After a year, the NBA’s allegedly independent investigation into the conduct of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver was condensed to a tidy 43 pages. It’s a breezy read I can further synopsize into two sentences.
Sarver, per the investigators, is not a racist or a hater of women. He’s merely a tyrant — a terrible boss and a miserable human.
Among Sarver’s faults: He “said the N-word at least five times in repeating or purporting to repeat what a Black person said.” Then there’s “unequal treatment of female employees,” indulging in “sex-related statements and conduct” and committing “harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying.”
For 18 years of such tyranny, the league banned Sarver from running the Suns for one year and fined him $10 million, the maximum allowable under NBA bylaws.
Within a day, players and pundits weighed in, with virtual unanimity that Sarver deserved far worse, like the forced sale of the team levied against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014.
“I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read,” Suns star Chris Paul tweeted. “This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated. … I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior.”
Lebron James, the most powerful player on the planet, seconded Paul’s disgust, tweeting “our league definitely got this wrong.”
James went on, “I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism and racism in any workplace.”
As a close observer of Suns hoops for the past quarter century, I was long ago pushed to dislike the team by Sarver’s sour demeanor, horrific roster moves and sideline narcissism.
Still, it was hard not to pull for this iteration of the Suns squad, led — ironically, given the accusations of racism — by two incredibly talented African American executives, head coach Monty Williams and general manager James Jones.
For two years running, this team has played beautiful basketball. They are unselfish, united, collaborative and a group that holds one another accountable. In other words, the team on the floor has been everything their owner is not off it.
This leaves every Suns fan with a choice to make, a decision I find most curious at a moment when every aspect of life, from dining at Chick-fil-A to grabbing java at Starbucks, has become a time for choosing.
How do you reckon with Robert Sarver, his conduct and his team? Do you continue to give the Suns your passion, your sweat and blood, your cash? Or do you hop off the Suns bandwagon and refuse to enable and enrich its ownership?
For me, I long ago made the decision not to put another thin dime in Sarver’s pocket, walking away from season tickets rather than supporting the man’s reign of error.
I certainly respect your right to choose otherwise. I even understand it to a degree. Bleeding orange and purple is tough to get over, and quitting Sarver also means quitting solid human beings like Williams and Devin Booker. It’s hard to blame an employee for the conduct of a business owner. It also makes you wonder how long players like Paul and Booker will want to toil in Sarver’s employ, and whether they will remain “all in” to pursue the Suns’ elusive first championship
All of us have worked for a tyrant at some point. Ask yourself, did you really give it everything you had when push came to shove?
Yeah, me neither.
David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org