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Why an NBA owner was just suspended for one year

An independent investigation found that Robert Sarver had created a toxic and at-times hostile work environment

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Real estate and banking executive Robert Sarver, left, listens as Phoenix Suns Chairman and CEO Jerry Colangelo speaks about the transition of ownership of the NBA franchise Friday, April 16, 2004, in Phoenix. The NBA suspended Sarver for one year for workplace-related issues.

Matt York, Associated Press

The NBA on Tuesday announced that an independent investigation had uncovered racist and misogynistic workplace conduct by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver.

Sarver has been suspended from his professional roles with the Suns and Phoenix Mercury for one year and fined $10 million. The NBA will used that money to support “organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace,” according to The Athletic’s NBA insider Shams Charania.

As part of his punishment, Sarver will also be required to “complete a training program focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace,” ESPN reported.

In a statement, the Phoenix Suns owner said he took issue with some aspects of the league’s report, but added that he takes “full responsibility” for his actions.

“I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees,” Sarver said, according to ESPN. “This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”

Who is Robert Sarver?

Sarver is the owner of two professional sports teams in the United States: the Phoenix Suns in the NBA and the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA.

He’s also part of the ownership group for RCD Mallorca, a soccer team in Spain, according to The Los Angeles Times.

What did Robert Sarver do?

In November 2021, ESPN released an in-depth report on the Suns organization, which alleged that Sarver had created a toxic work environment during his more than 15 years in power. It said that Sarver had used racial slurs and made sexually explicit comments.

“Some (employees) said the longtime owner fostered an environment in which employees felt they were his property, even once asking one woman whether he “owned” her to determine whether she worked for the Suns,” ESPN reported.

In statements offered by his legal team, Sarver told ESPN that his past actions were being mischaracterized or maligned.

“This story is completely outrageous and false. It doesn’t represent — at all — the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years. He’s not a racist and he’s not a sexist,” said Jason Rowley, president and CEO of the Suns, to ESPN at the time.

The NBA responded to the shocking report by launching an independent investigation into the allegations.

Why is Robert Sarver in trouble?

On Tuesday, the league announced that the investigation was complete and that investigators had determined that Sarver had used racial slurs or made other demeaning comments on multiple occasions.

“Sarver engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees,” the league’s report said.

The investigation involved interviews with 320 people, including Sarver himself, and a review of more than 80,000 documents.

In a statement, NBA commissioner Adam Silver called on the league as a whole to do more to build a welcoming, safe environment.

“I am hopeful that the NBA community will use this opportunity to reflect on what this great game means to people everywhere and the values of equality, respect and inclusion that it strives to represent. Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior. On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better,” he said.