Sep 21, 2022

  • Baxter HolmesESPN Senior Writer

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      Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print, focusing on the NBA. He has covered the Lakers, the Celtics and previously worked for The Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times.

Owner Robert Sarver on Wednesday announced that he has begun the process to sell both the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury franchises.

“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness,” Sarver said in a statement Wednesday. “I expected that the commissioner’s one-year 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 that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he “fully supports” the decision by Sarver to sell the teams.

“This is the right next step for the organization and community,” Silver said.

Sarver was suspended one year and fined $10 million last week after an NBA investigation found that he used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others.”

Sarver also was involved in “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments on employees’ appearances.

“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together — and strengthened the Phoenix area — through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball,” Sarver wrote in his statement.

Sarver bought the teams in July 2004 for about $400 million. With approximately one-third of the stake, he is not the lone owner, but he is the primary one. Forbes recently estimated the value of the Suns at $1.8 billion.

Even though Sarver does not own the Suns in full, sources told ESPN that he has the authority, as managing partner, to sell the team in full. One source added that a new owner or ownership group could ask that a member or members of the current ownership group remain on board, but that remains to be seen.

Sarver’s partners, for their part, issued a statement later in the day applauding his decision to sell the Suns and Mercury, calling it “in the best interest of the organization and community.”

The NBA commissioned an investigation in the wake of an ESPN story in November 2021 detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver’s 17 years as owner.

“I am pleased to know that while Robert initially was not genuinely remorseful for his actions, it does bring me comfort to know that he was able to put the organization and city before his own needs and desires to step aside so that we can begin to move forward without the hurt and anguish that was tied to his leadership,” a current Suns staffer told ESPN.

Said another staffer who participated in the investigation: “I’m relieved, I’m beyond happy, I’m empowered and I’m motivated to continue to ensure that all of the men in that organization still in power who upheld this culture are rooted out.”

Since the NBA’s investigation was announced, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Draymond Green have spoken out and said the NBA’s punishment wasn’t severe enough.

“I’m so proud to be a part of a league committed to progress!” James tweeted Wednesday.

I’m so proud to be a part of a league committed to progress!

— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 21, 2022

Added NBPA president CJ McCollum: “We thank Mr. Sarver for making a swift decision that was in the best interest of our sports community.”

PayPal, the Suns’ jersey patch sponsor, threatened to not renew their partnership with the team if Sarver remained owner. And Suns minority owner Jahm Najafi, the team’s second-largest stakeholder, called for Sarver to resign.

“I do not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world,” Sarver said in his statement. “I want what’s best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone.

“In the meantime, I will continue to work on becoming a better person, and continuing to support the community in meaningful ways.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who had called for the NBA to remove Sarver as owner, issued a statement Wednesday saying Sarver’s decision to sell the teams was just the “first step in the long road toward justice” and that the NBA still has some “soul searching” to do.

“The racist old boys’ club in professional sports is officially closed,” Sharpton said in his statement. “A new era is upon us where it is intolerable to view Black players like property. … It is now imperative that the NBA, both teams, the corporate sponsors, and the new owner, whomever they may be, follow through on the commitment to root out racism, misogyny and hate.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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