NBA opens investigation into owner Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns’ culture
Nov 4, 2021, 2:40 PM | Updated: 2:55 pm
The National Basketball Association has opened an investigation into allegations of the Phoenix Suns fostering a toxic workplace culture perpetuated by owner Robert Sarver.
“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 vice president of communications 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.”
Specifics, which include allegations of racist language and misogynistic comments by Sarver, were revealed Thursday in an ESPN article written by Baxter Holmes that said upward of 70 people were interviewed.
Sarver and his legal team are heavily cited in the story that was published Thursday, refuting or correcting allegations from their perspective.
In a statement released after the story’s publication, Sarver said he “welcomed” the league to investigate, “which may prove our only outlet for clearing my name and the reputation of an organization of which I’m so very proud.”
The National Basketball Players Association also released a statement:
“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,” it read. “We will defer any further comments until that process has been concluded.”
Among those on the record with anecdotes of allegations in the ESPN story are former head coach Earl Watson, assistant coach Corliss Williamson and player Taylor Griffin, all of whom are Black.
Anonymous former and current employees said those in the Suns’ human resources department feared retaliation for pursing investigations in some instances.
Team president and CEO Jason Rowley, in a statement Thursday, refuted the claims against the team.
“It’s important to us and to me that every employee feels they play a central role in building something special,” part of Rowley’s statement said. “In the workplace, we’ve always tried to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce that prides itself on treating and paying our employees fairly and providing for their upward mobility.
“Just a few examples of the policies and training we offer employees include our Respect in the Workplace Policy and associated training, sexual harassment training, diversity and inclusion training, and a robust learning management system aimed at advancing professional development. We have a track record of hiring and promoting women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ candidates in roles that have been predominately held by men.”
Bass told ESPN for the story that the league has not received complaints of misconduct about the Suns organization. But the story has many anonymous accounts, especially from former executives and fellow owners, who speak on a “toxic and hostile” workplace culture.
According to ESPN, some of the 20-member ownership group for the Suns considered ways to oust Sarver within the first decade of his ownership, which began in 2004.
“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article,” Rowley said in his statement Thursday. “Our two organizations have always worked hard to create an environment that is respectful and diverse; where racism, sexism and damaging behavior of any kind are not condoned.”