NBA punishment to Suns owner Robert Sarver is slap on the wrist

Sep 13, 2022, 5:57 PM | Updated: Sep 14, 2022, 2:01 pm
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver sits during the first half of the NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 12, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Warriors 112-106.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A slap on the wrist.

That’s what most NBA people think about Robert Sarver’s punishment. A one-year hiatus from basketball? Sarver could burn that time on the coast of Spain, hanging out with his soccer team. A $10 million fine? Pocket change relative to his net worth.

As a franchise, the Suns have increased in value by $100 million increments in each of the past four seasons. Sarver owns roughly 35 percent of the team. If growth remains constant, Sarver’s stake will grow by $35 million during his suspension, easily mitigating the “hefty” fine.

Naturally, Suns fans are disappointed. Sarver is not a popular figure. He was the architect of Ten Years Gone, a dark period of extreme dysfunction on Planet Orange. Many salivated over a potential change in ownership, as if it were a gift from the basketball gods.

People tell me Sarver has changed for the better over the years. His celebrity friends (Larry Fitzgerald) and his general manager (James Jones) have told media outlets they don’t recognize the man documented in the NBA’s investigation.

I would really like to hear from Chris Paul, who has great insight on the subject. I would like to hear from Devin Booker and Monty Williams. And I would like to hear from the fearless Diana Taurasi, as the most painful elements of the NBA’s report involve Sarver’s mistreatment of female employees.

But it’s also clear their experience with Sarver is much different than a great majority of 320 people interviewed during the investigation.

Bottom line: Sarver wasn’t punished further because investigators couldn’t prove Sarver had intent to be racist or sexist. And because Sarver can afford supremely talented attorneys, who successfully built a defense around Sarver’s brusque, bullying, awkward, combative personality. That he’s just prone to saying inappropriate, crude things for reaction. To assert power. To show who’s in charge.

And to be fair, that’s the Sarver I recognize. From my vantage point, I don’t believe he is a racist. Not one bit. And his basketball team would know. You would’ve heard from them by now if the opposite were true. They would’ve protested or staged a walk-out.

This isn’t Donald Sterling, who was caught on tape, very clear in his intent. Or Ray Rice, who was caught on video. Or Jon Gruden, who was exposed by his emails.

But this story isn’t over yet. If advertisers and major sponsors are compelled to unite against Sarver, he could be forced to sell his stake in the Suns. A year away from the game and those compulsory behavioral training courses might also change his perspective. And then there’s the N-word.

One of the key takeaways from the investigation is that Sarver repeated the N-word at least five times. He might’ve done so while quoting others who used the word. He could’ve done so with zero racist intent. But that headline will circulate through the NBA grapevine, possibly creating a groundswell of reaction from current and former players.

Like on Tuesday afternoon, when former Suns reserve Jamal Crawford tweeted out: “Sterling 2.0.”

In the end, the worst of this story lies in the perception that another billionaire got off easy. Because it further traumatizes the victims who came forward to tell their stories, the ones who believed their collective testimony was a smoking gun.

Commissioner Adam Silver apologized to them directly on Tuesday. To some of those victims, it wasn’t nearly enough.

To them, it was the day the NBA became the NFL, a league that specializes in slaps on the wrist for some and slaps in the face for others.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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NBA punishment to Suns owner Robert Sarver is slap on the wrist