Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, has announced plans to sell both basketball franchises after being handed a one-year suspension and a $10 million fine by the league.
The fine and suspension by the NBA came last week after an investigation into allegations of racism and misogyny during his time as the Suns' owner and allegations that he created a toxic working environment.
In a statement, Sarver said: “I do not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world.
"I want what's best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA, and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone.
"In the meantime, I will continue to work on becoming a better person and continuing to support the community in meaningful ways."
Sarver’s move has been welcomed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who released a statement saying he “fully supported” his decision to sell, adding: “This is the right next step for the organization and community.”
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The NBA’s investigation found evidence of “racially insensitive language, unequal treatment of female employees, and sex-related statements and conduct” but added that Sarver did not use “racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate”.
However, the penalties handed down triggered a backlash from all corners of US basketball, with many, including high-profile players LeBron James and Chris Paul, calling for stronger punishments to match the severity of the offenses.
The NBA players union chief Tamika Tremaglio called for him to be banned for life, while the Suns' vice-chairman Jahm Najafi urged him to resign. Major sponsor PayPal said it would not renew its deal with the team if Sarver remained at the franchise.
Sarver’s punishment was less severe than that of Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA for life and forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 after he was recorded making racist remarks.
Addressing the discrepancy last week, Silver said the fact that Sarver did not use racist language to demean or denigrate led to a lighter punishment.
He said: “It was relevant. I think if they had made findings that, in fact, his conduct was motivated by racial animus, absolutely that would have had an impact on the ultimate outcome here. But that’s not what they found.”
Sarver bought the teams in July 2004 for about $400 million and could stand to make a huge profit from the sale, with Forbes valuing the Suns at $1.8 billion. He is the primary owner of the team, with a one-third stake.
The Mercury have won three WNBA titles under Sarver’s ownership, while the Suns reached the NBA finals in the 2021-22 season.
The last majority NBA franchise sale was the $1.66 billion acquisition of the Utah Jazz by Ryan Smith two years ago.
Image: Christian Petersen/Getty Images