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Robert Sarver, the embattled owner of the National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, said he is beginning the process to sell both franchises a week after the league suspended him for using racist and misogynistic language.
The looming sales mark the second time in less than a decade that an NBA franchise has come on the market following misbehaviour by an owner — the Los Angeles Clippers were sold in 2014 to Steve Ballmer after previous owner Donald Sterling was recorded making racist comments.
Sarver, a real estate developer who has owned the Suns since 2004, used the N-word within the front office on at least five occasions, discriminated against a pregnant employee, made lewd jokes and comments about employees’ bodies and contributed to a culture of bullying, according to an independent investigation by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz released last week. The allegations against Sarver were first reported by ESPN in November 2021.
The NBA suspended Sarver for one year and issued a fine of $10mn, though such sanctions were blasted in recent days by sponsors and prominent players for being too lenient. On Friday, payments provider PayPal said it would not renew its sponsorship of the team if Sarver remained in control following his suspension.
In a statement Wednesday, Sarver said he hoped the 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 is no longer possible”.
Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, said in a statement Wednesday he supported Sarver’s decision to sell and that “this is the right next step for the organisation and community.”
Last week, Silver defended the league’s sanction terms, saying he believed it was dealt with “in a fair manner” and that “while there were these terrible things, there were also many, many people who had very positive things to say about [Sarver]”.
The Suns, which reached the 2021 NBA Finals, are currently valued at $1.8bn by Forbes. Dyal home court Partners, a division of alternative asset manager Blue Owl, took a minority stake in the franchise last year. The most recent NBA franchise sale was the 2020 purchase of the Utah Jazz by Qualtrics chair Ryan Smith for more than $1.6bn. A valuation of the Mercury, which counts Brittney Griner as one of its top stars, was not immediately available.
This post has been updated to include comment from the NBA commissioner