The highly anticipated ESPN investigative report into the toxic culture of the Phoenix Suns’ organization, led by team Gov. Robert Sarver, became public on Thursday, Nov. 4. To say it was damning is an understatement.
Reporter Baxter Holmes spoke to more than 70 sources for this detailed report. Sarver is accused by former and current employees of repeatedly using the N-word, and of misogynistic and sexist behavior in his 17-year run as Suns boss.
Of the more egregious — and there are many — accusations is Sarver’s use of the N-word. Holmes retells a story as told to him by then Suns head coach Earl Watson, following a loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“You know, why does Draymond Green get to run up the court and say [N-word],” Sarver, who is white, allegedly said, repeating the N-word several times in a row.
“You can’t say that,” Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, told Sarver.
“Why?” Sarver replied. “Draymond Green says [N-word].”
“You can’t f—ing say that,” Watson said again.
We’ve all heard the “if you say it, why can’t we say it too” line, right?
Like many of the allegations made in the report, through his legal representation, Sarver has denied use of the N-word. In fact, his denials came before the story was released, when it was rumored to be on the way two weeks ago.
Statement from the Suns and Robert Sarver: pic.twitter.com/CMcMhzY8Lh
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) October 22, 2021
Sarver is known widely among the larger basketball community of media members and insiders to be a terrible owner and bad human being. Nothing in this story refutes the latter position.
Earlier this year, video surfaced of Sarver delivering lewd remarks at a Luau-themed party honoring his deceased friend and business partner Dick Heckmann. Now it turns out, the party was a roast as explained by Heckmann’s wife, Wendy. Regardless, it gives a glimpse into the mindset of Sarver.
Also appearing in the ESPN report are accounts of Sarver “passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees and speaking about times his wife performed oral sex on him.”
It’s a claim he also denies through his legal representation.
The report says more than a dozen employees recalled Sarver making lewd comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him. Former employees also said that in several all-staff meetings Sarver said he wore Magnum condoms.
He was also alleged to have asked players about their sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others.
Looking at these alleged incidents and the amount of time he spent on the subject of sex at the Dick Heckmann memorial roast, you can certainly make inferences.
“The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” one Suns co-owner said about Sarver. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.”
If you want to take it a step further, the power structure in professional sports is strange and has an Antebellum feel. Wealthy white men own teams that employ predominantly Black labor. Add the fetishization of the Black body to it, and it’s a mess.
The report details an incident during the 2009-10 season between Sarver and reserve forward Taylor Griffin, brother of Brooklyn Nets’ Blake Griffin.
Sarver allegedly entered the Suns’ training room, saw Griffin lifting weights and noticed there was no hair on Griffin’s legs. Sarver asked if Griffin shaved his legs. Griffin responded that he did, Sarver reportedly then asked “Do you shave your balls, too?”
Through his legal team, Sarver said:
“I don’t remember using those exact words, but I did make a joking reference to men’s grooming habits with Taylor Griffin once in the locker room. I remember that Taylor laughed at my comment.”
Joke or not, it’s not difficult to see a pattern of behavior.
There’s a whole lot more in the report and it’s not pretty, but it’s also not surprising. A cursory look into the lives of the über wealthy and you’ll find heinous behavior.
The question for the NBA revolves around what to do with this information.
In 2014, commissioner Adam Silver forced then Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team after audio of racist comments he made leaked. It was widely applauded, but the NBA knew who Sterling was all along. The only reason they acted was because the audio leaked.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who introduced Sarver to then commissioner David Stern before he purchased the Suns, did not see any signs of this during his time in Phoenix.
“I never saw anything that suggested racism or misogyny, and I was very surprised to hear those allegations because that’s not the person that I know.”
Current Suns general manager James Jones issued a one-sentence statement, which read:
“None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like — it just doesn’t.”
Maybe Silver forces Sarver to sell like he did Sterling. But it won’t be much of a punishment. Sterling bought the Clippers for $12 million and in the forced sale sold it to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion. That’s a tidy profit.
Sarver paid $401 million for the Suns in 2004; the team’s current valuation is about $1.7 billion. That’s more than three times’ profit in less than 20 years. Not a bad deal.