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