The NBA suspended Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver for a year and fined them $10 million Tuesday after an independent investigation uncovered multiple violations of workplace standards of conduct.
The investigation revealed that Sarver repeated the N-word at least five times. He also made gender-related comments and inappropriate language related to female employees. He also abused employees by yelling and verbally abusing them.
The investigation also found that Suns’ human resources department was historically ineffective.
The league launched the investigation in November after an ESPN article detailed alleged wrongdoing by Sarver. The NBA hired the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which reviewed more than 80,000 documents — including emails, text messages and videos — related to Sarver’s conduct.
Sarver initially called the allegations “false,” “inaccurate,” and “misleading,” while firmly denying the allegations of misconduct. In November he said: “I would very much welcome an impartial NBA investigation that could prove ours only outlet to clear my name and the reputation of an organization of which I am so proud.”
The review of Sarver’s 18-year tenure as managing partner of the teams found the results corroborated the original reporting.
“The statements and behavior described in the findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and disappointing,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “We believe that the result is correct, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period.”
The $10 million fine is the maximum permitted by the NBA’s constitution and bylaws. Sarver will also be banned from all NBA and WNBA facilities, events, games, practices and business activities.
“The NBA’s organizational findings are largely focused on historical issues that have been addressed in recent years,” said a statement from Suns Legacy Partners, the company that manages the Suns and Mercury. “Robert Sarver also accepts responsibility for his actions. He recognizes that his behavior during his eighteen years of ownership at times did not reflect his values or those of the Suns.”
Sarver’s fine will be donated to organizations working to address race and gender issues inside and outside the workplace. During his suspension, Sarver will complete a training program on respect and proper behavior in the workplace.
“While I disagree with some of the details of the NBA report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that have offended our staff,” Sarver wrote in a statement sent to CNBC. “I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain and these misperceptions do not align with my personal philosophy or values.”
The findings echo revelations about former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was fined $2.5 million and banned for life after audio recordings caught him making racist remarks. The ban forced Sterling to sell the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion after 33 years in ownership. Sterling’s lawsuit against the NBA was settled in 2016.