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Sarver backlash spreads: From players union to high-profile sponsor, critics say Suns owner must be removed

National Basketball Players Association wants NBA to ban Sarver for life, while a sponsor whose name is on the team's jerseys threatens to cut ties.

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and the NBA face a growing backlash after the league slapped Sarver with a one-year suspension and $10 million fine for a documented pattern of racist and sexist behavior during his almost two decades of ownership.

A wide range of critics say Sarver's penalty isn't nearly tough enough. They all want him gone for good.

In the span of 24 hours Thursday and Friday:

  • The executive director of the National Basketball Player's Association told ESPN that the league's players want Sarver banned from the league for life.
  • The chief executive officer of PayPal, the payment processing company that paid a reported $3 million to put its name on the Suns jerseys, threatened to cut ties with the team if Sarver returns after his one-year suspension.
  • Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and several City Council members asked the city to investigate what action the council could take. The Suns lease their arena from the city. One council member told 12News she believes Sarver should be permanently banned.
  • Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi, a billionaire who is the team's second-largest shareholder, called on Sarver to resign. It's unclear if Najafi was calling on Sarver to sell his stake in the team. Najafi couldn't be reached for comment. 

The Suns did not respond to a request for comment on the new developments.

Sharpton: 'Extremely significant'

"It's extremely significant," civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton said of the players union and PayPal responses.

"It says it's just not those of us in the civil rights community that are dealing with causes" getting involved in the Sarver controversy, Sharpton said in an interview Friday with 12News.

Sharpton had threatened to stage protests in Phoenix while the NBA investigation of the Suns owner was going on. 

On Saturday, Sharpton told his National Action Network audience that a lawsuit by Phoenix taxpayers might be in the works, over what he said was public money subsidizing a team that discriminated against its employees

Players union wants lifetime ban

NBA stars LeBron James and the Phoenix Suns Chris Paul had already made their voices heard via Twitter. 

Now the NBA players union executive director, speaking on behalf of all the league's players, say they want Sarver to be banned for life. 

"We are absolutely calling for that," National Basketball Players Association executive director Tamika Tremaglio told ESPN's Malika Andrews on Friday.

"We do not want him to be in a position where he is managing or engaging with individuals who are engaging with our players, or our players themselves."

High-profile sponsor might cut ties

The players union's demand came just hours after a high-profile Suns sponsor threatened to end its relationship with the team.

PayPal CEO and President Dan Schulman said in a statement:

"PayPal is a values-driven company and has a strong record of combatting racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination. We have reviewed the report of the NBA league's independent investigation into Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and have found his conduct unacceptable and in conflict with our values. PayPal's sponsorship with the Suns is set to expire at the end of the current season. In light of the findings of the NBA's investigation, we will not renew our sponsorship should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns organization, after serving his suspension."

PayPal's name is on the team's jerseys.

The PayPal contract expires at the end of this upcoming 2022-'23 NBA season. Sarver's suspension would end in time for the following 2023-'24 season.

RELATED: PayPal CEO issues ultimatum to Phoenix Suns if team doesn't part ways with Sarver

City checking arena lease

Sarver and the Suns are also under scrutiny by their Footprint Center landlord. 

At the request of Mayor Kate Gallego and several council members, the city attorney is checking whether the Suns lease at the city-owned arena allows them to take any action.

In 2018, the city council agreed to a $235 million arena renovation.

Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari, who represents the district that's home to the arena, told 12News that Sarver should not return to the team.

RELATED: Phoenix mayor condemns Suns owner Robert Sarver after NBA investigation

'I take it extremely personally'

"I take it extremely personally," said Ansari, one of the signers of the City Council statement.

"As a young woman, a young woman of color and in leadership, I am no stranger to misogynistic behavior.

"All of this is absolutely unacceptable. All of the racial slurs that were used are absolutely unacceptable. And that is just not the kind of city that we are."

Ansari and three other council members - Betty Guadardo, Carlos Garcia and Debra Stark - issued a joint statement with Gallego condemning Sarver's conduct:

"We, like many others in our community, are appalled by the actions substantiated in the NBA's independent investigation into Phoenix Suns' managing partner Robert Sarver...

"It is unacceptable for the organization's leadership to be associated in any way with the despicable actions detailed in the report. We are equally concerned about a culture that would enable these actions to occur time and again, with – at most – ineffective disciplinary action."

The four other council members - Jim Waring, Sal DiCiccio, Laura Pastor and Ann O'Brien - were invited to sign the statement, according to a city spokesman.

Mayor Gallego declined 12News' interview request.

RELATED: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addresses suspension of Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver

RELATED: Here's how the NBA's investigations of Donald Sterling and Robert Sarver differ

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