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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday defended the discipline handed down to Phoenix Suns team owner Robert Sarver and said he did not “have the right” to take the team away.
Silver faced calls to increase the discipline on Sarver in a fashion he similarly did with former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Silver forced Sterling to sell the team after racist remarks were caught on a leaked tape.
“I don’t have the right to take away his team. I don’t want to rest on that legal point because of course there could be a process to take away someone’s team in this league,” Silver said. “It’s very involved, and I ultimately made the decision that it didn’t rise to that level. But to me, the consequences are severe here on Mr. Sarver.”
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The Sterling investigation into Silver’s announcement of his lifetime ban took three days. The investigation into Sarver was more extensive, having been conducted over the course of about 10 months, involving 80,000 documents and other materials.
“This case is very different,” Silver said of the Sarver probe. “It’s not that one was captured on tape and the other isn’t. … Mr. Sarver ultimately acknowledged his behavior.”
The NBA suspended Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million after the NBA’s investigation into claims of a toxic work environment found he “repeated the N-word when recounting the statements of others” at least five times and “engaged in instances of inequitable conduct toward female employees, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women, and on several occasions engaged in inappropriate physical conduct toward male employees.”
Silver was asked about how most employees of any company would likely face firings if they were to use racial slurs or make the remarks Sarver did.
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“It’s hard to make those comparisons to somebody who commits an inappropriate act in the workplace in somewhat of an anonymous fashion versus what is a huge public issue now around this person,” Silver said.
“There’s no neat answer here, other than the rights that come with owning an NBA team, how that is 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. It just is. When you actually own a team, it’s just a very different proposition.”
LeBron James and Chris Paul both spoke about the league’s decision.
“Read through the Sarver stories a few times now. I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong,” the four-time MVP tweeted. “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.
“I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this ain’t it.”
Paul added: “Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read. 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 who were affected.”
Sarver acknowledged the discipline in a separate statement.
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“Good leadership requires accountability. For the Suns and Mercury organizations, that begins with me,” he said. “While I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA’s report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.