Report: Suns owner Robert Sarver made racist and sexist comments, oversaw toxic workplace

Suns owner Robert Sarver
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Suns owner Robert Sarver preemptively denied allegations of racism and sexism.

Now those allegations have actually been presented publicly in a lengthy article by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Among the claims:

A Black basketball operations staffer told ESPN he has heard Sarver say the N-word multiple times.

Sarver once used the N-word when trying to explain to a staffer why he preferred hiring Lindsey Hunter over Dan Majerle as head coach in 2013, according to a high-level executive who heard the remark. Hunter was a first-year Suns player development coordinator while Majerle was in his fifth year as a Suns associate head coach.

“These [N-words] need a [N-word],” Sarver told the staffer of his largely Black team, according to the executive.

Through legal representation, Sarver denied the allegation about Hunter, saying he never used the N-word and “never used words to that effect,”

More than a dozen employees recalled Sarver making lewd comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him. Four former employees said that in several all-staff meetings Sarver claimed he needed to wear Magnum or extra-large condoms. Former employees said he asked players about their sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others.

“Women have very little value,” one female former staffer said she felt. “Women are possessions. And I think we’re nowhere close to where he thinks men are.”

Through his legal team, Sarver denied talking about his sex life with employees and said he had “absolutely not” talked about condoms.

Sarver has long had the reputation of being cheap, unforgiving and crass. Even beyond any alleged misconduct, he alienated numerous employees over the years. Many people have an axe to grind.

Does that make the allegations untrue? Not at all. But that context, along with Sarver’s denials at nearly every instance, should also be considered. There are not a lot of people who want to give him benefit of the doubt.

Sarver has shown himself to be demanding and tone deaf. Many of the incidents in the article, which I highly suggest reading in full, come across as intended jokes gone awry or misguided attempts at triggering competitiveness.

That’s not at all to excuse Sarver. Quite the opposite. More persuasive than the disputed claims of Sarver uttering offensive comments, the article shines light on a toxic-looking workplace that allegedly exists under Sarver’s leadership.

Holmes:

A number of employees, especially women, described to ESPN being subjected to or witnessing verbal barrages from male executives.

“I think as women, when we come into sports, unfortunately, we’re resigned to the fact that we’ll be sexually harassed at some point,” the female former marketing employee said. “But the part that was the worst for me is the verbal abuse and feeling like I wasn’t human.”

These public examples of mistreatment and disregard were a consistent source of concern for many women throughout the organization; female employees reported inappropriate comments by managers, according to multiple former employees.

One female former sales employee said a former Suns vice president, who appeared intoxicated, asked her how many members of her department she had slept with and about a specific coworker’s penis.

“It was terrible because I had not had sexual interactions with anybody on [the staff], so that was very weird,” she told ESPN. “And [it] also made me uncomfortable because my VP is asking me about my sexual history with other co-workers? That kind of thing was almost normal.”

When contacted for comment, the executive said such questions were never raised with any employee.

On multiple occasions some years ago, according to people with direct knowledge of the interactions, employees reported alleged issues to HR — including a complaint against Sarver for alleged comments to a female employee about how she looked in a dress and alleged racial discrimination raised by a Black employee regarding promotions for white colleagues — and were told soon after that they no longer fit in the organization.

Multiple staffers said they would not go to HR with complaints because they feared retaliation. “That is standard in our company,” said a current business employee: “If something happens, don’t go to HR.”

Said another current staffer: “God no, that’s the last place you go. Yeah, definitely don’t go to HR with anything.” The first former Suns HR rep confirms that this sentiment was common throughout the organization.

It is completely unacceptable for employees to be sexually harassed and retaliated against for filing complaints. Much like Mark Cuban with the Mavericks, Sarver should answer for that, and the NBA should investigate. The league should not allow one of its teams to operate that way.

Cuban agreed to donate $10 million in a settlement with the NBA and made many changes within his organization. But he kept ownership of his team.

Will Sarver get ousted like former Clippers owner Donald Sterling? There’s an easier case to make Sarver is a terrible person to work for than a racist and sexist. Not mentioned in the story: Ryan McDonough, a white male general manager whom Sarver unceremoniously fired just nine days before the 2018-19 season. As the Ray Rice case crystalized, backlash is far more severe when impropriety is on tape – like it was with Sterling. There’s no such smoking gun presented with Sarver, whose denials appear throughout the piece.

It’s also worth exploring how these allegations came to light. Overly demanding owners and hypercompetitive bordering on toxic workplaces are not uncommon in the NBA.

Neither are minority owners jockeying for more power.

This situation appears to resemble the Hawks in 2014, when a co-owner raised concern about general manager Danny Ferry’s racist comment about Luol Deng while in the midst of an ownership dispute.

Holmes:

Within the first decade of Sarver’s tenure, a few members of the approximately 20-person ownership group explored having Sarver removed, according to people with knowledge of the inquiry. The operating agreement that sealed Sarver’s position as the team’s “governor” was quietly reviewed by outside legal counsel. But outside counsel soon relayed that Sarver’s contract effectively prevented him from being removed absent serious criminal behavior or similarly egregious conduct.

As pressure mounts from numerous directions on Sarver, it seems this article is just the start. The fallout is difficult to predict.

Report: Draymond Green facing potential discipline after fight with Jordan Poole

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Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.

When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.

The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.

Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”

There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.

What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.

Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.

Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle

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The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.