After two weeks of anticipation, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes released a damning story that
accuses Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver of racism and
misogyny. Holmes spoke to more than 70 people, including current
and former Suns employees. Earl Watson, the Suns’ head coach from
the middle of the 2015-16 season until the beginning of the 2017-18
campaign, also spoke on-record for this investigative piece.
This story sent shockwaves around Phoenix and the NBA, as it has
spawned a league investigation into Sarver and the Suns. While
Sarver and the Suns denied the allegations, this situations calls
to mind what happened with former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald
Sterling, who was forced to sell the team after his racist comments
came to light.
Holmes’ story features many different anecdotes about Sarver.
After the Suns’ 106-100 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Oct.
30, 2016, Sarver reportedly went into the locker room and mentioned
Draymond Green and a racial slur in the same breath.
“You know, why does Draymond Green get to run up the court and
say (n-word)?" Sarver asked.
Watson fired back immediately, telling Sarver that he can't say
that word as a white man. Sarver then repeated the word several
times in a row before asking Watson why he can’t say it, because
This deep dive attempts to explore the potential deep-rooted
issues that have surfaced within the Suns’ organization since
Sarver took over in 2004. The piece features other allegations of
racism, as well as misogyny and creating a toxic workplace
For example, the report also claims that Sarver explained his
decision to hire Lindsey Hunter over Suns legend Dan Majerle as the
team's head coach in 2013 because "these (n-words) need a (n-word)"
and someone who could "speak their language."
Watson, again on the record, also gave another example about how
Sarver was against diversity within his organization from a
conversation in 2016. Sarver reportedly mentioned how having a
diverse staff of people could make it hard for a consensus to
James Jones, the Suns’ current GM, responded to Holmes through
Sarver’s attorneys: “On multiple occasions, I observed Earl engage
in behavior and use language that was extremely unprofessional and
offensive. That does not align with who we are."
Other Suns co-owners off-the-record told Holmes that they are
embarrassed by Sarver’s actions over the years. Some within the
organization also see this story being released as an opportunity
to “right the ship,” as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi and Holmes
reported in a follow-up story on
Thursday afternoon hours after the initial article was
Now that these claims are public, it puts a severe damper on the
Suns’ organizational reputation that they’ve spent years trying to
rebuild with head coach Monty Williams and GM Jones. Instead of
talking about the on-court product of a team who made history last
season, making the NBA Finals after an 11-year playoff drought, the
focus now shifts to Sarver and the NBA's investigation.
“The allegations contained in today’s ESPN article are extremely
serious, and we have directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to
commence a comprehensive investigation," NBA executive vice
president of communications Mike Bass said in a statement. "The NBA
and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive
workplace for all employees. Once the investigation is completed,
its findings will provide the basis for any league
To combat ESPN’s story, Sarver hired a law firm to fight these
demoralizing accusations against he and the organization. Over the
past few weeks (since word of this story first leaked), Phoenix has
gone out of it’s way to release multiple PR statements from Suns
brass saying these reports are undoubtedly incorrect.
Sarver and his attorney’s vehemently denied all of these
allegations laid out by Holmes. Also, a few hours after the story’s
release, Sarver put out this statement through Suns PR:
“I continue to be shocked by the false reporting from Baxter
Holmes. While there is so much that is inaccurate and misleading in
this story that I hardly know where to begin, let me be clear: The
n-word is not part of my vocabulary. I have never called anyone or
any group of people the n-word, or referred to anyone or any group
of people by that word, either verbally or in writing. I don’t use
that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against
everything I believe in. The way I lead my personal and
professional life makes that clear. Instead of reporting the truth,
Holmes’ story is based on misrepresentations from former Suns coach
Earl Watson and other unnamed 'sources.' Mr. Watson created an
unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization. He is
clearly not a credible source. Despite hearing from witness after
witness that disputed Mr. Watson’s stories, Mr. Holmes completely
disregarded the truth here. Now we are in the position of trying to
disprove things that did not happen.
“At this point, I would entirely welcome an impartial NBA
investigation which may prove our only outlet for clearing my name
and the reputation of an organization of which I’m so very
Watson, now an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, also
released his own statement after Sarver called into question his
“I am not interested in engaging with an ongoing battle of fact.
Instead, I want to applaud the courage of the number of players,
executives, and staffers for fighting toxic environments of racial
insensitivity, sexual harassment, and micro-aggressions with their
truth. Basketball and 17 years in the NBA has allowed me the
financial privilege to speak my truth, but we can’t forget about
those who must remain silent for fears of losing their jobs. While
our fortitude assists with the progress, there is still more work
to be done in the name of equality, and I believe that one of the
strengths of our league is it’s ongoing commitment to justice. This
has been a traumatic experience, one that has affected me
profoundly, and I am not willing to relive it every day. But I will
not forget it, and I will it address it more fulsomely at a point
int he future when I feel ready.”
Within the back-and-forth battle, multiple former Suns players
and staffers have come out to defend Sarver. Most notably, BasketballNews.com's own Rex
Chapman, a former Suns player and current team ambassador, former
Suns GM and current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr,
and former Suns executive Lon Babby have put out statements
regarding this situation.
Chapman (via Twitter): “I read the article on Robert
Sarver. Want to say that I’ve known Robert for nearly twenty years.
Since he bought the Suns. He’s highly competitive. He can be tough.
Even abrasive at times. He’s unique. He’s had his growing-pains as
an owner. But the Robert Sarver I know is not a racist. I couldn’t
and wouldn’t put up with it. The people he’s hired with Suns and
Mercury over the past two decades have been amazingly diverse.”
Kerr: “I never saw anything that suggested racism or misogyny,
and I was very surprised to hear those allegations because that’s
not the person I know.”
Babby: “Robert is surely a demanding, and, at times, difficult
to manager to work for. But I can tell you as assuredly that he is
not in any way shape or form a racist or guilty of any kind of
sexual harassment or mistreatment of women.”
Jones, the NBA's 2020-21 Executive of the Year, released a
statement through Suns PR two weeks ago on the forthcoming story:
"None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know,
respect and like — it just doesn’t.”
There are many other allegations laid out in Holmes’ story
against Sarver, including claims that he interfered with coaches’
game plans and made lewd comments about his and players' sex
The story will certainly reverberate throughout the Association,
as the NBA officially launched their investigation into Sarver and
the Suns on Thursday. Stay tuned to BasketballNews.com for all the
latest on the situation, plus Holmes’ story can be read in full