Robert Sarver says he began selling the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, a move that came just under a week after he was suspended by the NBA for workplace misconduct, which included racist language and hostile behavior toward employees.
The decision was quickly welcomed by many — including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the National Basketball Players Association, and even Sarver’s partner in the ownership group that runs the Suns and Mercury.
Sarver made the announcement on Wednesday, saying the sale was “the best course of action” although he initially hoped to retain control of the franchises – citing his balance sheet, which he claims paints a dramatically different picture who he is and what he stands for.
“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done or might do is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” Sarver wrote in one Explanation . “For these reasons, I’m starting to look for buyers for Suns and Mercury.”
Silver said he “fully supports” Sarver’s decision.
“This is the right next step for the organization and the community,” said Silver.
Sarver bought the teams in July 2004 for about $400 million — a record price for an NBA franchise at the time. He is not the sole owner of the Suns and Mercury, but the primary one. Suns Legacy Partners LLC, the ownership group, said its work to create a “culture of respect and integrity” continues.
“As we have communicated to our employees, we recognize the courage of the people who have come forward in this process to share their stories and apologize to those injured,” the partners said.
Assuming no other team is sold in the meantime, it would be the first sale in the NBA since a group led by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith bought the Utah Jazz for around $1.7 billion in 2021 bought.
It is not known if Sarver has set an asking price. Forbes recently valued the Suns at $1.8 billion. Any new owner would need to be verified by the NBA, which is standard procedure.
An independent report commissioned by the NBA last November — following an ESPN report on Sarver’s workplace behavior — lasted about 10 months. That investigation found that Sarver “repeated or allegedly repeated the N-word at least five times during his tenure with the Suns,” but added that the investigation “provides no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intention of to humiliate or disparage him.”
The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language towards female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would no longer be able to work after becoming a mother; making inappropriate comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelling and swearing at employees in a manner that “by workplace standards” would be considered bullying.
After that report was completed, Silver suspended Sarver for a year and fined him $10 million — the maximum amount allowed under the league’s rules.
“Words I now deeply regret overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together – and strengthened the Phoenix area – through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball,” Sarver wrote. “As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the one-year suspension of the commissioner would give me the time to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.”
Barely a week later, Sarver obviously realized that this would not be possible.
His decision comes after a chorus of voices — from players like Suns guard Chris Paul and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James to longtime team sponsors like PayPal and even the National Basketball Players Association — said the one-year suspension wasn’t enough .
James weighed again on Wednesday, shortly after Sarver’s statement became public: “I’m so proud to be part of a league dedicated to progress!” he tweeted.
Added retired NBA player Etan Thomas, also in a tweet: “Sarver conceded, so it’s not really a penalty for him, but definitely glad he’ll be gone.”
NBPA President CJ McCollum said the union thanks Sarver “for making a quick decision that was in the best interests of our sports community.”
Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi last week called on Sarver to step down, saying there should be “zero tolerance” for indecent, misogynistic and racist behavior in any workplace. Najafi also said in the same statement that he has no plans to become the team’s main owner.
“I don’t want to distract from these two teams and the amazing people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world,” Sarver wrote. “I want what’s best for both of these organizations, the players, the staff, the fans, the community, my co-owners, the NBA and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone.”
Sarver argued to the NBA during the investigation that his record as owner shows a “longstanding commitment to social and racial justice” and that he has a “commitment to diversity, justice and inclusion.” Among the examples Sarver cited was what he described as the league’s best rate of 55% minority employment in the Suns’ front office and how more than half of the team’s coaches and chief executives did during his tenure — including the current coach Monty Williams and current GM James Jones – are black.