Phoenix Suns Governor Robert Sarver Banned For One Year And Fined $10M For Racist And Sexist Behavior | Weak Punishment By NBA Shows Where The Power Resides

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The NBA announced the findings of its independent investigation into allegations that Phoenix Suns governor Robert Sarver created a racist and sexist atmosphere inside the Suns and Mercury organizations. The allegations became public in an exposé by ESPN last year. As a result of the league’s findings, Sarver will be fined $10 million and suspended from his role as team governor for a year. This feckless and toothless punishment by the NBA reveals where the true power resides.

In 2014 in his first year as commissioner Adam Silver took the unprecedented step of banning then Los Angeles Clippers governor Donald Sterling for life. Private recordings of Sterling making racist comments were made public. This was hailed as a bold move by the new commissioner and it furthered the myth of the NBA as a progressive league unafraid to challenge its owners.

Of course Sterling was a known racist for decades by many in and around the NBA and found himself in court fighting allegations of racial discrimination towards minority tenants in his Los Angeles apartment complexes.

The only reason he was banned from the NBA is because those recordings became public and the league could no longer pretend it didn’t know.

In 2014 when talk of Sterling being banned picked up steam, outspoken Dallas Mavericks governor Mark Cuban spoke out against the banning of Sterling, calling it a “slippery slope.”

Cuban was no ally of Sterling’s, as he referred to his actions as “abhorrent.” But he was concerned about the precedent being set, and more broadly what this would mean for other governors.

In order for the commissioner to remove a governor from his position, he needs three-fourths of the governor’s to vote yes. Given what was said and the optics, the league is majority Black — and, remember, players were planning to boycott playoff games — finding 23 owners to vote yes was easy for Silver.

Apparently, in this instance with Sarver not so much. What Sarver did is no less abhorrent and egregious than Sterling.

The NBA’s investigation revealed that on at least five separate occasions Sarver used the N-word. At least five, which means there were many more times. He made sexist comments towards women he employed, and revealed his genitalia to employees in the workplace.

But interestingly enough, the 43-page report detailing investigation also said:

“In light of these accounts and the totality of the evidence reviewed by investigators, the investigation makes no finding that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”

Say what now?

Your detailed investigation all but confirms the scathing ESPN report but Sarver’s not a racist or a sexist?

Sure thing.

Like Sterling, Sarver and his exploits have been rumored and whispered about around the NBA for years. How do you think something like the ESPN story gets started?

Sarver has a penchant for lewdness and crassness at best, and at worst behavior far more abhorrent.

In 2021 at a luau-themed roast and memorial service for his deceased business partner Richard (Dick) Heckmann, Sarver left many of the guests uncomfortable with the sexual tales of his good buddy Dick.

Sarver’s net worth is approximately $800 million. A $10 million fine is chump change, and his one-year suspension basically means he can’t be seen in public around the team. His bidding will still be done through a proxy, because he is the governor.

The 30 governors of the NBA franchises are where the true power in the league resides. Silver works for them, despite the relationship he has with the players and the public appearance that he can hold the governors’ collective feet to the fire.

If the governors decided they wanted Sarver out, he would’ve already been voted out. But there is a saying about birds of a feather. Given that the other governors are also mostly wealthy white men, do you think Sarver is the only governor whose engaged in less than ideal behavior, to put it mildly?

Probably not. So there is no incentive for them to start what would essentially be voting against their own interests.

A fine, the largest amount that the league can levy, and a one-year suspension is the best the NBA could do to try and move past this situation. Because what they don’t want is a full on deep probe with subpoenas, full electronic discovery. A thorough search under the hood with the CSI microscopes would reveal things they’d rather not “know.”


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