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ESPN's Troubling Story On The Phoenix Suns Is Out

Robert Sarver watching the Phoenix Suns.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MARCH 04: Robert Sarver, owner of the Phoenix Suns, looks on during the second half of the NBA game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Bucks 114-105. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Two weeks ago, it was reported that a bombshell story accusing Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver of "racism, sexism, and sexual harassment" was in the pipeline. Today, ESPN's Baxter Holmes published a lengthy piece, based on interviews with "70-plus current and former employees" from Sarver's 17 years as Suns owner.

Sarver's conduct, which ranges from unprofessional to outright racist and sexist in instances, is the major throughline, though there are plenty of anecdotes that shed light on a toxic culture within the Suns organization. Former Suns head coach Earl Watson and assistant Corliss Williamson are among those on the record as sharing examples of Sarver's inappropriate conduct.

The piece begins with an anecdote from a 2016 game against the Golden State Warriors, in which Sarver allegedly used the N-Word in complaining about Draymond Green's use of it on the court. He denied that the story happened as Watson described.

"The anecdote offers a glimpse into conduct that, sources told ESPN, Sarver has often exhibited since buying the Suns in 2004," Holmes writes. "Interviews with more than 70 former and current Suns employees throughout Sarver's 17-year tenure describe a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace under Sarver. Some told ESPN that he has used racially insensitive language repeatedly in the office. Employees recounted conduct they felt was inappropriate and misogynistic, including Sarver once passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees and speaking about times his wife performed oral sex on him. Some said the longtime owner fostered an environment in which employees felt they were his property, even once asking one woman whether he 'owned' her to determine whether she worked for the Suns."

Among those quoted in the piece is one current Suns co-owner, who said "the level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale," of Sarver. "It's embarrassing as an owner." Another former executive said that "there's literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me." Holmes says "at least a half-dozen" of Sarver's Suns employees described instances in which Sarver mimicked Black players' language, including the N-Word. Among the other allegations against Sarver directly include open, inappropriate discussions about sex with his wife, and telling a pregnant employee that she could no longer continue in her job helping plan for the 2009 All-Star Game in Phoenix, before other members of team management stepped in to assure her that she would remain employed. Other female Suns employees describe an atmosphere hostile to women, including allegations against other team executives besides Sarver. In one instance, the Suns allegedly moved the desk of an employee, after she reported that she was physically assaulted by one of her male coworkers, rather than going further to address the allegations. Some glaring anecdotes from the report are making the rounds online.

The ESPN piece features numerous denials from Robert Sarver and his legal team, of many of the stories and incidents reported within.

“I am wholly shocked by some of the allegations purported by ESPN about me, personally, or about the Phoenix Suns and Mercury organizations," Sarver said in a statement two weeks ago, before the publication by ESPN. "While I can’t begin to know how to respond to some of the vague suggestions made by mostly anonymous voices, I can certainly tell you that some of the claims I find completely repugnant to my nature and to the character of the Suns/Mercury workplace and I can tell you they never, ever happened."

Today, Phoenix Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi said that the alleged conduct "has stunned and saddened" him, and is "unacceptable."

"The well-being and safety of every Suns employee, player, coach and stakeholder is first and foremost our priority. My sincerest sympathy goes out to all whose lives and professions have been impacted."