Suns owner Sarver: ‘At this point, I would entirely welcome an impartial NBA investigation’

On Thursday, ESPN released a story that accused Suns owner Robert Sarver of racism and misogyny. Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004, has denied many of the allegations levied against him.

Here is a statement below released by Suns president and CEO, Jason Rowley, criticizing the writer of the story Baxter Holmes and defending the Suns organization.

“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article.  Our two organizations have always worked hard to create an environment that is respectful and diverse; where racism, sexism and damaging behavior of any kind are not condoned. 

“Today’s story contains false information and narratives perpetuated by a reporter who has struggled unsuccessfully to match the facts to a story he decided he wanted to tell a year ago.  He twisted statements and circumstances to fit his preconceived narrative.  He broke every rule of journalism by first deciding on his findings and then cherry-picking events and unreliable sources to prop up his demonstrably false claims.

“Former and current Suns employees and members of their families have shared their concerns with some of Mr. Holmes’s tactics.  We were disappointed to see that instead of relying on legitimate sources of information, Mr. Holmes relied on the say-so of a disgruntled former coach to make completely false claims and to damage our hard-earned reputation.  Numerous eyewitnesses – including former Suns president Lon Babby, John Shumate, and Alvin Gentry – told Mr. Holmes, in no uncertain terms, that they never witnessed the conduct he described.

“We retained defamation counsel after it became clear that Mr. Holmes’s reporting was plagued by journalistic failures.

“We have been put in the position of trying to disprove things that didn’t happen.  From a personal perspective, the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years is not a racist and he’s not a sexist.  He’s a hard-driving, competitive and compassionate man, and I’m proud to work with him. During Mr. Sarver’s tenure, the Suns/Mercury have been a leader among sports teams in the hiring of minority, LGBTQ, and female executives. The language attributed to him – many times by anonymous sources – is a complete fiction.

“We take seriously any accusations of racism, sexism, or harassment of any kind – they have no place in our organization and are not tolerated.  The Suns and Mercury are committed to providing a respectful, fun and gratifying office environment.  Through the years, we have followed all evolving best practices to ensure our employees have healthy work/life balance.

“It’s important to us and to me that every employee feels they play a central role in building something special. In the workplace, we’ve always tried to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce that prides itself on treating and paying our employees fairly and providing for their upward mobility.  Just a few examples of the policies and training we offer employees include our Respect in the Workplace Policy and associated training, sexual harassment training, diversity and inclusion training, and a robust learning management system aimed at advancing professional development.  We have a track record of hiring and promoting women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ candidates in roles that have been predominately held by men.

“Our organization and the NBA also conduct workplace engagement and satisfaction surveys on a routine basis.  Our most recent NBA–sponsored workplace satisfaction survey of our full-time employees conducted in 2020 reflected a 90% satisfaction rating.   We have a track record of identifying areas of improvement from our surveys and taking action to create an even better workplace.  We are also very clear in our communications to employees regarding the fact that these surveys and responses are anonymous and that in no case will employees suffer negative consequences from providing feedback on the surveys.  

“It is also important to note that the NBA put in place an anonymous employee tip line in 2018 to report workplace issues at the team level.  To date, the NBA has never received any complaints in these areas regarding our organization.

“Given ESPN’s and Mr. Holmes’s failure to report the facts, we welcome any investigation by the League to review and respond to these false accusations.”

Sarver also released a statement, where he, too, criticized Holmes and former Suns head coach and Raptors assistant Earl Watson, who accused Sarver of using the N-word.

In addition, Sarver says he welcomes a league investigation.

“I continue to be shocked by the false reporting from Baxter Holmes.  While there is so much that is inaccurate and misleading in this story that I hardly know where to begin, let me be clear:  The n-word is not part of my vocabulary.  I have never called anyone or any group of people the n-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by that word, either verbally or in writing.  I don’t use that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in. The way I lead my personal and professional life makes that clear.  Instead of reporting the truth, Holmes’ story is based on misrepresentations from former Suns coach Earl Watson and other unnamed “sources.”   Mr. Watson created an unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization.  He is clearly not a credible source.  Despite hearing from witness after witness that disputed Mr. Watson’s stories, Mr. Holmes completely disregarded the truth here.  Now we are in the position of trying to disprove things that did not happen. 

“At this point, 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.” 

These are serious allegations against Sarver, and the NBA says they will investigate. It should be interesting to see if Sarver will be forced to sell the team at some point.