NBA takes it too easy on Sarver, shouldn’t to prevent this from happening again

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In 2004, Suns owner Robert Sarver used the N-word during a meeting to recruit a free agent player. In 2021, Sarver talked about learning what a “blow job” was during a Suns’ business meeting.

For the 17 years in between, Sarver was often a bully, the man who oversaw a Suns organization with racist and misogynistic overtones that flowed directly from the top. All of that and more is detailed in a 36-page report flowing out of an NBA investigation into the franchise by the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The report found more than 100 employees who said Sarver “violated applicable standards” of business conduct, but that legalese sells short what employees were dealing with. For example, he “told a pregnant employee that she would be unable to do her job upon becoming a mother,” he “made a comment to a female employee about his genitalia” (that happened more than once), he emailed pornographic material to some other male colleagues, Sarver used the N-word at least five times (despite being told multiple times by staff that was not acceptable), he swore often, and “over 50 current and former employees reported that Sarver frequently engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees.”

All that is just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg in the report. Nearly every detailed incident was something that would get nearly everybody reading this fired on the spot.

Yet Sarver will still be the owner, be working out of the offices of the Phoenix Suns a year from now and sitting courtside at their 2023-24 games.

Sarver was suspended by the NBA for a year for creating a hostile work environment, and he was fined $10 million — with that money being directed to organizations focused on racial and gender-based issues in and out of the workplace — but he will not lose control of the team.

The most shocking part report was this paragraph:

“Taking the evidence in totality, including witness testimony and documents reviewed by investigators, the investigation makes no finding that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”

Are they kidding? How could nearly two decades of this consistent behavior not be motivated by racial or gender-based animus? Just because Sarver doesn’t recognize it as animus and thinks his sophomoric humor is just misunderstood, doesn’t make it any less horrible, demeaning, or racist. Ask the women in the office he berated if they felt there was animus.

The NBA chose to take it easy on Sarver. Adam Silver chose to avoid confrontation. The punishments should have been more severe, maybe including losing the team. One year is a slap on the wrist.

Why wasn’t Sarver forced to sell his team the way Donald Sterling was with the Clippers eight years ago? Why did Sarver get basically the same punishment the Mavericks got for troubling issues on their business side, but ones not linked to owner Mark Cuban and not stretching anywhere near decades?

In Sterling’s case there was audio (leaked by his mistress to TMZ) — actually hearing the vile, racist comments from Sterling himself made it more visceral. There is no audio or video of Sarver, no smoking gun of the same degree, despite the volume of complaints in the report.

Those Sterling tapes also came out during the playoffs, leading to strong reactions from players — including almost boycotting a game — and a very public show against the then Clippers owner.

Numerous NBA sponsors — State Farm, Carmax, Kia, Red Bull, and many others — also pulled away from the Clippers and the league after the Sterling tapes came out. The second the scandal hit the league’s bottom line, Adam Silver acted quickly and decisively.

The Sarver scandal dropped in the deadest part of the NBA offseason and has not seen the same level of player involvement and public anger as the Sterling case. There has not been a sponsor backlash to this point. Sarver also “took responsibility” for his actions, which was not a genuine apology but was more contrite than Sterling.

Also, don’t forget NBA Commissioner Adam Silver works for — and at the pleasure of — the NBA owners. Plenty of them live in glass houses and don’t want to start throwing stones.

If the NBA is not going to step up with a punishment that is a true deterrent (and reflection of the offense), it needs to at least find a way to keep this from happening at other NBA (and WNBA) franchises. Silver sent a memo to teams in the wake of the Mavericks scandal telling them to clean up their own houses, but that didn’t happen everywhere, as evidenced by this report.

If the NBA is going to champion its progressive policies and credentials — if it’s going to claim to stand for diversity, inclusion, and equality — it has to start living up to those ideals within teams. Those can’t simply be words.

What can be done? Sam Amick at The Athletic wisely suggests the NBA find a way for team employees to make a complaint to them about working conditions/situations and have them investigated, rather than going to team human resources. In Phoenix, people didn’t come forward because they feared reprisals from HR, which was seen as an extension of Sarver’s will and not something there to protect the workers. It may be that way with other teams, the NBA needs an anonymous complaint of.

There may be other steps as well. The owners may not want more league oversight of their business, but if they can’t police themselves than the NBA has no choice. Not that the NBA itself is blameless here — both the Sarver and Sterling situations went on for decades before there was action. That is not acceptable.

The league has to do more. It may take real pressure from the players and league sponsors to make that happen — players shouldn’t be the ones having to hold the league to its own standards, but here we are.

The NBA fined and suspended Sarver, but did not take the steps that would put the fear of god (or Adam Silver) in other owners. It went easy on him despite decades of evidence.

It’s time for the NBA to live up to its words and ideals.

 

 

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
Harry How/Getty Images
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.