Robert Sarver sells Phoenix Suns, Mercury after harassment report

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver attends game two of the 2021 WNBA Finals at the Footprint Center on October 13, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Christian Peterson | Getty Images

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

Sarver blamed an “unforgivable climate” and said in a statement Wednesday that he was unable to separate his “personal” controversy from the NBA and WNBA teams.

“Whatever good I have done or might do is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For these reasons, I’m beginning to look for buyers for the Suns and Mercury,” he wrote.

forbes estimates the Suns, who appeared to be 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 confirmed details an ESPN report from November which alleged that the owner had used racist language, made sex-related comments about and about women, and abused employees. The league also imposed a $10 million fine.

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

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

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

Here is Sarver’s full statement:

Words I now deeply regret overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball and strengthened the Phoenix area.

As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s year-long suspension would give me the time 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 might do is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For these reasons, I’m starting to look for buyers for the Suns and Mercury.

I don’t want to distract from these two teams and the amazing people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world. I want what is best for both of these organizations, the players, the staff, the fans, the community, my co-owners, the NBA and the WNBA. This is the best practice for everyone.

In the meantime, I will keep working to become a better person and continue to support the community in a meaningful way. Thank you for continuing to champion the Sun and Mercury and embracing the power that sport has to bring us together.

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

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