Robert Sarver announces plans to sell NBA's Phoenix Suns, WNBA's Mercury amid controversy

·6-min read

One week after the NBA levied a one-year suspension and $10 million fine against Robert Sarver, the embattled owner announced plans on Wednesday to sell the Phoenix Suns and WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.

"I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury," Sarver said in a statement.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a two-sentence statement later on Tuesday saying that he fully supported the decision.

"This is the right next step for the organization and community," he said.

National Basketball Players Association president C.J. McCollum was similarly brief, but satisfied.

“We thank Mr. Sarver for making a swift decision that was in the best interest of our sports community.”

The Suns themselves released a statement on behalf of team management in support of the pending sale.

"We agree that Robert Sarver's decision to sell the Suns and Mercury is in the best interest of the organization and community," the statement reads.

The NBA last week released a 43-page report based on an independent law firm's 10-month investigation into allegations of racism, misogyny and other workplace misconduct against Sarver. Among the most damning findings from 320 interviews and the review of more than 80,000 documents was evidence that Sarver "said the N-word at least five times in repeating or purporting to repeat what a Black person said," despite multiple warnings that "he could never say the N-word, even when quoting someone else."

The investigation uncovered an extensive list of instances in which Sarver was found to harass male and female employees. In one example, according to the report, he threatened a pregnant employee's role because her "baby needs their mom, not their father," and then called a meeting with a lawyer who told the woman that Sarver "had done nothing wrong." On another occasion, he "exposed his genitals to a male employee who was on his knees," the report said. The investigation laid out in detail dozens more offenses.

In the immediate aftermath of his suspension and fine, Sarver said last week in a statement, "While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values."

"I accept the consequences of the NBA’s decision," he added, vowing to "learn and grow" in his absence.

Given the volume of accusations and evidence, the NBA came under heavy criticism for not banning Sarver for life, as it had done in light of then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's racist remarks in 2014.

The NBPA was among the league's harshest critics. In an appearance on ESPN's "NBA Today," NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio called for a lifetime ban this past Friday.

“I am speaking on behalf of our players. ... We want to make it very clear that we do not want him back in a position where he will be impacting our players and those who serve our players on a daily basis,” she said.

Similarly, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James tweeted last week, "There is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love the league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn't right."

Suns star and former NBPA president Chris Paul, who also played for the Clippers in 2014, said, "I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior."

In the days after the NBA released its report, Jahm Najafi, the Suns' second-largest stakeholder, called for Sarver's resignation. Najafi said in his statement, "I have no interesting in becoming the managing partner."

Longtime sponsor PayPal also said last week it would not renew its deal with both Phoenix franchises if Sarver returned to his post after the suspension. The company's contract, which includes a patch of its logo on the Suns' jerseys for a reported $3 million annually, expires at the end of this coming season.

Silver conducted a news conference last week and, like the investigation, stopped short of describing Sarver's behavior as outright racist, sexist or misogynistic. Silver also suggested that the reason Sarver was not banned for life was because "there are particular rights here of someone who owns an NBA team as opposed to somebody who is an employee." Specifically, the league requires a three-fourths vote among its team owners to remove a peer. The NBA did not hold such a vote.

As a result, Sarver's announcement of his intent to sell the team came as a surprise.

As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness," he said in his statement on Wednesday. "I expected that the commissioner's one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.

"But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.

"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."

The NBA's investigation detailed instances of Sarver's misconduct, both verbal and physical, throughout his tenure as owner. Evidence ranged from 2004, when he purchased the team and allegedly said the N-word during a free-agent recruitment pitch, to as recently as 2021, when ESPN's Baxter Holmes exposed the toxic conditions and Sarver "made crude references to sex" during a meeting that offended employees.

Forbes listed a $1.8 billion valuation of the Suns in October 2021. According to Holmes, Sarver owns roughly one-third of the franchise and can authorize the full sale of the team as its managing partner.

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver announced plans to sell both franchises. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver announced plans to sell both franchises. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach