Suns owner Robert Sarver ‘regularly dropped the n-word, made sexist remarks to female staffers, and berated one employee until they considered suicide’

  • Suns owner Robert Sarver has been accused of racism, sexism, and verbal abuse by 70 current and former employees, most of whom spoke to ESPN anonymously
  • The report had been anticipated for weeks after rumors circulated on Twitter
  • Sarver denied or disputed nearly all of the claims, but has admitted to using the n-word while quoting a player. Sources disputed Sarver’s denial to ESPN
  • In 2013, Sarver allegedly used the n-word to explain why he filled a head-coaching vacancy with Lindsey Hunter, who is black, over Dan Majerle
  • According to one staffer, Sarver said: ‘These [n-word] need a [n-word]’
  • He allegedly made possessive, misogynistic comments to female employees 
  • The 60-year-old Sarver allegedly asked one female employee: ‘Do I own you’ 
  • Employees were reportedly discouraged from filing complaints with human resources. Several were reportedly dismissed after submitting complaints 

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver made possessive, misogynistic comments to female subordinates — once asking ‘do I own you?’ — and frequently used the N-word, according to a bombshell report detailing allegations of racism and sexism from more than 70 current and former employees. 

‘The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,’ one Suns co-owner told ESPN about Sarver. ‘It’s embarrassing as an owner.’

‘If the commissioner comes in and investigates to see what the f*** is going on in Phoenix,’ a current employee told ESPN, ‘[he] would be appalled.’

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver (pictured) made possessive, misogynistic comments to female subordinates — once asking ‘do I own you?’ — and frequently used the N-word, according to a bombshell report detailing allegations of racism and sexism from more than 70 current and former employees

The ESPN report had been anticipated since October 22, when podcaster Jordan Schultz teased its publication on Twitter. Sarver has denied or disputed nearly all of the claims, both before the article’s publication, and in the article itself.

Sarver, 60, was accused by former Suns coach Earl Watson of using the N-word to complain in 2016 that Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green had used the term on the court.

‘You can’t say that,’ said Watson, who is Hispanic and African American.

‘Why?’ Sarver asked. ‘Draymond Green says [n-word].’

‘You can’t f****ing say that,’ Watson repeated.

Sarver only admits to using the n-word years earlier.

‘On one occasion a player used the n-word to describe the importance of having each others’ back,’ Sarver told ESPN through his attorneys. ‘I responded by saying, ”I wouldn’t say n***a, I would say that we’re in the foxhole together.”

Former Suns coach Earl Watson (pictured) said he witnessed Sarver use the n-word

‘An assistant coach approached me a short time after and told me that I shouldn’t say the word, even if I were quoting someone else. I immediately apologized and haven’t said it ever again. The n-word has never been a part of my vocabulary.’

Sarver also disputed having that alleged conversation with Watson, who now works as a Toronto Raptors assistant coach after being fired in Phoenix in 2017.

‘Let me be crystal clear: I never once suggested on that night (or ever) that I should be able to say the n-word because a player or a black person uses it,’ Saver said through his attorneys.

At least six Suns employees accused Sarver of using the n-word while quoting African Americans.

‘You’re like, ”Whoa! Robert, you can’t do that,” said a former executive.

Another African-American basketball operations staffer said he’s heard Sarver use the n-word several times.

In 2013, Sarver allegedly used the n-word to explain why he filled a head-coaching vacancy with Lindsey Hunter, who is black, over Dan Majerle, who is white.

‘These [n-word] need a [n-word],’ Sarver told the staffer.

In 2013, Sarver allegedly used the n-word to explain why he filled a head-coaching vacancy with Lindsey Hunter (right), who is black, over Dan Majerl, who is white 

Nearly a dozen of the former employees who spoke to ESPN, mostly on the condition of anonymity, say they’ve sought professional help for issues such as anxiety and sleep loss due to the working conditions, which were exacerbated by Sarver’s frequent verbal abuse.

‘When I went to the psychologist, I cried a bucket of tears,’ one executive told ESPN. ‘And it’s like that with a lot of us. It’s just sad.’

Employees were reportedly discouraged from filing complaints with human resources. Several were dismissed after submitting complaints and were told they no longer fit the organization, according to ESPN.

Women, in particular, have felt targeted by Sarver, who’s not only accused of making sexist statements, but condoning such boorish behavior from male employees.

‘It breaks you,’ said one female former employee. ‘I’m hard to break, and it broke me.’

‘It wrecked my life,’ said another. ‘I was contemplating suicide.’

Former Suns star Dan Majerle was reportedly passed over for the head coaching job in Phoenix because of Sarver’s belief that black players would only listen to a black coach

‘I think as women, when we come into sports, unfortunately, we’re resigned to the fact that we’ll be sexually harassed at some point,’ a female former marketing employee told ESPN. ‘But the part that was the worst for me is the verbal abuse and feeling like I wasn’t human.’

After allegedly berating a female employee until she cried in 2011, Sarver is said to have asked: Why do all you women around here cry so much.’

Sarver’s attorneys denied this claim and said he does not ‘remember a single instance that an employee ever cried in front of’ him.

Following the alleged incident, Sarver asked female Suns employees to begin having lunch with workers at his bank, in what was perceived to be an effort to toughen up his female work force with the NBA club.

‘So humiliating,’ one female former employee said she felt about the arranged lunch.

Saver’s attorneys said that those networking lunches between the bank and team ‘have been encouraged for men and women.’

One female marketing employee told ESPN that Saver made strange, possessive comments about employees.

‘Do I own you?’ Sarver allegedly asked. ‘Are you one of mine?’

‘He makes you feel like you belong to him,’ the employee said.

The culture within the office wasn’t much better, according to the report.

The Suns enjoyed a resurgence in 2020-21, reaching the Finals for the first time since 1993

Another female employee said she was assaulted by a male co-worker outside of the office, and when coworkers complained to HR, the club’s solution was to move her desk away from his by about 10 feet.

‘I couldn’t escape,’ she told ESPN. ‘It was a joke. An absolute joke.’

The male staffer was never investigated, but according to the Suns, that was because both employees declined to speak with HR.

Furthermore, the Suns denied telling ‘either employee to ‘move [their] desk’ to resolve the domestic issue they were having.’

ESPN reports that three employees contradicted the team’s denial.

Another female former employee said a Suns executive drunkenly asked how many coworkers she had slept with and specifically inquired about one coworker’s penis.

‘It was terrible because I had not had sexual interactions with anybody on [the staff], so that was very weird,’ she told ESPN. ‘And [it] also made me uncomfortable because my VP is asking me about my sexual history with other co-workers? That kind of thing was almost normal.’

In 2014, the NBA forcibly removed Clippers owner Donald Sterling (pictured) when secretly recorded audio surfaced in which he told his then-girlfriend that he didn’t want her seen with African Americans at games. He ultimately sold the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion

Most, but not all, of the former employees said they were too scared to take legal action.

‘Ultimately, I was too afraid and exhausted to pursue it,’ a female former marketing employee told ESPN. ‘I even had my attorney offer to do the whole pro bono thing, but I was broken down so badly by then. I wasn’t sleeping or eating or functioning well, so I felt it was easier to move on and take the offer. I regret not pursuing it.’

The Suns enjoyed a resurgence in 2020-21, reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 before falling to the Milwaukee Bucks. Phoenix is 3-3 so far this year. 

Since rumors of the ESPN report’s anticipated release began circulating last month, several Suns employees have come out in favor of Sarver. 

‘None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like — it just doesn’t,’ said Suns GM James Jones, who is black.         

Meanwhile, the Suns President and CEO Jason Rowley described the ESPN piece as ‘false narratives’ and ‘completely outrageous and false,’ before adding that the organization plans to ‘act accordingly.’ 

In 2014, the NBA forcibly removed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling when secretly recorded audio surfaced in which he told his then-girlfriend that he didn’t want her seen with African Americans at games. 

He ultimately sold the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.  

NBA commissioner Adam Silver (center) has already removed one owner for racist comments

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