UPDATE: As expected (and reported below), the NBA has launched a formal investigation into the Suns and owner Robert Sarver, based on the reporting in an ESPN story published Thursday. Here is the statement from the NBA.
“The allegations contained in today’s ESPN article are extremely serious, and we have directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to commence a comprehensive investigation. The NBA and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees. Once the investigation is completed, its findings will provide the basis for any league action.”
Sarver continues to deny everything and did in a new statement released on Thursday, and he said he welcomes a league investigation.
“I continue to be shocked by the false reporting from Baxter Holmes. While there is so much that is inaccurate and misleading in this story that I hardly know where to begin, let me be clear: The n-word is not part of my vocabulary. I have never called anyone or any group of people the n-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by that word, either verbally or in writing. I don’t use that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in. The way I lead my personal and professional life makes that clear. Instead of reporting the truth, Holmes’ story is based on misrepresentations from former Suns coach Earl Watson and other unnamed “sources.” Mr. Watson created an unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization. He is clearly not a credible source. Despite hearing from witness after witness that disputed Mr. Watson’s stories, Mr. Holmes completely disregarded the truth here. Now we are in the position of trying to disprove things that did not happen.
“At this point, I would entirely welcome an impartial NBA investigation which may prove our only outlet for clearing my name and the reputation of an organization of which I’m so very proud.”
Suns owner Robert Sarver reportedly made racist and sexist comments in operating the franchise and oversaw a toxic workplace. Sarver denied nearly all the allegations made specifically against him.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Reporting on the NBA’s expected response in wake of @baxter’s investigation into Robert Sarver and the Suns. pic.twitter.com/vBVe5ZQQUE
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 4, 2021
I am told to expect that the league will formally announce an investigation of the Suns and Robert Sarver, and that I would expect would commence almost immediately.
Sarver and the Suns released more statements on Thursday, which echo their previous denials.
New statements from Suns president/CEO Jason Rowley and owner Robert Sarver: pic.twitter.com/17Zpk3H6Z4
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) November 4, 2021
Remember, NBA commissioner Adam Silver – and therefore those who report to him in the league office – work for the 30 NBA owners. Those owners – the Mavericks’ Mark Cuban most vocally – want to avoid exposing themselves to increased scrutiny. That often means protecting each other.
The league will take action if misconduct is severe enough, especially if the surrounding controversy threatens revenue. But owners are disinclined to set the precedent of punishing themselves.
Sarver’s reputation as a bad owner in terms of building a winning team and a terrible person to work for has only grown stronger. Those aren’t necessarily crimes, though. They aren’t even necessarily reasons for league action.
The NBA should absolutely investigate. The alleged sexual harassment, retaliation and general fear of going to HR are well within the league’s purview. Other allegations, though disputed, are quite disturbing.
But barring a public-relations firestorm nearing the level of the Donald Sterling scandal, it’s tough to predict severe consequences for Sarver.
That said, it depends on where the investigation leads. The whole point of the investigation should be getting to the truth of the matter.