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The Phoenix Suns have made a preemptive strike.
ESPN is reportedly close to publishing a bombshell, heavily researched story on Suns’ and WNBA Mercury owner Robert Sarver with allegations of “racism, sexism and sexual harassment in a series of incidents.” While the allegations are not yet public because the story has yet to be published, the Suns and Sarver released strongly-worded statements flatly denying all of it.
The Suns are almost certainly aware of all the allegations and the evidence to back them up. Professional journalism practice (which ESPN and the writer/writers involved certainly would follow) entails presenting that evidence to Sarver and the Suns and giving them a chance to defend themselves in the story.
This story potentially has echoes of the incident that cost Donald Sterling control of the Los Angeles Clippers. While the NBA had spent years turning a blind eye to rumors, stories and evidence of racism from Sterling — including being accused of racist practices by the Justice Department in 2006, and being sued by his former GM Elgin Baylor — an audiotape of Sterling making racist remarks to his mistress caused then-new commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling from the NBA. However, Sterling did not have to sell the team; it took a Machiavellian move by his wife Shelly to wrest control of the team and sell it to Steve Ballmer. Other owners are reticent to vote out one of their own, they don’t like the precedent, but if the scandal hurts the NBA’s bottom line they will.
How this plays out — including if Sarver could lose control of the Suns — is impossible to predict at this minute. The release date of the potential bombshell story has not been announced, but likely would be sooner rather than later after this.
Sarver had already been in the spotlight heading into the season over the Suns’ decision not to offer center Deandre Ayton a max contract extension. For some, this confirmed Sarvers’ reputation as a penny-pinching owner who too often cuts his organization off at the knees in the name of profit.
Whatever happens next, this now hangs over the Suns’ players and coaching staff as they take on the Lakers Friday night, and move into the rest of the season. Chris Paul has been there before, he was a member of the Clippers when the Sterling story blew up.