320 people surveyed, including 200 current Suns employees and 12 minority owners. For nearly a year, the New York law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, commissioned by the NBA, collected a lot of testimonies on the behavior of the owner of the Suns, Robert Sarver. Behaviors widely described in a first article published by ESPN in early November 2021.
With the key to a 43-page report made public on which Adam Silver based himself to decide on a suspension of one year in addition to a fine of 10 million dollars.
What does this report say? What exactly is the Suns leader accused of? Many problematic words and deeds spanning a significant period of time, in many cases well over a decade ago. This spacing in time represented “ a major challenge to pollsters who said the majority of respondents had read the ESPN article. This reading had also refreshed the memories of some.
The first grievance on which the report dwells is the use, at least five times, of the term « negro » in various circumstances. It is in particular a question of a match between Suns and Warriors, in October 2016, at the end of which he had complained to his coach at the time, Earl Watson, of the fact that an opposing player (Draymond Green of ‘after ESPN) is not penalized with a technical foul for pronouncing the term.
« You can’t fucking say that »
Quoting Draymond Green, Robert Sarver had used the term several times and out loud in the locker room. » You can’t fucking say that “, had annoyed the coach in reaction. » I can’t say « nigger », « nigger », « nigger »? “, had continued to provoke the owner of the team.
Another example, during the 2012/13 season, during a team cohesion exercise where each player had to compliment his neighbour. A player of color from the team had then thrown, according to a witness, to a teammate, white, that the latter had » something that African Americans call « nigger » in him « . Once the exercise was over, the leader had cited the player in question and therefore reused the term despite the disapproval of some.
Despite these few situations detailed in the report on the racial aspect, “ the investigation does not conclude that Robert Sarver used this racist language with the intention of belittling or denigrating since he always quotes someone when he uses the term and he does so globally to wonder why black people can use it without consequence, but not him. So it mostly looks like provocation, and the report also doesn’t conclude that his behavior, » in neither case was motivated by racial animosity « .
Crying pregnant employee
Investigators then return to his behavior with women. In 2008, he told a pregnant employee that she could no longer be an event coordinator because she was due to give birth. According to him, she could not perform her task because she was breastfeeding and » her baby needed her mother, not her father « . His remarks had upset the employee who, after the intervention of a third party, had nevertheless kept her mission.
Three years later, Robert Sarver attacked a woman, shouting at her, after preparing a video for an executive. In tears, the employee then expressed her desire to leave the organization. A week later, the owner came back to meet him to discuss the video incident. » What’s wrong with you? “, he had sent, causing new tears. » Why are all the women here crying so much? »
The report goes on to discuss a host of comments and behaviors “ sexual, coarse and vulgar » At work. 19 witnesses remember hearing him mention the use of a certain type of condom. Or tell, in the heart of a business meeting, that he had learned what fellatio was when he was a child…
The photo of his wife… in a bikini
Without forgetting the sending to certain employees of pornographic contents or the fact of circulating, in a marketing meeting for a partnership with a manufacturer of jerseys, a photo of his wife… wearing a bikini in the colors of the Suns. A gesture recognized by the interested party who explained that he had simply sought to convince the marketing team and pointed out that his wife was not posing in a sexual position.
It’s also about physical behavior. inappropriate (unnecessarily lowered underwear during a fitness check, a tight-fitting dance at a party, another employee’s shorts lowered during an Ice Bucket Challenge, etc.). So many behaviors carried out, according to the investigators, “ not with the intention of making sexual advances to anyone, but with the intention of being provocative and/or humorous « .
Echoing the » toxic and sometimes hostile workplace described by ESPN, the report does not stop at the single person of Robert Sarver and points to collective dysfunctions within the franchise.
» Many witnesses nonetheless expressed the view that Sarver was responsible for the problematic behavior of other employees and the failings of the human resources department because of the ‘tone at the top’ he set through his own conduct. This hypothesis is difficult to verify, but it is worth mentioning. “wrote the investigators.
The question of exemplary
After reading all of these elements, could/should the league go further in its sanction? Eight years after the previous Donald Sterling, should Robert Sarver also have been pushed definitively towards the exit? These questions confront the league with the always delicate issue of the exemplarity of its players. An example that can be undermined to different degrees depending on the context.
Adam Silver also notes today that the two cases “were dramatically different. I think we saw in the case of Donald Sterling that it was deliberate racist behavior directed at a specific group of people. While it’s hard to know what’s on someone’s heart or mind, we heard those words and then there was a follow up from the league office and it became public since Mr. Sterling spoke about his actions. In the case of Robert Sarver, we looked at the totality of the circumstances over an 18-year period in which he owned these teams. In the end, I judged that given the circumstances in which he had used this language and exhibited this admittedly indefensible behavior, it was not as strong. »
How the respective scandals unfolded arguably also had an impact on the league’s response. In April 2014, when the playoffs had just started, TMZ had obtained an edifying audio recording in which the owner of the Clippers at the time berated his partner for having posed with Magic Johnson: “ You don’t have to appear on Instagram with black people, so don’t put photos with Magic. And don’t bring him to matches either. You can sleep with black people, do whatever you want, but don’t show it. And don’t bring them to our matches. They are enemies and it pays you nothing to do all this. »
Not the same context
The big boss of the league, who had replaced David Stern only a few weeks earlier, sees it today » a realism that exists when you have an audio recording of something that put everyone in the same position as me. We all had the same recording. “Where the Robert Sarver affair is based on testimonies, necessarily less powerful with public opinion.
In 2014, a few weeks after the announcement of the leader’s lifetime ban, Adam Silver felt that he was » time for Donald Sterling to move on “, thus pushing the resale of the Californian franchise. A resale, to Steve Ballmer, formalized a few weeks later following an intense legal dispute.
Today in the face of this new crisis, his speech is different: “I have no right to take his team away from him. I don’t want to rest on this legal point because, of course, it is possible to take the team away from someone (note: with the agreement of 22 of the 29 other owners). But it’s very complicated, and I finally decided that it didn’t reach that level of punishment. But, for me, the consequences are serious for Mr. Sarver. »
But not enough in the eyes of some who no doubt hoped that the Donald Sterling case would set a precedent…