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N.B.A. Commissioner Defends 1-Year Suspension for Owner’s Misconduct

N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday defended the one-year suspension and $10 million fine for Robert Sarver, the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns, who was found to have mistreated employees over more than a decade after an independent investigation.

Silver said the suspension and fine were fair punishments for Sarver’s misconduct, including using racial slurs, yelling at employees and treating female employees unfairly. Silver said he had not talked to Sarver about voluntarily selling his team because of his behavior.

“From a personal standpoint, I was in disbelief to a certain extent about what I learned that had transpired over the last 18 years in the Suns organization,” Silver said. “I was saddened by it, disheartened. I want to again apologize to the former, and in some cases current, employees of the Phoenix Suns for what they had to experience. There is absolutely no excuse for it. And we addressed it.”

Silver spoke to reporters one day after the league released a 43-page report from the New York-based law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which detailed Sarver’s repeated use of racial slurs, mistreatment of employees, bullying and unfair treatment of female employees over nearly two decades as the owner of the Suns and the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury. The firm reviewed thousands of pages of documents and interviewed hundreds of current and former employees. Silver said he had been following the reactions to the report; some people have expressed a desire for harsher punishment.

“Let me reiterate: The conduct is indefensible,” Silver said Wednesday. “But I feel we dealt with it in a fair manner, both taking into account the totality of the circumstances, not just those particular allegations but the 18 years in which Mr. Sarver has owned the Suns and the Mercury.”

He said that many people interviewed had positive things to say about Sarver.

The public report represented only part of the investigation’s findings. Silver said he was given more information, but that he could not reveal it in order to protect the privacy of those who had participated in the investigation.

“In terms of future behavior, he’s on notice,” Silver said of Sarver. “He knows that.”

Silver was speaking after a meeting of the league’s board of governors in Manhattan. He said the board did not discuss terminating Sarver’s ownership, and added that Sarver had certain rights as a franchise owner.

In 2014, Silver issued a lifetime ban to Donald Sterling, then the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for racist behavior. Silver said Sarver’s situation was “dramatically different.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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