LOS ANGELES — Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver on Friday strongly denied allegations of “racism, sexism and sexual harassment” by him or his organization planned for an upcoming ESPN story.
Jordan Schultz, who hosts PullUpPod, a podcast with Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, first tweeted Friday a story accusing Sarver was about to be released:
“The NBA is preparing for a massive story accusing Suns owner Robert Sarver of racism, sexism and sexual harassment in a series of incidents, sources say. With enough evidence to support such claims, there’s a real chance the league would forcibly remove Sarver,” Schultz said on Twitter.
In reaction, Sarver, who also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, released a statement, saying he’s “wholly shocked” by the accusations and strongly denying them.
🚨 Breaking: The NBA is preparing for a massive story accusing #Suns owner Robert Sarver of racism, sexism and sexual harassment in a series of incidents, sources say. With enough evidence to support such claims, there’s a real chance the league would forcibly remove Sarver.
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) October 22, 2021
“I am wholly shocked by some of the allegations purported by ESPN about me, personally, or about the Phoenix Suns and Mercury organizations,” Sarver said in the statement. “While I can’t begin to know how to respond to some of the vague suggestions made by mostly anonymous voices, I can certainly tell you that some of the claims I find completely repugnant to my nature and to the character of the Suns/Mercury workplace and I can tell you they never, ever happened.”
Sarver continued by saying in the statement he rejects “any insinuation of personal or organizational racism or gender discrimination” directed towards him.
“First and foremost, I reject any insinuation of personal or organizational racism or gender discrimination. I despise language that disrespects any individuals, regardless of race, gender, preference, or choice. Such language has no place in business or at home in what I consider Suns and Mercury families. I am proud of our record of diversity and inclusion on both teams – whether on the court or in the front office.”
Sarver concluded his statement with thoughts of how to respond to the accusations.
“I don’t begin to know how to prove that something DIDN’T happen, and it is difficult to erase or forget ugly accusations once they are made. Even hints of racism or sexism in our culture today are toxic and damaging and should not be lightly raised. I categorically deny any and all suggestions that I used disparaging language related to race or gender. I would like to think that my actions and public record regarding race, gender, or discrimination of any kind, over a lifetime in business and community service, will adequately answer any questions anyone might raise about my commitment to equality and fairness.”
Suns general manager James Jones defended Sarver in a statement.
“None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like — it just doesn’t,” Jones said.
Suns team president and CEO, Jason Rowley, also made a statement in which he defending the Suns and Mercury, saying they “take seriously any allegations of racism, sexism, or harassment of any kind, which have no place in our organization and are not tolerated” by either organization.
“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization takes very seriously our commitment to promoting a respectful, fun, competitive and enriching work environment, and we are proud of our track record relating to employee wellbeing. We also take seriously any allegations of racism, sexism, or harassment of any kind, which have no place in our organization and are not tolerated. With respect to recent reports about a forthcoming ESPN article regarding Robert Sarver and our organization, I will simply say that we are aware of the false narratives it contains, and plan to respond accordingly.”
Rowley said the ESPN article “is completely outrageous and false” about Sarver.
“It doesn’t represent — at all — the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years. He’s not a racist and he’s not a sexist. I will also say that reporter in this instance has shown a reckless disregard for the truth. He has harassed employees, former employees, and family members; used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up. His tactics throughout this process have been without any basis in journalism ethics or even morality.”
This was all part of a massive statement from the Suns, which was posted on its Twitter account, in response to the tweet on the upcoming article from ESPN.
“We understand that ESPN is considering publishing a proposed story that makes completely baseless claims against the Suns Legacy Partners, LLC organization concerning a variety of topics. Documentary evidence in our possession and eyewitness accounts directly contradict the reporter’s accusations, and we are preparing our response to his questions. We urge everyone not to rush to judgment here. Especially based on lies, innuendo, and a false narrative to attack our organization and its leadership.”
The situation conjures memories of Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA in 2014 in reaction to the then Los Angeles Clippers team owner’s racist comments the league says he made in a recorded conversation. Sterling was also fined $2.5 million.
“I would rather not be partners with somebody who has the views that were expressed on those tapes,” Sarver said at the time.
Sarver had a teleconference with his players about that situation at the time.
“You know my track record on these issues,” Sarver said. “A big part of what the NBA is about is promoting diversity, tolerance and respect for all people.”
Sarver has received criticism over the years on the financial terms of the original $230-million renovation project of what is now Footprint Center that’s risen to $245 million.
The city of Phoenix had to pay $150 million while Sarver handled the remaining $80 million and any cost overruns, which was at $15 million by this summer.
ESPN reported back in 2019 that that Sarver “acquired some live goats from a Diana Taurasi event at Talking Stick Resort Arena and planted them upstairs” in then-Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough’s office.
This was supposed to be a practical joke and motivation for the Suns to find a “GOAT” or dominate play like the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury have in Taurasi, but the goats reportedly defecated all over McDonough’s office.
However, he elevated Jones to replace McDonough before the 2018-19 season and Jones proceeded to win last season’s NBA executive of the year award in putting together a team that reached the finals.
Sarver also had a $45 million practice facility built for the Suns and Mercury, who reached the WNBA Finals this year. Sarver is also close friends with Larry Fitzgerald, who has a minority ownership stake with the Suns.
So Sarver was being recognized for several positive things as he was part of the hiring of head coach Monty Williams going into the 2019-20 season, but took some recent heat for Suns starting center Deandre Ayton not receiving a rookie max extension, or any extension going into his fourth and final year of his initial rookie deal.