LeBron James and Chris Paul have criticized the NBA for the punishment handed down to Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, who this week was fined $10 million and suspended for a year after an independent investigation found he engaged in hostile, racially insensitive and inappropriate behavior.
The report, commissioned by the NBA last fall after an ESPN report about Sarver’s behavior, found the Suns owner had “on at least five occasions during his tenure with the Suns/Mercury organization, repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others.”
He also “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
“Read through the Sarver stories a few times now,” James wrote on Twitter. “I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. 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 work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this aint it.”
According to the NBA, 320 current and former employees who worked for Sarver were interviewed. The NBA said Sarver and the Suns and Mercury organizations cooperated with the investigation.
In an open letter to Suns employees and players on Thursday, team vice chairman Jahm Najafi called on Sarver to resign.
“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege,” Najafi said. “Therefore, in accordance with my commitment to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism and bias, as Vice Chairman of the Phoenix Suns, I am calling for the resignation of Robert Sarver.”
Sarver, who has been the Suns’ and Mercury’s majority owner since 2004, cannot have any involvement with the team during the yearlong suspension and must complete a workplace training program. The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed as determined by the NBA by-laws.
Paul, a 12-time All-Star who has played for the Suns since 2020, also said the NBA’s punishment should have been more severe.
“Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read,” Paul wrote on Twitter. “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. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”
In 2014, then Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was given a lifetime ban by the NBA and forced to sell the franchise after being recorded making racist remarks.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who had not long assumed his role before the Sterling allegations came to light, explained why Sarver wasn’t given a lifetime ban for his comments.
“This case is very different and it’s not that one was captured on tape and the other isn’t,” Silver said, per NBA.com. “Indefensible is not strong enough – it’s beyond the pale in every possible way – but it was a whole different context than what we saw in that earlier case.
“Looking back over his track record of hiring, his track record of support for particular employees, what the actual people said about him – while there were terrible things – there were also many, many people who had very positive things to say about him through this process. I took all of that into account.
“There are particular rights here, somebody who owns an NBA team as opposed to somebody who’s an employee. The equivalent of a $10 million fine and a one-year suspension, I don’t know how to measure that against a job. I don’t have the right to take away his team … but to me, the consequences are severe.”