The NBA is under increasing pressure to cut ties with Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns, after an independent investigation found that he mistreated employees for years but the league opted to only fine him $10 million and suspend him for one year.
A prominent sponsor, one of the team’s minority owners and the NBA players union have called for Sarver to no longer be involved with the Suns. Sarver also owns the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.
“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege,” Jahm Najafi, a Suns vice chairman and minority owner, said in an open letter to employees and fans Thursday calling for Sarver to resign.
PayPal, which has a logo patch on the Suns jerseys, said today it would not renew its sponsorship after the 2022-23 season if Sarver were involved with the team after his suspension.
Dan Schulman, PayPal’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that Sarver’s conduct was “unacceptable and in conflict with our values.”
According to the investigation report by law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Sarver engaged in misconduct over his 18 years with the team, including using racial slurs, demeaning and bullying employees, and treating women unfairly.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver could have suspended Sarver for longer than one year, but $10 million was the maximum monetary penalty allowed for an owner.
Najafi, in his open letter, said: “Similar conduct by any CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach, or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination. The fact that Robert Sarver ‘owns’ the team does not give him a license to treat others differently than any other leader.”
Najafi seemed to be alluding to a comment by Silver at a news conference Wednesday in response to a question about why Sarver should be held to a different standard than any other employee or executive.
“There’s no neat answer here, other than owning property, the rights that come with owning an NBA team, how that’s set up within our constitution, what it would take to remove that team from his control is a very involved process, and it’s different than holding a job,” Silver said. “It just is, when you actually own a team.”
On Wednesday, hours after Silver defended Sarver’s penalty, the NBA players union responded.
“Mr. Sarver’s reported actions and conduct are horrible and have no place in our sport or any workplace for that matter,” said Tamika Tremaglio, executive director of the union, the National Basketball Players Association.
She added: “I have made my position known to Adam Silver regarding my thoughts on the extent of the punishment, and strongly believe that Mr. Sarver should never hold a managerial position within our league again.”
Tremaglio released her statement shortly after two prominent players, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Suns guard Chris Paul, posted on Twitter expressing their dismay at the perceived leniency of Sarver’s penalty.
“I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read,” said Paul, who has played for the Suns for the past two seasons. “This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated.
“I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.