In comments to Phoenix Suns employees before the team’s season-opening win over the Dallas Mavericks, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologized multiple times on behalf of the league office for enduring years of workplace misconduct under Suns majority owner Robert Sarver, according to sources present. .
“I’m incredibly empathetic to what so many of you have been through,” Silver told a group of hundreds of employees, including some team executives and interim team governor Sam Garvin, who gathered in the lower bowl of the arena. equipment. hours before the match.
During a nearly hour-long speech, Silver, sitting on a stool and holding a microphone, added, in part, “To the extent that you feel let down by the league, I apologize. I take responsibility for that.”
Silver was later asked if he or the league office were aware of the team’s workplace problems under Sarver, who led a group to buy the team in 2004. Silver said no.
“Did I ever hear that Robert might be difficult to deal with? Sure,” Silver told employees. “But that is very different from conduct that is considered discriminatory in some way.”
On September 13, Sarver was suspended for a year and fined $10 million after a 10-month NBA investigation, led by the New York-based law firm Wachtell Lipton, found that Sarver was involved in “cases of unfair conduct toward female employees,” including “sex-related comments” and inappropriate comments about employees’ appearance, and used the N-word at least five times “when counting statements by others.”
Sarver, who also owns the Phoenix Mercury, announced on September 21 that he would sell both franchises. At a news conference on Sept. 14, the day after the NBA announced the results of its investigation, Silver said the league had received no calls to its confidential employee hotline and no formal complaints had been filed.
Silver echoed those sentiments to employees Wednesday, noting that no conduct had been reported through any of the league’s official channels, but reiterating his apologies to employees.
“Obviously it’s a failure of an overall system, of a 30-team league,” Silver said, adding that the league didn’t see any reason before ESPN’s November 2021 story, which detailed allegations of racism and misogyny. during Sarver’s 17 years as owner. to step in and conduct an investigation into the franchise.
Silver acknowledged to employees the challenges of having the league oversee all 30 teams, a situation akin, he said, to national rights versus state rights. Still, she said at one point that he did see it as the league’s role ultimately to oversee all 30 NBA teams, as well as all WNBA teams.
Silver was asked how the league could allow teams to operate with some freedom while still expecting them to hold to a certain standard. He said, in part, that it’s an evolving process, but that it’s important that anyone associated with the NBA has a “safe workplace” with responsible leadership and an appropriate means to report wrongdoing.
Silver said he felt the law firm the team used for the investigation, Wachtell Lipton, “did the best job they could.” And she acknowledged that some employees might wonder why certain allegations or stories they raised weren’t included in the report. She reiterated that the lawyers followed a process and remained “really independent.”
Garvin, who has been a minority owner since 2004, when Sarver led a group to buy the team for a record $401 million, also apologized to employees on behalf of the team’s ownership group. Garvin said, in part, that “everyone deserves respect” and “everyone should be treated professionally.”
Silver was asked what measures the league would put in place for other teams so that other NBA team employees don’t face similar problems that those in Phoenix have faced. Silver referenced new processes, such as new reporting systems and regular meetings with HR chiefs from teams across the league, as well as making sure those people were properly trained.
Silver also acknowledged that people may not feel comfortable calling the confidential NBA employee hotline and that other measures need to be put in place. One employee expressed “persistent frustration” with some of the team’s initial public statements defending Sarver and asked how the employees could positively move forward.
“You have to talk about it,” Silver said. “I think it’s healthy.”
Silver admitted that there are professionals who are better at facilitating such conversations and can help people work through traumatic experiences. He also acknowledged that there is a level of “vulnerability” working in the league because the positions are considered highly desirable and that some may tolerate more than they would in another profession because it is their lifelong dream to work in the NBA.
Still, while acknowledging he didn’t have any “deep answers,” Silver said it was important to “just really listen to people.”