What seemed like an interminable march from Baxter Holmes’ explosive ESPN story on Robert Sarver’s 18-year run of sexism, misogyny and just enough racism to get the ball through the hoop suddenly became an avalanche of breaking news that culminates, finally, in Robert Sarver’s intent to sell the Phoenix Suns.
Those in and around the team have known the Robert Sarver from Holmes’ story for almost two decades. He’s the same guy today that he was in 2004, assuming he’s above the fray as the team’s managing partner with the license to do anything he wants, act any way he wants, and get away with it.
It worked for 18 years without even a hiccup. Team leadership and culture was carefully formed to insulate Sarver from any repercussions for his unconscionable actions... as long as he was willing to shell out a little hush money here and there — which, let’s be real here: good hush money to these people was pocket change to Sarver.
They were so comfortable in their power structure that most team ownership partners and executive leaders felt empowered to go on the offensive against Baxter Holmes when the story came out — attacking not only his work but his character, in an effort to quash what WE ALL KNEW was a factual report.
Remember when Holmes’ report came out? Every single person I spoke with in the aftermath of that report responded with a shrug and ‘yeah that’s Robert. All of that is almost certainly true’ followed quickly by ‘nothing’s gonna happen though’.
Even as recently as last week, when the NBA officially allowed Sarver to remain in control of the team as long as he accepted a $10 million fine and a one-year sabbatical, the common refrain from those off the record was ‘more than I expected, actually’.
Then today, we get the real news. Robert Sarver, citing cancel culture more than his own behavior, has decided he doesn’t want to own the Suns anymore if no one’s gonna actually get off his back after the suspension is over.
As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.
But 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. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.
Maybe he was swayed by the public statements we all saw: PayPal threatening to sever their sponsorship unless he left the team; Chris Paul, LeBron James and Draymond Green using social media to complain the punishment was not enough; minority partner Jahm Najafi calling for his resignation...
But I doubt it. Sarver and Green have always had beef, being central characters in the racism bits. Najafi has always been a thorn in Sarver’s side, never joining the good-ol-boy club of the other significant minority partners in Robert’s back pocket. Even with regard to PayPal — they weren’t going to pull out for another year, and there’s a ton of willing sponsors out there ready to take PayPal’s place in a heartbeat.
And while we might want to pat ourselves on the back for the #SarverOut cancel culture, he was never swayed by public/fan discontent before. Why start now?
Nay, I say it was something behind the scenes that burst Robert’s bubble. Something not reported publicly yet (or ever). Had to be.
Theory #1: Sponsors
While PayPal was the only sponsor that went public, you can bet that a LOT of sponsors don’t want to be associated with racism and sexism on this kind of public scale. It’s possible that most, if not all, privately threatened to pull their financial support unless Sarver was permanently out of the picture.
Theory #2: Media Day / Players
Within days, all the players, coaches and front office folks around the league will be sitting in front of microphones taking questions from media, and you can bet that every single one of them would be asked their opinion of Sarver and the punishment laid down by the NBA. These folks ALL stayed quiet this past year, waiting for the outcome of the investigation. Now that outcome is here, and no one is happy with the extent of the punishment. I think it’s clear that the three calling for harsher punishment would quickly become three HUNDRED within the week.
Theory #3: Silver and the other owners
It’s also possible the owners and Adam Silver fashioned this song and dance in such a way that would allow Sarver to save at least a little face — “see! the owners and NBA didn’t ban me!” — while quietly agreeing the year off would be the perfect amount of time to complete a sale of the team. Silver was clear that he didn’t have the authority to force Sarver to sell, but what’s also been clear for two decades is that Sarver doesn’t have many (any?) friends among the other team owners. I can totally envision a scenario where this whole past week was orchestrated by Silver and the other owners to come out exactly as it did.
Theory #4: Dave’s new shoulder
Last Thursday, I finally had the shoulder replacement surgery I’ve been avoiding for years. I’m not supposed to type with my left hand for six weeks (shh, don’t tell the doc about this article!) and, frankly, typing with one hand sucks.
The surgery was a day after Adam Silver’s release of the Sarver Report. Since then, all hell hath broken loose in Suns world. Big thanks to John Voita and crew for manning the blog in my absence!
Somewhere in between the report and today, Sarver’s mind was changed on keeping the Suns. Did my surgery trigger Sarver’s change of heart? We’ll never really know, but a man can dream.
If I did have any butterfly effect on Sarver’s decision, my only regret is that I didn’t do this years ago like the doc told me I should have.
We won’t ever really know the WHOLE truth.
All we know is what we need to know: Sarver is finally selling the Phoenix Suns.