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”The dominoes were about to start falling very publicly and more embarrassingly” — why Robert Sarver decided to sell the Phoenix Suns

The players, the fans and media impacted the only thing Sarver cared about - money.
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver

Robert Sarver

From the moment the NBA report came out, the only viable solution was for Robert Sarver to sell the team. But, early reports let us know he was fighting such a scenario every way he could. Sarver's tone-deaf announcement reveals he did it to save face (implying he's the victim of cancel culture). But there's another reason, one the banker from Phoenix is most sensitive to - money. 

Money makes the world go round

Robert Sarver first entered the national consciousness when an old lady, Greta Rogers, came to a public meeting to protest the idea that taxpayers should subsidize the renovation of the Suns' arena. There she delivered the ultimate burn, and it would appear, the perfect summation of what Sarver holds dear. 

You might say this is just a frustrated fan's opinion. The residents of Phoenix, Arizona, would beg to differ. But we can go one step further. A part of the outrage was that a $10 million fine is nothing to a billionaire. Amin Elhassan used to work for Robert Sarver, and he confirmed what Ms. Rogers said.

If there was ever an owner that's gonna be like ”TEN MILLION DOLLARS?!?!?” it's Robert. It doesn't sting his bottom line for real, but it stings his soul I guess,” Elhassan said on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz.

Well, it seems all the public pressure, players calling him out, and the public shame didn't do the trick. In his statement, Sarver said he's selling the team because “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.” It's you; it's not him. So what changed his mind?

There was a lot of private pressure - we knew about PayPal and they were going to end their relationship with the Suns as long as Sarver was involved. I know of another very large corporation and sponsor of the league and the Suns that was right behind them. There were several other big companies that were lining up to...the dominoes were about to fall.” explained Ramona Shelbourne on the latest Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast

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As is most often with billionaires, the most important call came from the accountant. Once it became clear the financial downside of keeping the team was significant, and the starting number for the Suns and Mercury was around $2.5 billion, Robert Sarver decided he did ”not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world.” You can read all about his feelings and care for the fine people who work so hard in Baxter Holmes' story. Shelbourne finished her point with this.

As long as he was making money, the shame and public pressure didn't mean much to Sarver. But once it impacted his bottom line, the decision was made.  

The owners got away with one...again

Yet again, just like with Donald Sterling, the owners didn't have to vote on kicking one of themselves out. Adam Silver dished out the maximum financial penalty and a one-year suspension. LeBatard summed it up beautifully. 

The last pressure move from the players' side was Draymond Green calling out the owners on his podcast, in no unclear terms asking them to have a vote to kick Sarver out. This is something they wanted to avoid at all cost.

Same as Sterling, Sarver wasn't the most popular owner around. He would have a hard time winning a popularity contest at the annual owners' meeting. But voting to kick him out would set a precedent - if you did any of the things Sarver did in the past 20 years, no matter how far removed from it, you could be kicked out. 

Billionaires have a different perception of consequences, as demonstrated by Sarver's press release. The immediate pressure is gone, but the players and fans won't just let this go. As LeBron said in the Sterling and Sarver case - there's no place for that in our league. 

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