The NBA has announced it will launch an investigation into the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver.
More than 70 former and current employees have alleged in an ESPN article that Sarver has engaged in a hostile workplace where he makes constant racist and misogynistic comments.
“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,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement.
“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.”
The NBPA also released a statement of their own:
“We are continuing to review the allegations in today’s ESPN story. We view these allegations as serious and applaud the League’s decision to conduct an investigation. We will defer any further comments until that process has been concluded.”
Among the accusations was Sarver’s alleged use of the N-word around coaches and players on more than one occasion.
Former Suns’ coach Earl Watson told ESPN on the record he repeatedly told Sarver, “You can’t say that.” Sarver acknowledged using the word “on one occasion,” when he repeated a player’s language.
“I’ve never called anyone or any group of people the N-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by the N-word, either verbally or in writing,” Sarver, who denied an interview request, told ESPN through his lawyers. “I don’t use that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in.”
In a statement following the ESPN article’s publication, Sarver said he welcomed a league investigation after he felt the reporting in the article was a “misrepresentation” from all of the sources who spoke about the owner.
“At this point, I would entirely welcome an impartial NBA investigation,” Sarver added, “which may prove our only outlet for clearing my name and the reputation of an organization of which I’m so very proud.”
Employees also referenced Sarver’s repeated use of misogynistic language, including discussions with players about their genitals, “sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others.”
Sarver acknowledged again only “a joking reference to men’s grooming habits with Taylor Griffin once in the locker room.”
Griffin, who played eight games for the Suns in 2010, is the older brother of Brooklyn Nets forward Blake Griffin.
“I have been made aware of the allegations against Robert Sarver, the managing partner who runs the Phoenix Suns,” Jahm Najafi, who owns a minority stake in the team, said in a statement.
“The conduct he is alleged to have committed has stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable. The well-being and safety of every Suns employee, player, coach and stakeholder is first and foremost our priority. My sincerest sympathy goes out to all whose lives and professions have been impacted. I am personally committed to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism, and bias, which is unacceptable anywhere in our society.”
Robert Sarver has owned the Phoenix Suns for 17 years.