Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver’s racist, sexist and inappropriate actions landed him a one-year suspension and $10 million fine from the NBA. But he has been able to keep his job and his stake in the organizations.
The same wasn’t true for Donald Sterling in 2014 when his own racist behavior came to light — the now-former Clippers owner was banned from the league for life by commissioner Adam Silver, hit with a $2.5 million fine and was essentially forced to sell the team.
Why didn’t Sarver suffer a similar fate?
“The situations were dramatically different,” Silver said in a news conference on Wednesday. “I think what we saw in the case of Donald Sterling was blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of people. While it’s difficult to know what is in someone’s heart or in their mind, we heard those words. Then there was a follow-up from the league office, and that became public, as well, in terms of what Mr. Sterling even subsequently said about his actions.”
He also cited information that was available to him through the Sarver investigation that was not made public.
“In the case of Robert Sarver, I’d say, first of all, we’re looking at the totality of circumstances over an 18-year period in which he’s owned these teams, and ultimately we made a judgment, I made a judgment, that in the circumstances in which he had used that language and that behavior, that while, as I said, it was indefensible is not strong enough. It’s beyond the pale in every possible way to use language and behave that way, but that it was wholly of a different kind than what we saw in that earlier case,” Silver said.
“I think in this case, looking back over his track record of hiring, his track record of support of particular employees, what the actual people said about him — remember, while there were these terrible things, there were also many, many people who had very positive things to say about him through this process. Ultimately, I took all of that into account in making the decision that the one-year suspension plus the fine was appropriate.”
In 2014, TMZ released a recording in which Sterling was heard telling his girlfriend at the time that it bothered him that she was “associating with black people” after she’d posed for a photo on Instagram with Magic Johnson. He also told her that she could “sleep with [black people]” but “not to bring them to my games.”
Clippers coaches and players were angered over the comments and discussed boycotting Game 4 of their series against the Warriors before ultimately deciding against it and instead protested by wearing their warm-up shirts inside out so no team logos were displayed. LeBron James also said there was “no room” in the NBA for Sterling, who came under fire across the league and beyond.
That wasn’t all. In 2006, Sterling was sued for housing discrimination for allegedly refusing to rent apartments to blacks and families with children. Three years later, he agreed to pay $2.725 million to settle the allegations.
A league investigation into Sarver, meanwhile, revealed the 60-year-old owner used the N-word at least five times “when recounting the statements of others;” made inappropriate sex-related comments about the physical appearance of women and made inappropriate physical contact toward men, among other inappropriate actions.
Silver said on Wednesday, though, that there was “no discussion” about removing Sarver. He also said the Suns and Mercury owner expressed “complete remorse” to him, but added that he was “on notice” going forward.
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