"If the commissioner comes in and investigates to see what the f--- is going on in Phoenix, [he] would be appalled."
That is how one current Business Operations employee predicts NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, will react when he receives the findings from Wachtell Lipton, the law firm now tasked with an impartial investigation. The NBA hired the independent law firm on November 4th, just hours after the release of the ESPN article written by Baxter Holmes, exposing a disturbing pattern of inappropriate behavior by Suns majority owner Robert Sarver.
Holmes interviewed 70 current and former Suns employees from various ranks who all seem to tell similar tales of abhorrent language and childish actions displayed through Sarver’s 17-year tenure as the team’s majority owner. Sarver has vehemently denied the vast majority of the allegations through a wall of attorneys and the few he does admit to; he describes as “taken out of context” or meant in a joking manner. They are not jokes when they are hurtful and made at the expense of your subordinates Mr. Sarver.
Earl Watson was the head coach in Phoenix from the end of the 2015-2016 season through the early stages of the 2017-18 campaign, when he was let go by Sarver following the team’s 0-3 start. Watson’s head coaching record was very below average, but he does not believe it was wins and losses that ousted him. However, a grudge held by Robert Sarver against Watson’s representation “Klutch Sports” and its owner Rich Paul.
The bitterness for Paul began when the two were having a conversation about, then Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who was looking to attain a contract extension during the 2017-18 offseason. Sarver questioned the guard’s ability to stay healthy among other things and when Paul refuted him by stating, “We aren’t talking about tennis” (Sarver’s childhood sport) the Suns owner became irate. He told Paul he would fire Watson if he did not cut ties with his agency, when Watson got wind of the news and the outrageous ultimatum he got this from Sarver:
"Yeah, I will f---ing fire you," Sarver told Watson. "You have 10 days to think about it. Don't wait too long."
Watson refused to fire Paul and the agency, his time in Phoenix ended shortly after.
This interaction is a microcosm of the boorish behavior that has been attributed to Sarver during his tenure as the Suns owner. Others infractions include, the use of the ‘N’ word in several instances amongst coaches and staff as well as belittling female staff members by making sexist and misogynistic comments often.
NBA Spokesman Mike Bass commented publicly following the release of the article saying they had not "received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence."
There is certainly a reason for that as well. Many employees both current and former said they felt as if Sarver “owned them” and would often ask questions of that nature to his subordinates in some sort of twisted power trip. A feeling of being trapped in this unhealthy workplace environment led over a dozen employees to seek professional help through psychologists. A current employee who works in the human resources department commented:
“If something happens, don’t go to HR.”
Alluding to the fact that retaliation efforts would be taken by executives. Another former HR employee recounts several instances where he took employees who were attempting to seek help outside of the team’s property so they weren’t seen by superiors speaking with HR. The constant berating and mental abuse took its toll and led one former female employee to say this regarding her time in the organization.
"It wrecked my life. I was contemplating suicide."
The NBA has a serious problem here and although a few higher executives such as GM James Jones and team president Jason Rowley have stood up for Sarver. Being quoted saying things like this isn’t the man they know/work for/respect, the majority of people in far less powerful positions sing a very different tune.
Could we be heading for the third NBA owner removal under Silver’s tenure? The NBA board of governors would need a ¾ vote to do so, but regardless of that, things need to change in Phoenix immediately. Crude remarks might work on a Netflix comedy special, but this behavior crosses far past that line. If ousted as an NBA owner, my advice to Sarver would be to not pursue a career in stand-up.