Jordan Shultz tweeted about this not so long ago, and it was true. ESPN's Baxter Holmes dropped a bombshell report about Suns owner Robert Sarver and his alleged racism and misogyny. Holmes interviewed over 70 people who worked for the Suns during Mr. Sarver's 17 years as owner, and they all tell the same story, one of a boss treating people like "inventory" without any sensibility for them as human beings.
"The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale"
This quote, "The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale," was said to Holmes by a Suns co-owner! We learn in the piece that a group of team minority owners felt Mr. Sarver's behavior was so problematic they explored ways to have him removed but found out that "Sarver's contract effectively prevented him from being removed absent serious criminal behavior or similarly egregious conduct."
The report describes episodes with people from all departments of the organization and through the entire period of Mr. Sarver's ownership. It's not just one or two people who didn't fit - this is the definition of systemic. Among others, stories include:
- asking former coach Earl Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, why Warriors forward Draymond Green "get[s] to run up the court and say [n-word]."
- using a racial slur when trying to explain to a staffer why he preferred hiring Lindsey Hunter, who is Black, over Dan Majerle as head coach in 2013. "These [n-words] need a [n-word]," Sarver told the staffer of his team, according to the executive.
- making inappropriate comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him, pointing out he needed to wear Magnum or extra-large condoms
- asking a female employee whether he "owned" her to determine whether she worked for the Suns
- disregarding HR claims and responding to them with vindictive action
- suggesting that the Suns needed to have local strippers impregnated by NBA players so those players would have children in the Phoenix area and feel obliged to be closer to them
These are just some of the moments Holmes covered, and they all paint a picture of a powerful man who enjoys wielding his power. If only half are true, it's more than enough for Adam Silver and the NBA to look into the Suns and what kind of an environment Robert Sarver has created.
The Suns' response
As we know, Mr. Sarver and the Suns preemptively released two statements and commented on most of the stories through legal representation. They deny any notion of racism, claiming Mr. Sarver used the N-word only many years ago to "describe the importance of having each others' back." They pointed out the team has an established track record of diversity when it comes to gender and race.
Mr. Sarver's legal representation offered a list of 10 people willing to support Mr. Sarver's character, including Mercury general manager and Suns chief financial officer Jim Pitman, and Steve Kerr, who said he "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."
One of the statements released prior to the story being published asked us "not to rush to judgement," and that's fair. But, the number of statements, on and off the record, that Baxter Holmes got for this story raise enough suspicion for an official inquiry to be justified. If true, these cross the line of a demanding employer well into abusive.
Speculating before the story came out, Amin Elhassan, a former Suns employee, said that the main thing about Robert Sarver is that he desperately wants to be "one of the guys." Combine that with the power his wealth brings, and you get someone not too sensitive about other people's feelings and social norms. A billionaire used to getting his way, with little or no consequence.
We await the Suns, and more importantly, the NBA League Office's response. Stay tuned.