LeBron James and Chris Paul have dismissed the NBA’s punishment of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver as too lenient.
An ESPN report, which was later corroborated by an NBA investigation, found that Sarver used the n-word on five occasions when repeating the words of others.
The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language towards female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job after becoming a mother; made off-color comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelled and cursed at employees in ways that would be considered bullying “under workplace standards”. The investigation added that Sarver did not use “racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate”.
The investigation’s findings led the NBA to fine Sarver $10m and suspend him for one year. Sarver says he accepts the punishment.
On Wednesday, James – the league’s most influential player – expressed his disappointment.
“Read through the Sarver stories a few times now,” he wrote on Twitter. “I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any workplace. 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 doesn’t mean it.”
Around 75% of players in the NBA are Black and the league has been praised for its work on inclusion and support of social and racial justice.
Suns point guard Chris Paul, who is a former president of the NBA Players Association, was also critical of the punishment.
“This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated,” he wrote on Twitter. “I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”
Comparisons have been made between Sarver’s case and that of former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life from the league in 2014, effectively forcing him to sell the team, after recordings emerged of Sterling using racist language.
The investigation’s conclusion that Sarver did not display racial animus led to a lighter punishment than that given to Sterling, said Silver.
“It was relevant,” Silver said on Wednesday. “I think 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. But that’s not what they found.”