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Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver responds to potential allegations of sex harassment, racism

Robert Sarver
Posted at 3:16 PM, Oct 22, 2021

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has released a lengthy statement against a story that is reportedly in the works from ESPN accusing Sarver of sexual harassment, racism, and sexism.

Friday afternoon, NBA insider Jordan Schultz sent a tweet that claimed a major news outlet was going to release a story accusing Sarver of “racism, sexism and sexual harassment in a series of incidents.”

Sarver is a Tucson native and graduate of Sabino High School and the University of Arizona.

Sarver released a statement Friday afternoon saying that the story he claims is being worked on by ESPN is “repugnant”:

I am wholly shocked by some of the allegations purported by ESPN about me, personally, or about the Phoenix Suns and Mercury organizations. 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.

I don’t begin to know how to prove that something DIDN’T happen, and it is difficult to erase or forget ugly accusations once they are made. Even hints of racism or sexism in our culture today are toxic and damaging and should not be lightly raised. I categorically deny any and all suggestions that I used disparaging language related to race or gender. I would like to think that my actions and public record regarding race, gender, or discrimination of any kind, over a lifetime in business and community service, will adequately answer any questions anyone might raise about my commitment to equality and fairness.

As of Friday afternoon, ESPN nor any other outlet has posted actual reports of allegations against Sarver related to the claims he has responded to.

Robert Sarver purchased the team in 2004 for what was then a record $401 million.

Sarver has had a resurgence recently with Suns fans, who have criticized his decisions over the years, after successfully rebuilding the team last year.

Sarver and the Suns brought in veterans Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to compliment the young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges, successfully building a team that made it to the NBA Finals.

However, most recently Sarver has been criticized for not offering Deandre Ayton a max five-year rookie extension contract over the offseason. That move means Ayton will become a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason.

Over the years, many former coaches and players have criticized Sarver’s financial moves, and level of involvement in coaching decisions.

In 2018, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Sarver "has earned a long-standing reputation for aggressively involving himself in basketball decisions," and that coaches "became accustomed to regular beratings and demands of strategy and lineup changes.”

None of the allegations mentioned in Wojnarowski's 2018 report included claims of racism, sexual harassment or sexism.

Two months after that report, Arizona Cardinals star and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald vouched for Sarver's integrity.

“He’s drastically misunderstood. I love Mr. Sarver,” Fitzgerald said during Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I spent a lot of time with him. I can’t think of anybody who I trust more than him.

In 2020, Fitzgerald joined the Suns’ ownership group by purchasing a minority stake in the team. It’s not publicly known what percentage of the team he owns.

Suns CEO Jason Rowley and GM James Jones released the following statements Friday about the potential allegations:

“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization takes very seriously our commitment to promoting a respectful, fun, competitive and enriching work environment, and we are proud of our track record relating to employee wellbeing. We also take seriously any allegations of racism, sexism, or harassment of any kind, which have no place in our organization and are not tolerated. With respect to recent reports about a forthcoming ESPN article regarding Robert Sarver and our organization, I will simply say that we are aware of the false narratives it contains, and plan to respond accordingly. This story is completely outrageous and false. It doesn’t represent – at all – the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years. He’s not a racist and he’s not a sexist. I will also say that reporter in this instance has shown a reckless disregard for the truth. He has harassed employees, former employees, and family members; used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up. His tactics throughout this process have been without any basis in journalism ethics or even morality," said Suns CEO Jason Rowley.

“None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like – it just doesn’t,” general manager James Jones stated.