Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver to sell teams after damning harassment report

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.
Christian Petersen | Getty Images

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver said he would begin the process to sell both professional basketball teams after a damning report detailed nearly two decades’ worth of workplace harassment and inappropriate behavior by the executive.

Blaming an “unforgiving climate,” Sarver said in a statement Wednesday that he is unable to separate his “personal” controversy from the NBA and WNBA teams.

“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,” he wrote.

Forbes values the Suns, who appeared lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals, at $1.8 billion. The Mercury have won four WNBA titles.

Last week, the NBA suspended Sarver for a year after an independent investigation corroborated details of a November ESPN report that alleged the owner used racist language, made sex-related comments to and about women, and mistreated employees. The league also fined him $10 million.

“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last week. “We believe the outcome is the right one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period.”

Silver on Wednesday said he supported Sarver’s decision to sell the franchises. “This is the right next step for the organization and community,” the commissioner said in a statement issued by the NBA.

The Sarver controversy is reminiscent of when former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was fined $2.5 million and banned for life from the NBA after he was caught making racist comments on recordings. He was forced to sell the team for $2 billion to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer after 33 years of ownership. Sterling sued the NBA, but the suit was settled in 2016.

Here is 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.

– CNBC’s Lillian Rizzo and Jessica Golden contributed to this report.

Sophie Tremblay

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