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.

NBA world reacts to video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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“How did that video get leaked?”

That was the primary reaction of players on Twitter after TMZ got ahold of the practice video showing Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole during a Warriors practice. The video has gone viral in NBA circles and brought an issue the Warriors hoped was in the rearview mirror front and center again.

Trae Young played the instigator on Twitter with his response (although the rumor of Green wanting to join the Lakers if the Warriors don’t extend him has been floating around the league for a while).

While some other players talked about the incident, most players were focused on how something they consider private — a practice — became public.

Former Grizzlies executive John Hollinger posted the response of the 29 other teams.

Leaked video of Draymond Green punch of Jordan Poole means incident not just going away

2022-23 NBA Globals Games All-Access
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The Warriors thought they had the situation handled. Sure, Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole during practice but Green apologized to the team and discipline was being handled “internally.” Nothing to see here, move along.

Then TMZ got ahold of a leaked practice video that shows things being much uglier than most imagined.

It shows Green and Poole had their beef and were talking, Green walked up on Poole, then Poole pushed him away with two hands and Green came back with a vicious punch to the face that was a massive escalation.

The Warriors do not practice on Friday and nobody from the organization is scheduled to speak to the media. Green is expected to rejoin his teammates in practice on Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said previously.

The Warriors likely will say this changes nothing, they had already seen the video before settling on a punishment. Plus, punches have been thrown in NBA practices more times than anyone could count — including Kerr getting punched by Michael Jordan in a legendary Bulls practice.

But there was never video like this leaked before.

It increases the inherent tension around the situation, keeps the news cycle alive and gives fans (and media pundits) some context and facts to discuss whether the Warriors are letting Green off easy.

It will also bubble up the subtext to all this about the Warriors’ future spending, something NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dalton Johnson and I discussed on a PBT Podcast previewing the Warriors’ season. Co-owner Joe Lacob has said that the Warriors’ salary and tax limit will make it hard to extend all three of Andrew Wiggins, Poole and Green at the prices they expect. Poole, the youngest of the group and a bridge to the future, is going to get his money (probably a little more than Tyler Herro just got from the Heat). There’s been speculation that Green would be the odd man out (or would have to be willing to take a paycut to stay), he can opt-out and be a free agent this summer.

The Warriors thought this fight was in the rearview mirror. Green and Poole would have to address it with the media at some point, but the Warriors wanted to move on and focus on the season and their upcoming ring ceremony.

The leaked video changes that dynamic. The controversy remains on the front page and the Warriors will have to deal with it.

The only thing that is certain in all this is that the Warriors will investigate who leaked the video and then fire that person.

 

Adam Silver hopes teams don’t tank for Wembanyama. Good luck with that.

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Victor Wembanyama came to Las Vegas this week and put the hype machine into overdrive: In two games against the G-League Ignite he scored 73 points with 15 rebounds, nine blocks, hit 9-of-18 3-pointers (and 22-of-44 overall). He is a 7’4″ freak that LeBron James called an “alien” and a “generational talent,” and Stephen Curry said he was a “2K create-a-player.”

Combine that with the play of the Ignite’s Scoot Henderson — who had scouts using a young Derrick Rose comparison because of his athleticism, body control and skill — and the reaction in NBA circles was clear: There will be a “race to the bottom” this season. With multiple franchise cornerstone players available (and a deep draft at the top beyond those two), tanking will be an epidemic in the NBA.

Adam Silver, speaking in the United Arab Emirates before an NBA preseason game between the Bucks and Hawks, does not want to see teams tanking for Wembanyama.

Good luck with that, Adam.

The league office hates tanking and even a discussion of it. They hate the idea of a fan base being told — or, worse yet, actively rooting for — their team to lose games. This season there will be an epidemic of it around the league. In a typical year, a front office may want to tank but their challenge is getting buy-in from ownership. Not this year — Wembanyama could add $500 million to the value of a franchise, one league executive told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It could make the NBA trade deadline in February wild as teams that started the season thinking playoffs but were out of the mix (due to injury or just not being good enough) pivot to tanking. For example, think Portland from last season after Damian Lillard had surgery. Of course, the Trail Blazers also can serve as a cautionary tale — they had the sixth-worst record in the league last season but fell to seventh in the draft. Tanking doesn’t always work.

There were already were teams clearly in rebuild mode and racing to the bottom this season — do you think it’s a coincidence Danny Ainge blew up the Jazz this past summer? — and some other teams with some promising young talent (Houston, Orlando) that are fine losing a lot of games while those guys learn on the job. But the bottom of the standings could get crowded.

The NBA flattened out the lottery odds a few years ago to discourage tanking: The teams with the three worst records have a 14% chance to get the top pick and the odds drop from there (fourth is 12.5%, fifth is 10.5%, and it keeps on going down). However, this year, because the prize at the top of the draft is so huge, more teams than ever could try to get into that top three, or at least do what they can to fatten their odds.

However, with the prize being Wembanyama this season, a lot of teams may be willing to take that risk.

Despite what Adam Silver wants.

 

Joel Embiid has Olympic-sized decision to make: France or USA

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
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HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Joel Embiid has two choices: the red, white and blue of the U.S., or the blue, white and red of France.

An Olympic medal might hinge on his decision.

France is still hopeful that Embiid – the reigning NBA scoring champion – will choose to wear its colors for the 2024 Paris Olympics even though he recently became an American citizen, national team coach Vincent Collet said Thursday.

Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers star, may choose to play internationally for the U.S. or France, but not both. It was widely presumed that he would play for France at the Paris Games and possibly even next year’s Basketball World Cup in the Philippines, until Embiid revealed last week that he now has American citizenship as well.

“Now he has both nationalities, and he has to choose one basketball nationality, which is not the same,” Collet told The Associated Press. “So, that is a choice. Nobody can do anything to change it.”

Embiid told AP last week that it’s too early to think about a decision. By rule, he will eventually have to declare a choice to FIBA, the sport’s international governing body, if he decides that he wants to play at the Olympics or World Cup.

France is the reigning Olympic silver medalist and is planning to have a team featuring Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum – and, quite likely, top NBA draft prospect Victor Wembanyama – at the Paris Games. France’s plan is to essentially take what will be its Olympic roster to the World Cup next year.

Without Embiid, that French core has been extremely formidable. On top of the 2021 silver in Tokyo, France won bronze at the 2019 World Cup and silver again at this year’s European championships.

With Embiid, that group would figure to be even better. Collet said Boris Diaw, the general manager of the French national team, has been in contact with Embiid to discuss options.

“I know he met some of our players to discuss,” Collet said. “I think he should play with us. But we will see. We will respect his decision whatever it is.”

Embiid was born in Cameroon and has held French citizenship. He has a Brazilian girlfriend – their son is American – went to high school in Florida and played college basketball at Kansas.

The five-time NBA All-Star and four-time All-NBA selection has spent his entire pro career with Philadelphia, averaging 26.0 points in his first six seasons and a career-best 30.6 points on his way to the scoring crown last season.