An independent investigation into Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver has come to a close, and the results are now public. Over the course of his nearly two-decade tenure as owner, the report found that Sarver engaged in deeply unprofessional patterns of behavior.
Sarver, a white man, used the n-word on at least five separate occasions, even after both white and Black employees told him his use of the word was not acceptable. He frequently made sexually aggressive and suggestive comments about female employees' bodies. After considering the finding of the report, the NBA and its commissioner, Adam Silver, have come to the conclusion that Sarver’s punishment will be a one-year suspension and a $10 million fine, the maximum penalty allowed. This is not sitting well with some players around the league.
Chris Paul, former president of the NBA’s player union and the Suns’ elder statesman, tweeted his disdain for the punishment, saying he was “horrified and disappointed” by what he read and that “the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior.”
LeBron James, the league’s biggest star, tweeted out some concerns, too.
“Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself,” he said, later adding, “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 aint it.”
Current NBPA executive director, Tamika Tremaglio, echoed these players’ sentiments, tweeting that she “strongly believe[s] that Mr. Sarver should never hold a managerial position within [NBA or WNBA] again.”
These are strong, forceful statements addressing what some would call a lenient punishment for an owner who has behaved horribly for almost 20 years—especially considering the precedent Silver previously set with the league’s handling of Donald Sterling’s racism and misogyny.
If the players and their union aren’t buying the excuse that Silver “does not have the right to take away” Sarver’s team, here’s what they could do: a real strike. Not a lockout over contracts or a tepid hours-long strike that everyone called a boycott, like the one the players did in response to police violence while in the bubble. They can do a real strike where they organize, make a list of demands, and refuse to step foot on a court until their grievances are addressed.
The NBA is a league where its stars have all of the power. The question here is whether they’ll wield it.