NBA should be embarrassed to call Robert Sarver punishment a ‘punishment’

Photo Credit: Nike

For a while, the white elephant in the room relating to all things Phoenix Mercury (other than the ongoing Brittney Griner saga) and Phoenix Suns was the head of the room – the individual who signs all checks relating to Mercury and Suns. 

That individual is Robert Sarver, the primary governor of the Mercury and Suns and the subject of an investigation into racism and sexism going back decades as it relates to this man. 

Apparently, the NBA came back with its verdict. And all things considered, it was a slap on the wrist. 

The Mercury and Suns owner was only banned for one year and received a $10 million fine. 

To compare and contrast, Major League Baseball fined Houston Astros owner Jim Crane $5 million for a scandal where the team admitted to using trash cans in 2017 (en route to winning a World Series) so Astros players would know what pitch was coming prior to said pitch even being delivered. It is a scandal that has attached a proverbial scarlet letter to the Astros even five years later by baseball fans. 

That in itself was unprecedented – for something relatively as mundane as cheating to win games. Dehumanizing comments and a mentally unsafe workplace, which Sarver is said to have been the cause of in Phoenix, one would think would be way worse but Adam Silver and the NBA essentially gave Sarver a deterrent so lax it might as well have been accompanied by a “time off for good behavior” clause. 

The NBA is displaying exactly why players will take matters into their own hands on the issue of punishing owners for racist and sexist transgressions – a much more accepted idea among today’s sports fan. When former Atlanta Dream owner (and former U.S. Senator from Georgia) Kelly Loeffler made comments that were antithetical to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, WNBA players did not simply sit there and wait for justice to happen. 

WNBA players – including those for the Dream – took matters into their own hands by rallying from its bubble in support of Loeffler’s opponent in that year’s Senate election – the Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church (the same church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).

After November’s election resulted in a runoff, Warnock won the seat (as did Jon Ossoff in the other Georgia race). Then, Loeffler sold the Dream to a consortium that includes former WNBA great Renee Montgomery as well as a couple of businesspersons from New England. 

The same NBA that went light on Sterling was the same NBA that had no problems doing the right thing to former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014 when it was revealed he was also a card-carrying racist. The difference between Sarver and Sterling is that the Sarver investigation relied on first-hand accounts to corroborate a report. All the NBA needed in the Sterling situation was audiotape. 

Men lie – especially rich and privileged ones. Audiotape never does and the NBA had no choice but to issue a lifetime ban to Sterling. 

Interestingly enough, there is also a common denominator between Sterling and Sarver – Chris Paul, who played with the Clippers at the time of the Sterling saga (which resulted in the team being sold to incumbent owner Steve Ballmer) and is now with the Suns. 

Oh, given what Sarver is alleged to have said over the years women and his history of making sexually uncomfortable remarks and actions towards women inside and outside of the workplace, this would be the perfect time for him to make good use of the WNBA’s Kobe and Gigi Bryant Advocacy Award that should have went to either the Dream or to Nneka Ogwumike (or to Mark Davis or the Tsai family if we will bestow said award upon an owner). 

Because as Ogwumike is a powerful figure in WNBA circles being the president of the WNBPA, Paul serves as the same with the NBPA. This would be the perfect opportunity for him to stand up against a racist and sexist owner who has no business being anywhere near the business of sports. 

The NBA (and, by proxy, the WNBA) cannot proclaim to be one of the more progressive United States-based sports organizations and yet be afraid to take the necessary action (a lifetime ban) against an individual who is the antithesis of what both leagues preach in its PR statements. 

And when juxtaposing this weak tea punishment with the evidence uncovered in its investigation, there is only one question that needs to be asked within the WNBA and NBA headquarters at New York City’s oh-so famed Park Avenue. 

What would Brittney Griner think of this?