EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Robert Sarver’s exit allows Phoenix Suns, others to move forward
Too often, we are pressured toward doubt. We give the benefit of it, more often than not.
When rumblings in October 2021 began of an eventual mega-story from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes that would go on to reveal allegations of the horrifying, putrid and unforgiving behavior of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, the Suns behind Sarver and team president Jason Rowley applied that pressure before the series of events that brought on Sarver’s decision to sell the Suns and Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday.
In tweets that have since been deleted by the team but in statements you can still read on the Suns’ website, the franchise released a statement claiming the exposé would be “based on lies, innuendo and a false narrative to attack our organization and its leadership.”
Sarver’s own words downplayed the incoming allegations to a, in hindsight, disgusting level. Rowley called Holmes’ work in progress “outrageous and false,” one Holmes “used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up.”
Too often, that statement coming out is the furthest something like this will get.
Fortunately, for those affected by the toxic workplace environment, it did not.
Holmes’ story ran two weeks later, leading to an investigation by the NBA that last week was released. It backed up what the Suns attempted to shove into the ether.
The NBA’s punishment for Sarver of a one-year suspension and $10 million fine was disappointing and showed a lack of understanding of what it has proven to stand for, something LeBron James, Chris Paul and Draymond Green were unafraid to point out.
But the pressure was now beyond doubt. We were dealing in the world of facts, not supposed hearsay. The pressure, instead, would come in Sarver’s direction from the City of Phoenix, those players, its association, minority owner Jahm Najafi and PayPal, the team’s jersey patch sponsor.
That led to Sarver announcing on Wednesday he has begun the process of seeking buyers.
If for whatever reason you were still granting that benefit of the doubt to Sarver while supporting the league’s process to arrive at its conclusion and believing Sarver and the environment he oversaw could change, his announcement included a shocking lack of full accountability. It pointed fingers at an “unforgiving climate” spotlighting his past actions in a way that would be untenable.
Sarver’s approval rating from the fanbase was in a rough spot after a slew of transactions from the early portion of his tenure favored cutting costs over pursuing the best interests of the team. That history brought on a natural sense of hesitancy from fans about this current iteration of a Suns team that was about to become even more expensive, a bright era Sarver did help shape with the hirings of head coach Monty Williams and general manager James Jones.
That future and how it could change the way the Suns shape their roster in the next few years comes to mind as an aftershock of Wednesday’s Earth-shattering bomb of news.
But the present should be considered first, the relief granted to the courageous employees and ex-employees who spoke up to share their uncomfortable truths. Many were shaken by the investigation’s end stating it “made no finding that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus” after its findings.
Now, though, they have been given an acceptable outcome. Hopefully, those still with the team can experience a healthy workplace going forward. The Suns released a statement citing “changes to leadership, staff and accountability measures” while acknowledging the work left to be done.
And for those born and bred in the Valley that love this sport so much, the Suns and Mercury can make fans proud as the de facto representatives of that love without hesitation of who represents them.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported “league executives always believed this could be a monster free agent destination with right ownership,” stating what we locally already know about the potential of basketball in Phoenix and how the Suns should be considered one of the NBA’s most storied franchises, a declaration that certainly produces skepticism from an outside perspective.
Perhaps, the disproving of one doubt can start another.