Two of the biggest name players in the NBA stepped up early and said the punishment for Suns owner Robert Sarver wasn’t enough. LeBron James said, “our league definitely got this wrong,” and the Suns’ Chris Paul said the one-year ban and $10 million fine “fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior.”
Now Tamika Tremaglio, the NBPA executive director, has called for a lifetime ban for Sarver. She appeared on ESPN’s NBA Today and said this:
“We are absolutely calling for that [lifetime ban]. We do not want him to be in a position where he is managing or engaging with individuals who are engaging with our players or the players themselves. We are absolutely clear from the findings that are in the report that we do not want him to be in that position…
“It is our players’ desire that while we understand that there has been a thorough investigation and while we’re very pleased that the NBA was able to follow through on that — because that’s clearly something that we want to see happen — we also want to make it very clear that we do not want him to be back in a position where he will be impacting our players and those who serve our players on a daily basis.”
A 10-month investigation into Sarver and the Suns found numerous instances of his racist and misogynistic behavior over 17 years: using the N-word at least five times (despite being told he can’t do that), telling a pregnant woman she probably couldn’t be at the event she was planning because a child needs a mother not a father at home, commenting on women’s appearances and bodies (multiple times), emailing pornography to male employees, berating women in the office, and the list goes on and on with more than 100 employees telling investigators of times Sarver “violated applicable standards” (to put it kindly).
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver settled on a one-year suspension for Sarver and a $10 million fine, a punishment seen as a slap on the wrist. When asked to explain why Sarver got one year for something that would have gotten an employee at the NBA league office — or with any of the 30 teams — fired, Silver stumbled.
“There are particular rights here of someone who owns an NBA team as opposed to somebody who is an employee…” Silver said. “I don’t have the right to take away his team… There’s no neat answer here, other than owning property, the rights that come with owning an NBA team, how that’s set up within our constitution, what it would take to remove that team from his control is a very involved process, and it’s different than holding a job. It just is, when you actually own a team. It’s just a very different proposition.”
Except what Tremaglio — and others — are calling for is not forcing Sarver to sell his shares of the Suns (he owns about a third of the team, the largest percentage of multiple owners). They are calling for a lifetime ban, an extension of his one-year suspension from having anything to do with the Suns’ business or basketball operations. Sarver would become a silent partner but retain his shares, which he could sell whenever he wished.
That ban is within Silver’s rights and was the first thing he did with Donald Sterling when tapes of the former Clippers owner’s racist statements went public in 2014. (The Clippers were only sold to Steve Ballmer because of a Machiavellian move by Sterling’s wife, Shirley, to have Sterling declared incompetent to run the team, then she sold it out from under him.)
Sarver likely would fight a lifetime (or even extended) ban, taking the league to court. That’s where Silver needs the backing of the other 29 NBA owners — Silver works for them, and many of those billionaires are not comfortable voting out one of their own (people who live in glass houses and all). They will not vote to force a sale, but the other owners might back a lifetime ban if there is enough public and financial pressure on them that they feel they have to choose the league over Sarver for the good of their businesses.
That’s why PayPal saying it will not renew as a jersey sponsor if Sarver returns as governor was a huge step (other sponsors joining that chorus would matter greatly). It’s why Tremaglio and the players’ union speaking up and calling for the ban matters. It’s why Paul and LeBron calling out the punishment matters.
Pressure is building for a harsher punishment for Sarver. Whether it will be enough to get Silver to act remains to be seen.