The disappointing ‘slap on the wrist’ the NBA gave Suns owner Robert Sarver after a lengthy investigation exposed the racism, misogyny and toxic work culture he created with the Suns – a suspension of a year and a $10 million fine – was as far as other owners and NBA commissioner Adam Silver would go at first. They feared pushback and legal action from Sarver if they took a bigger first step.
What Silver hoped for – and was somewhat lucky – was genuine pressure from the players and the media for a tougher punishment. However, what the Silver really needed to make a change was for the Suns and the league sponsors to step down – hit the owners in the wallet and suddenly they’re not so reluctant to act.
Silver got it and it’s not just Suns/Mercury jersey patch sponsor PayPal who have said they won’t renew next season if Sarver still manages the team. There were serious concerns behind the scenes about other team and league sponsors, something Ramona Shelburne detailed on ESPN’s NBA Today.
“There was a lot of private pressure on Robert Sarver behind the scenes. We heard from PayPal, but there were a lot of other league sponsors and team sponsors lining up to pull out of the Suns and not be publicly associated with them. There was also the pressure from other owners and Adam Silver behind the scenes. Adam Silver is obviously very good at applying pressure when needed and facilitating those kinds of conversations and discussions to get to that place.
This is similar to what led Adam Silver to ban Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life in 2014 – public pressure was one thing, but when the NBA’s major sponsors began to back away from any association with the Clippers (State Farm, Carmax, Corona, many others) Silver got the nod from other owners to take a tough stance. (Sterling only ultimately sold the team because of a devious move by his wife, Shelly Sterling.)
From the time the ominous details of Sarver’s actions became public with the report (and even before that following last November’s ESPN report), Suns business operations officials have been trying to find ways to put sponsors at risk. comfortable. But with public pressure beginning to build — in a league that prides itself on a progressive mindset of inclusion and diversity — there wasn’t much to do. Sarver acknowledged the situation and walked away, albeit in a statement where he weakly tries to impersonate the victim.
“As a man of faith, I believe in the atonement and the path of forgiveness,” Sarver said in his statement. “I expected the commissioner’s one-year suspension to give me time to focus, make amends and take my personal controversy out of the teams that I and so many fans love.
“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that this is no longer possible – that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by the things I have said in the past For these reasons, I am beginning the process of finding buyers for the Suns and Mercury.
As Michael Holley wisely said on Brother From Another todaymen of faith shouldn’t have to tell you they stand by their words, their actions should show it.
“I fully support Robert Sarver’s decision to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “It’s the right next step for the organization and the community.”
It’s the right step, but it’s only because of the pressure behind the scenes.