The NBA suspended Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver for a year and fined him $10 million on Tuesday after an independent investigation revealed multiple violations of workplace standards of conduct.
The investigation found that Sarver repeated the N-word at least five times. He also made sex-related comments and inappropriate appearance-related comments to and about female employees. He also mistreated employees by yelling and swearing at them.
The investigation also found that Suns’ Human Resources department was historically ineffective.
The league launched its investigation in November following an ESPN article alleged misconduct by Sarver. The NBA commissioned the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which reviewed more than 80,000 documents — including emails, text messages and videos — related to Sarver’s behavior.
Sarver initially called the allegations “false,” “inaccurate” and “misleading,” while adamantly denying the allegations of wrongdoing. In November, he said: “I would fully welcome an impartial NBA investigation that could prove that our… only outlet for clearing my name and the reputation of an organization of which I am so incredibly proud.”
The assessment of Sarver’s 18-year tenure as the teams’ managing partner corroborated the original reporting, according to the findings.
“The statements and conduct described in the findings of TBEN investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We believe the outcome is the right one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context uncovered by the extensive investigation of this 18-year period.”
The $10 million fine is the maximum allowed by the NBA Constitution and Bylaws. Sarver will also be banned from all NBA and WNBA facilities, events, games, practices and business activities.
“The NBA’s findings regarding the organization are, for the most part, focused on historic issues addressed in recent years,” said a statement from Suns Legacy Partners, the company that manages the Suns and Mercury. “Robert Sarver also takes responsibility for his actions. He acknowledges that his behavior during his eighteen years of ownership sometimes did not reflect his or the Suns’ values.”
Sarver’s fine will be donated to organizations working to address race and gender-based issues inside and outside the workplace. During his suspension, Sarver will undergo a training program on respect and appropriate behavior in the workplace.
“While I disagree with some of the details of the NBA report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that have offended our employees,” Sarver wrote in a statement to TBEN. “I take full responsibility for what I’ve done. I’m sorry I caused this pain and these errors of judgment are not in line with my personal philosophy or my values.”
The findings mirror revelations about former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was fined $2.5 million and banned for life after being caught making racist comments on audio recordings. The ban forced Sterling to sell the team after 33 years of ownership for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Sterling’s lawsuit against the NBA was settled in 2016.