Following an annual meeting on Wednesday between the NBA’s Board of Governors, the league’s commissioner, Adam Silver, spoke at length about the Robert Sarver situation and took questions from some of the best in NBA media.
He aimed to provide clarity on how the Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz law firm came to their findings and how the NBA deemed it necessary to move forward with a one-year suspension and $10 million fine imposed on Sarver, prohibiting from presence or involvement at any Phoenix Suns or Mercury-affiliated events and proceedings.
What we got instead was what seemed to be a puppet, contorting the narrative in an effort to defend Sarver’s reputation and worried about what could happen to the 29 other owners if investigated.
This presser is the low point of Silver's tenure.— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) September 14, 2022
Silver had a few different buzz phrases he repeated throughout his availability: “totality of circumstances” regarding Sarver’s 18-year run as owner, “very different” as it relates to the Donald Sterling case in 2014, and Sarver’s “indefensible” words and actions that landed us here in the first place.
“Totality of circumstances”
Let’s take a look at the findings by the WLR&K firm. There is an entire 1022-word section of the report, dedicated entirely to Sarver’s “Use of the N-word” all confirmed by the firm’s findings with 320 interviewees and roughly 80,000 documents.
In the section, you’d find five confirmed and specific instances of Sarver using the word, dating as far back as 2004, and also taking place in “2012 or 2013”, after a game on Oct. 30, 2016, as well as “at least twice between 2010 and 2017”. The report notes that “As early as 2004, Sarver was made aware that he should not use the N-word even when repeating another person’s use of it.”
Five different confirmed instances across the entirety of his stewardship even continuing after being corrected by those made uncomfortable.
Silver later makes the claim that Sarver has “evolved as a person” over the course of his time owning the two teams as it relates to the “totality of the circumstances”. So that should mean there aren’t recent incidents, right?
The WLR&K findings have another section titled “Other Incidents Implicating Race”. The section details three specific incidents. They happen in (1) 2016, (2) 2018, and (3) during the 2018-19 season.
The third section is titled “Treatment of Women”, detailing incidents occurring in 2008, two in 2011, as well as a couple other undated admissions.
The section titled “Sexual, Crude, and Vulgar Comments and Conduct in the Workplace” details over 20 more instances of misconduct. Not many of these are dated, rather made in a sweeping nature. For example: “The investigation finds that Sarver made numerous crude comments about players’ sex lives, bodies, and sexual orientation.”
We’re barely halfway through the report and we’re up to at least 35 different verifiable instances of misconduct. This is not someone that is backed up by the “totality of circumstances”.
Plus, there’s this case from as recent as May 2022:
NEWS: A longtime Phoenix Suns employee resigned from the team last month, alleging she became the target of bullying and retaliation by superiors after raising gender-equity concerns and misconduct within the organization, documents obtained by ESPN show. https://t.co/8hCAPQWgtS— Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) June 14, 2022
“Very different” from Donald Sterling case
As far as I can tell there’s one key difference between the Sterling and Sarver cases: Sarver wasn’t caught on tape and leaked to TMZ.
How many verified witnesses and victims are needed to equal the same level of evidence?
This is the crux of my problem with the proceedings. These witnesses are being treated by the NBA as accessories to the investigation, and it almost feels like the NBA wants the witnesses appeased in an effort to get them off their backs.
On Tuesday when the suspension and fine first broke, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, who’s been on top of the story from the beginning, had first-hand reaction from a current Suns employee who was frustrated with the verdict:
Baxter Holmes joins NBA Today with reporting on Robert Sarver. One current employee told @Baxter today: “I cannot express to you how mad and disappointed people are at the spineless nature of the NBA’s decision.” pic.twitter.com/dRDxl9Egqv— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) September 13, 2022
If there’s anyone involved with the investigation that would like to reach out for additional comment, my Twitter DM’s are always open @iamdamonallred and I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your confidentiality is assured if desired.
Silver used this particular word on at least three occasions while simultaneously defending him. At one point, he even said it’s not strong enough to describe the words and actions by Sarver:
“...Indefensible is not strong enough. It’s beyond the pale in every possible way to use [that] language and behave that way, but that it was wholly of a different kind [of misconduct] than what we saw in [the Sterling case].”
After hearing a long list of horrible things that Robert Sarver has done, Adam Silver bends over backwards to defend him. pic.twitter.com/K7nlL4jRbV— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) September 14, 2022
At the end of the day, the problem that I and many thousands of other people have with this whole deal is that Sarver is not being held accountable for his issues. Howard Beck from Sports Illustrated asked the question we all wanted the answer to:
Adam Silver discusses the differing standards for NBA governors compared to other league employees when taking questions about Robert Sarver’s fine and suspension pic.twitter.com/SKUXnJ9hia— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 14, 2022
At that point, Silver was clear about his goal: Protect the owners, no matter the cost. The owners are held to a different, lower standard. They can do whatever they want.
And after they do, they get to take a year off, shell out a $10 million check to the NBA’s preferred charity, and go back to business as usual like it never happened.