Banned owner Robert Sarver says he’s starting process to sell Suns, Mercury

Robert Sarver says he’ll start the process of selling Suns, Mercury after NBA probe found workplace misconduct. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

The NBA banned Robert Sarver from the owners’ club for a year, but now the embattled businessman apparently wants out.

Sarver, the owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, announced in a statement on Wednesday that is he “beginning the process of seeking buyers” for both teams.

“I fully support the decision by Robert Sarver to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “This is the right next step for the organization and community.”

The NBA announced a year-long suspension and a $10 million fine (the max allowed by league bylaws) last week after a year-long probe into Sarver’s workplace conduct.

The league’s investigation found that Sarver used the N-word on multiple occasions and found “instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees.” Sarver also made “sex-related comments” and other inappropriate comments.

“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together — and strengthened the Phoenix area — through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball,” Sarver said in his statement.

Sarver, 60, who faced mounting pressure from sponsors and players alike, blamed “our current unforgiving climate” for the reason he was looking to sell the teams.

“It has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” he said.

He added that he didn’t want to be a “distraction” to his two franchises and his move is “the best course of action for everyone.”

“The racist old boys’ club in professional sports is officially closed,” Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement. “A new era is upon us where it is intolerable to view Black players like property. Sarver’s decision today is the first step in the long road toward justice for the Suns and Mercury — the staff, the players, and the fans.

“It is now imperative that the NBA, both teams, the corporate sponsors, and the new owner, whomever they may be, follow through on the commitment to root out racism, misogyny, and hate.”

Sarver bought the teams in 2004 for about $400 million. The Suns were recently valued by Forbes at $1.8 billion.

In the days following Sarver’s ban, Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi — the team’s second-largest stakeholder — called for Sarver to quit in an open letter to Suns fans.

“In accordance with my commitment to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism and bias, as Vice Chairman of the Phoenix Suns, I am calling for the resignation of Robert Sarver,” Najafi wrote.

“Similar conduct by a CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination,” Najafi added. “The fact that Robert Sarver ‘owns’ the team does not give him a license to treat others differently than any other leader.”

PayPal, the jersey patch partner of the Suns, also threatened to drop its sponsorship of the team if Sarver remained as owner.

“In light of the findings of the NBA’s investigation, we will not renew our sponsorship should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns’ organization, after serving his suspension.”

NBA superstar LeBron James blasted the league for suspending Sarver for only a year.

“Our league definitely got this wrong,” James wrote on Twitter. “I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior.”