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Robert Sarver, the beleaguered owner of the National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, said he was beginning the process of selling the two franchises a week after the league suspended him for using language racist and misogynistic.
The impending sales mark the second time in less than a decade that an NBA franchise has been put on the market following owner misconduct – the Los Angeles Clippers were sold in 2014 to Steve Ballmer after the former 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 obscene jokes and comments about employees’ bodies and contributed to a culture of bullying, according to an independent investigation by 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 a year and imposed a $10 million fine, though such penalties have come under fire in recent days from top sponsors and players for being lenient. On Friday, payment provider PayPal said it would not renew its sponsorship of the team if Sarver remained in charge after his suspension.
In a statement Wednesday, Sarver said he hoped the suspension would “give me time to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams I and so many fans love. But in our current unforgiving climate , it has become painfully clear that this is no longer possible”.
Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, said in a statement Wednesday that he supports Sarver’s decision to sell and that “it’s the right next step for the organization and the community.”
Last week, Silver defended the league’s penalty terms, saying he thought it was handled “fairly” and that “while there were these terrible things, there were also a lot, many people who had very positive things to say about [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 asset manager Blue Owl, took a minority stake in the franchise last year. The latest NBA franchise sale was the 2020 purchase of Utah Jazz president Ryan Smith by Qualtrics for more than $1.6 billion. A review of the Mercury, which counts Brittney Griner among its top stars, was not immediately available.
This post has been updated to include the NBA commissioner’s comment.