On Tuesday, news broke that the NBA was punishing Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver for a career full of racism and misconduct. Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was fined $10 million and suspended for a year.
This has been a long time coming, as ESPN’s Baxter Holmes first reported an exposé last November, which alleged that Sarver had numerous instances throughout his career of racism (including using the N-word multiple times), misogyny (including asking an employee if he “owned” her, to see if she worked for the team), and building an inappropriate workplace.
That launched an investigation by the league, and when the allegations were determined to be accurate, the NBA set to work on a punishment.
They came up woefully short. Sarver’s slap on the wrist is a fraction of what disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling received: a lifetime ban, which would be fairly fitting for Sarver.
At a press conference on Wednesday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver attempted to explain the discrepancy between Sterling’s and Sarver’s punishments, and justifiably was dragged for his statements. Silver fell on his face a bit with some pretty lame remarks, stating that Sarver’s actions were “wholly of a different kind” than Sterling’s.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: Former Clippers owner Donald Sterling was guilty of "blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of people," while Suns owner Robert Sarver's comments were "beyond the pale" but "wholly of a different kind" than Sterling's.— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 14, 2022
When pressed as to why Sarver got such a light punishment relative to what a team employee — or an employee in another industry — would get, Silver pointed to owners having “particular rights” that others aren’t afforded. For reference, the fine for a flagrant foul is a larger percentage of the NBA’s minimum salary than Sarver’s fine is of his net worth.
. @HowardBeck: "Why should there be a different standard for NBA owner than it would be for everybody who works in this league?"— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 14, 2022
Adam Silver: "There are particular rights here to someone who owns an NBA team as opposed to someone who is an employee."pic.twitter.com/iS4n5gII9v
In case Silver hadn’t said the quiet part loud enough times, or opened his mouth wide enough for his foot, he went out of his way to add a redemption arc for a man who, by all accounts, is still fostering an inappropriate work environment, and who went above and beyond in denying the allegations when they were first reported.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that there was no conversation with Robert Sarver about selling the Phoenix Suns, that Sarver "has evolved as a person" during his 18-year ownership tenure and that he has done "many very positive things" in his role.— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 14, 2022
To be clear, Silver works for the owners, not the other way around. It was the decision of the 29 other owners to not try and oust Sarver. Silver is just the guy tasked with being the mouth piece, but you can be a mouth piece without gushing about the “positive things” that a known misogynist and racist has done. You can explain the decision without claiming that Sarver has “evolved,” when the very first steps in evolution are taking responsibility and admitting fault — two things that Sarver has, to this point, fully refused to do.
Simply put, it’s a pathetic move by the NBA, and a failure to create a safe and equitable workspace for a league that already suppresses opportunities for women, and is comprised predominately of Black athletes.
It will be interesting to see the reaction from Golden State Warriors players and staff members. Steve Kerr, who was the Suns general manager under Sarver, and reportedly helped Sarver buy the team, had a pretty disappointing response following the initial report last year.
In Nov 2021, Kerr said of Sarver: "I never saw anything that suggested racism or misogyny, & I was very surprised to hear those allegations b/c that's not the person I know"— Alex Shultz (@AlexShultz) September 14, 2022
Was a mistake to say it then, as I wrote at the time, and it's aged even worsehttps://t.co/825YU6EPqB
Hopefully it’s a much stronger response from the Warriors coach this time. And I’m guessing we’ll hear some passionate words from Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green as well.