have made routine references to ownership over his employees, asking “do I own you?” to those with whom he is unfamiliar, evoking an abhorrent time in our history. There are dozens of other examples.

From what we understand, Mr. Sarver’s history has been well known amongst the NBA’s Board of Governors for many years, and yet it was not until these reports were made public that the league initiated an investigation into the matter.

We note that Mr. Sarver has denied the allegations and several of his supporters have claimed that there is no “proof” of such incidents. We take issue with the notion that victims must film or record the abuses being committed against them in order for those abuses to be considered true. Indeed, shifting the burden to victims in this way is a key deterrent to progress in our struggle for racial and social justice in the United States and throughout the world. It is a tactic that deserves no home within the NBA.

Let us be clear: we believe Mr. Sarver’s victims. This is not a matter of a single allegation or one person’s word against another. This is a pattern rife with examples of men, women, people of color, and staff suffering abuses at the hands of Robert Sarver. We expect that the investigation into Mr. Sarver’s conduct will validate the accounts of the numerous and brave victims, many of whom risked their livelihoods to share their stories. We appreciate the thoroughness of the League’s investigation, which is reported to include interviews with hundreds of individuals, and believe the findings will further corroborate the countless incidents and experiences spanning nearly two decades.

Moreover, there is in fact audio of Mr. Sarver making inappropriate and sexist comments. In a speech honoring his late co-owner Dick Heckmann, there is a recording of Mr. Sarver saying such things as “Dick was chasing everything that moved in Scottsdale” and “the Heckmann boys were f—king their way through the cheerleading team.” Later in the speech, Mr. Sarver made a joke directed toward a member of the audience in which he said, “I guess his receptionist has small tits.” He went on to say “we’re lucky we still own the franchise. In today’s environment, we’d have lost it a long time ago.”

Such comments may have been made in jest; however, they lend excruciating credence to allegations that Mr. Sarver fosters a toxic and uncomfortable workplace, particularly for women and people of color.

Under your leadership, the NBA has made clear its intolerance for hatred, bigotry, and any other form of discrimination. This has been reinforced by the League’s creation of a Social Justice Coalition in 2021, as well as its response to previous reports of misconduct, including those involving the Clippers, the Mavericks, and most recently, the Trailblazers. In all of the aforementioned cases, those responsible were removed from their respective positions. We see no reason the response to Mr. Sarver should not follow suit.

Legacy civil rights groups and social justice activists have decried the culturein the NBA and previously held conversations with NBA leadership to bring these issues to the forefront. Since then, the NBA has led the American sports community in its commitment to justice and accountability. As Commissioner of the league, your response to the investigation and subsequent action by the Board of Governors must align with the NBA’s stated commitment to social justice and past decisions to impose consequences on those who have a history of abusive behavior.

We will continue to follow this matter closely.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. W Franklyn Richardson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Conference of National Black Churches; Chairman of National Action Network

Melanie Campbell, President/CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation & Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable

Rev. Jonathan E.D. Moseley, Sr., Western Regional Director, National Action Network

Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, President & CEO, Mobilizing Preachers and Communities

Jennifer Jones Austin, Vice Chair Board member, National Action Network; Chair, NYC Racial Justice Commission

Hector Sanchez Barba, Executive Director & CEO, Mi Familia Vota

David Hernandez, State Director, League of United Latin American Citizens of Arizona

Rep. Dave Rodriguez, Arizona State House (ret.)

Rev. Dr. Steffie Bartley, Northeast Regional Director, National Action Network

Erica Ford, CEO, LIFE Camp, Inc. and activist around Women’s issues

cc: NBA Board of Governors

There is officially no end date in sight for the investigation.

Baxter Holmes’ latest article only mentions that the lawyers have conducted 300+ interviews that includes many who had previously signed non-disclosure agreements when they were paid to keep silent about their Suns experience. He says the law group is still in the ‘fact finding’ stage.

Stay tuned for more, as the playoffs approach for the best team in basketball.

Sarver’s team does not need this distraction, and to their credit they have not been negatively affected. They have basketball’s best record, 56-14, and will be the top seed in the 2022 playoffs when they begin in mid-April.