PHOENIX — Nearly a year ago, an ESPN article outlined numerous allegations against Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, including incidents of racism and sexism in the workplace.
The NBA launched an independent investigation of allegations, releasing the findings on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
The 43-page long report was made up of interviews with 320 people, including people who worked under Sarver during his 18-year tenure with the team.
Here are the 10 things you need to know:
1) Not "motivated by racial or gender-based" belief, but...
The NBA announced that the investigation, led by law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, "made no finding that Mr. Sarver's workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”
However, the association did say that the investigation "found instances of racial insensitivity, mistreatment of female employees, inappropriate commentary related to sex of sexual orientation, and disrespectful communications."
The full investigation report went into more detail about each incident and finding.
2) "Why do all the women around here cry so much?"
The law firm's report listed numerous instances of Sarver's poor treatment of women in the Suns' organization.
The first instance specifically mentioned in the report is from 2008, when Sarver reportedly told a pregnant employee that she couldn't coordinate an event because she was scheduled to give birth when the event was happening. In response to being told by employees that Sarver handled the situation poorly, witnesses say Sarver put together a call with the employee, other witnesses, and an attorney who told the employee that Sarver did nothing wrong.
A 2011 incident was also listed in the report where Sarver allegedly screamed at a female employee after not liking a video she made for a departing team executive. The employee then began to cry. Sarver then visited the employee a week later to address the incident where he said "Why can’t we get along? What’s wrong with you?,” which made the employee cry again.
In response to the crying, Sarver raised his voice and said "Why do all the women around here cry so much?”
Another 2011 incident was listed where Sarver arranged a lunch between four female employees of the Suns and several female employees of Western Alliance Bank, who Sarver oversaw as CEO. No men were invited to the lunch. The attendees from the Suns perceived this as uncomfortable, demeaning and as a direct response to the previous 2011 incident.
3) "Never seen anything this big"
The report listed numerous instances of Sarver allegedly making comments about sex and genitalia at meetings or directly to employees dating back to 2009, including:
- Referencing engaging in a specific sexual act at an all-employee meeting
- Describing using a certain type of condom at another all-employee meeting
- Telling a story about how he learned what a "b*** job" was when he was a child at a business meeting
- Telling a female employee she's "never seen anything this big" in reference to his own genitalia
- Circulated a photo of his wife wearing a Suns-logoed bikini during a business meeting to consider branching out into licensed swimwear
- Sending pornographic material and crude emails to a small number of male Suns leaders
- Making crude references to sex or sexual anatomy on 20 other occasions in workplace settings
Numerous other incidents are described in the investigation, including four instances of inappropriate physical contact with men, four incidents of him commenting on women's bodies and attractiveness, and five comments relating to players' sex lives, bodies and sexual orientation.
4) "I can't say [N-word, N-word, N-word]?"
Despite being made aware that he should not use the N-word, even when repeating another person's use of it, Sarver is reported to have said the N-word on at least five separate occasions. In each of the instances, Sarver was either repeating or purporting to repeat what a Black person had said.
He was heard loudly asking a Black Suns coach "I can't say [N-word, N-word, N-word]?" after a 2016 game between the Suns and the Golden State Warriors. Sarver was reportedly complaining that a Black Warriors player was allowed to use the word during the game without getting a technical foul.
The earliest instance mentioned was in 2004 during a recruitment meeting when Sarver used the word during a story about his college days in Arizona, referencing when a Black college basketball coach or a Black student playing basketball used it. He again used the word during a 2012-13 season team-building exercise, saying he was repeating what he heard a Black play say, and again between 2010 and 2017 when recounting a story of a Black family member of a player boarding a Suns team plane saying "White folks in the front, [N-words] in the back."
The investigation could not corroborate an accusation made in the original ESPN article alleging that Sarver once used the N-word explaining why he preferred hiring a Black head coach, saying "These [N-words] need a [N-word]."
5) Other ESPN incidents with racial implications confirmed
Three other accusations made in the ESPN article were confirmed in the investigation:
- Saying he hates diversity n an exchange with a Black coach and a team executive
- A firing of a Black coach over a dispute with a Black sports agency executive
- Sarver throwing a stat sheet on a table in front of a Black coach
The Black coaches involved in each of these incidents believed that they were racially motivated. The investigation into each of the incidents did not find Sarver had a racial motivation behind his actions.
6) Sarver's "trickle-down effect" on the Suns organization as a whole
Many witnesses said that Sarver was responsible for the problematic behavior of other employees and the HR department because his conduct has a "trickle-down effect" on the organization.
The law firm's investigation into potential issues with the Suns organization was reportedly made more difficult due to the team's HR department keeping poor records and deleting documents usually in record-retention.
"The hypothesis is difficult to test, but it warrants mention because so many witnesses advanced it in such consistent terms," the law firm's report said.
The investigation also found the Suns organization is "a difficult place for women to work, particularly if they have young children."
Several reports of isolated instances of racial insensitivity in the Suns's workplace that the law firm received involve employees who have since left the organization or unidentified individuals.
The Suns HR department was also found to frequently break employee confidences, resulting in employees being reluctant to report concerns they had.
"The number and nature of the incidents identified raise questions about whether there are organizational concerns that should be addressed—an issue that, as discussed above, could not be fully investigated given the limited documentary record."
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