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PHOENIX - Robert Sarver said he is seeking buyers for both the Phoenix Suns and Mercury franchises after he was suspended and fined by the NBA following an investigation into claims of racism and sexual harassment against Sarver during his tenure as owner.
Sarver made the announcement Wednesday, saying selling "is the best course of action," although he initially hoped that he would be able to keep control of the franchises — pointing to his record that, he claims, paints a dramatically different picture of who he is and what he stands for.
"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," Sarver wrote in a statement. "For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury."
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement that he supports Sarver's decision to sell the Suns and Mercury.
"This is the right next step for the organization and community," Silver said.
Sarver bought the Suns and Mercury in July 2004 for about $400 million. He is not the lone owner, but the primary one.
Assuming no other team is sold in the interim, it would be the first sale in the NBA since a group led by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith bought the Utah Jazz in 2021 for about $1.7 billion.
It’s not known if Sarver has established an asking price. Forbes recently estimated the value of the Suns at $1.8 billion.
The NBA launched its investigation after ESPN published a report, accusing Sarver of multiple racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents during his tenure as owner of the Suns.
The league said its independent investigation found that Sarver "engaged in conduct that clearly violated common workplace standards, as reflected in team and League rules and policies."
"This conduct included the use of racially insensitive language; unequal treatment of female employees; sex-related statements and conduct; and harsh treatment of employees that on occasion constituted bullying," the league wrote in a statement.
Sarver was suspended for one year from both franchises and fined $10 million. Sarver denied the allegations that were published in the ESPN report.
"I would entirely welcome an impartial NBA investigation which may prove our only outlet for clearing my name and the reputation of an organization of which I’m so very proud," Sarver said at the time.
Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi released a statement, calling on Sarver to resign, saying he could not "sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege."
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Suns guard Chris Paul released statements on social media saying the NBA’s sanctions of Sarver didn’t go far enough.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and four councilmembers also released a joint statement, saying that they've asked city staff to investigate any actions leaders can take in light of the NBA's investigative report.
PayPal said their sponsorship with the Suns would expire "should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns organization after serving his suspension."
Sarver, through his attorney, argued to the NBA during the investigative process that his record as an owner shows a "longstanding commitment to social and racial justice" and that it shows he’s had a "commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion." Among the examples Sarver cited was what he described as a league-best rate of 55% employment of minorities within the Suns’ front office and how more than half of the team’s coaches and general managers in his tenure — including current coach Monty Williams and current GM James Jones — are Black.
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 13: Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver attends Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Footprint Center on October 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mercury defeated the Sky 91-86 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Pete
Robert Sarver's full statement
"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.
As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. 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.
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. 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. Thank you for continuing to root for the Suns and the Mercury, embracing the power that sports has to bring us together."
Suns Legacy Partners, LLC statement
"We agree that Robert Sarver’s decision to sell the Suns and Mercury is in the best interest of the organization and community.
We also know that today’s news does not change the work that remains in front of us to create, maintain and protect a best-in-class experience for our staff, players, fans, partners and community.
As we’ve shared with our employees, we acknowledge the courage of the people who came forward in this process to tell their stories and apologize to those hurt.
We are on a journey that began before last November, one that has included changes to leadership, staff and accountability measures. While we are proud of our progress and the culture of respect and integrity we are building, we know there remains work to do and relationships to rebuild. We are committed to doing so for our staff, players, fans, partners and this community."