NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday the punishment to Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver for racist and misogynist remarks was severe even though it didn’t force him to sell the team.
Sarver was fined $10 million and suspended for one year by the NBA on Tuesday following a 10-month investigation into Sarver’s actions over 18 years.
“I was in disbelief to a certain extent about what I learned,” Silver said. “I was saddened by it, disheartened… The conduct is indefensible but I feel we dealt with it in a fair manner.”
In 2014, Silver forced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell that club after private recordings of him making racist comments were made public.
Silver said the situations were “dramatically different” and there was “no discussion” about the process of removing Sarver as owner but admitted, “There’s no neat answer here.”
“I don’t have the right to take away his team,” Silver said. “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. It’s very involved, and I ultimately made the decision that it didn’t rise to that level.”
Silver said many who came forward with evidence were promised confidentiality.
“I have access to information that the public doesn’t,” Silver said. “I’m able to look at the totality of the circumstances around those events in a way that we’re not able to completely bring to life.
“I think that puts me in a different position ultimately as the person who has to render the ultimate judgment about what is a fair outcome here.”
Silver saw Sterling and Sarver differently.
“I think what we saw in the case of Donald Sterling was blatant racist conduct directed at a select group of people,” Silver said.
Regarding Sarver, Silver said, “It’s beyond the pale in every possible way to use language and behave that way, but.. it was wholly of a different kind than what we saw in that earlier case.”
Silver also pointed to the findings by investigators regarding Sarver.
“If they had made findings that, in fact, his conduct was motivated by racial animus, absolutely that would have had an impact on the ultimate outcome here,” Silver said. “But that’s not what they found.”
Haven’t turned a corner
Silver said he feels there has been improvement over the years in the NBA workplace environment, but says the league is no different than any other business in needing to remain vigilant.
“I believe we’ve seen significant improvement over the years,” he said. “But ultimately, I think some of the issues we experience here in the NBA are not all that different than what you see, unfortunately, in other workplaces.
“I’d love to say we’ve turned the corner. We clearly haven’t. I can’t express it in strong enough terms how disheartening it is to be the commissioner of a league in which this kind of conduct has transpired during my tenure.”
Regarding other matters discussed at a meeting of team owners, Silver said an in-season tournament remains a possibility as soon as next season.
“It’s something I remain excited about,” Silver said. “It continues to be an opportunity within the current footprint of our season to create some more meaningful games, games of consequence, during an otherwise long regular season.”
Silver said the idea has “great feedback” from the players’ union, which must approve it, but the plan is “not quite ready for primetime yet.”
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