Victims of the NBA’s failure of the misconduct of Suns owner Robert Sarver

By agreeing to sell its franchises, Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver may be attempting to absolve the NBA of its gross miscarriage, so we should remember that none of this would happen without the courage of people who risked their own. sustenance to bring his offenses to light.

It seems unlikely the NBA would ever have kept Sarver’s feet on fire if it hadn’t been for more than 70 of its current and former employees who disclosed allegations of racism, misogyny and other workplace misconduct to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. , allegations that were released in November 2021. The league admitted that it had not received a single suggestion regarding Sarver’s behavior to the anonymous hotline it set up in the wake of Sports Illustrated’s 2018 investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in the organization of the Dallas Mavericks.

If the NBA takes its commitment to social justice seriously, the league should ask itself: Are we doing enough to convince our employees that we are committed to making their jobs safe and fair?

The independent investigation into Sarver’s misconduct, launched only after ESPN’s filing, detailed the numerous cases of harassment during his 18-year tenure, from confirming he used the N word in a free agent recruiting camp during his first season as the team owner in 2004 confirming his use of sexually explicit language at a 2021 reunion. It’s hard to believe the league was unaware of Sarver’s transgressions.

Even with a 43-page report filled with evidence to the contrary, the NBA approved its independent law firm’s determination of “no finding that Sarver’s conduct was motivated by racial or gender hostility.”

Commissioner Adam Silver did not cover himself in glory when he said, “There are special rights here of someone who owns an NBA team as opposed to someone who is an employee.” His clarification that employees and franchise owners “are absolutely … held to the same standard of proper conduct” has remained woefully flat, given the meager one-year suspension and $ 10 million fine levied against Sarver in place. of the lifetime ban.

He put the burden on whistleblowers, some of whom still work for the Suns, to forgive and forget.

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver has announced plans to sell both franchises amid his scandalous conduct. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports)

Eventually, the money talked. Paypal has vowed not to renew its long-standing partnership with Suns and Mercury, Sarver is expected to return to his post when the suspension ends. Only one member of the group owned by Sarver spoke out against the management of the managing partner. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, multiple league and team sponsors were poised to cease associating with the Phoenix franchises. The National Basketball Players Association had just begun its protest, demanding Sarver’s resignation. And in the end Sarver folded.

Perhaps this was always the NBA’s hope, that the financial fallout from the Sarver scandal would provide enough pressure to force him to kick out, and the other 29 league-owned groups could avoid the likelihood of further repercussions from the discovery process. behind a potentially controversial legal battle.

However we got here, it’s not because the NBA has done everything it can to protect the rights of its employees.

It took TMZ to release tapes of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, followed by protests from players and sponsors, before the NBA issued the lifetime ban. Sterling’s conduct was no secret, considering he had paid a couple of historically large housing discrimination lawsuits in the previous decade. Even then, it was Shelly Sterling, not her league, who facilitated her husband’s ouster, deeming him legally mentally unfit to make decisions and pledging not to sue the NBA as part of selling her.

Likewise, it was the Sports Illustrated report that revealed pervasive sexual harassment, abuse and other misconduct within the Mavericks organization. The subsequent independent NBA investigation revealed that club owner Mark Cuban was aware of repeated sexual harassment by an employee and violent threats against his colleagues, as well as two acts of domestic violence perpetrated by another employee, of including one involving a colleague. Cuban denied prior knowledge of team president and CEO Terdema Ussery’s “improper workplace conduct towards 15 female employees”, despite the Dallas Morning News uncovering an internal investigation into Ussery’s transgressions prior to purchasing the company. team from Cuban.

“I’m sorry. It doesn’t work that way,” Melissa Weisenhaupt, marketing manager for the Mavericks from 2010 to 2014 and one of Ussery’s accusers, wrote to SI. “When I worked on the commercial side of the Mavs, all the marketing, promotional and broadcasting decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.”

Under Cuban’s leadership, “many employees said that the company’s apparent inactivity … fueled their belief that it was pointless to file HR complaints.” In Sarver’s case, the culture was nearly identical: “Employees were reluctant to report problems and also reluctant to complete HR surveys.”

As for Sterling, his racism was widely publicized long before 2014. In addition to housing discrimination lawsuits, one of the game’s all-time greats, Elgin Baylor, who spent 22 years of his post-playing career as director general of the Clippers, filed several claims of racial discrimination in a lawsuit against Sterling.

In any event, the NBA has not conducted an investigation or claimed to be unaware of the widespread misconduct within it. The League should be able to explain why it did not act or did not know it. We won’t like the answers, as happened when Silver alluded to you in his press conference. Employees rightly believe that their voices will not be heard because the dynamics of power are skewed strongly in the direction of the NBA franchise owners and the league office is held to them, even when misconduct comes to light.

It took the courage of Sarver employees to come forward with their reports as victims of harassment, Holmes’ tireless reporting to uncover sordid details, a 10-month independent investigation into everything, and yet the NBA hasn’t. retained the owner of the team to account. It then took more media coverage, sentencing from players, a principled minority owner and the revocation of sponsorships to force Saver’s hand.

However, Sarver will walk with the luck he has made on the shoulders of those he has vilified. As Shelly Sterling told Shelburne about her husband in 2019, “He’s happy he sold the team now. Yes. He tells a lot of people. He says, ‘You know, I had to sell the team, but I feel like I’ve fallen a tree. and landed on a heap of gold. ‘”

There is certainly more misconduct yet uncovered in the NBA, otherwise a league that portends it prides itself on progressivism would have found a three-quarters vote among its club owners to oust the worst of them. We can only hope that their subordinates are brave enough to tell their stories, because if we’ve learned anything from this mess, there are outside forces willing to hold the mighty accountable if the NBA isn’t.

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Ben Rohrbach is a Yahoo Sports staff writer. Do you have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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