The Phoenix Suns on Friday denied allegations of racism, sexism and harassment against owner Robert Sarver, ahead of the release of a “proposed story” from ESPN.
“This story is completely outrageous and false,” Suns CEO and President Jason Rowley said in a statement released by the team. “It doesn’t represent – at all – the Robert Sarver I’ve worked alongside of for 15 years. He’s not a racist and he’s not a sexist.”
The statement comes after NBA podcast host Jordan Schultz said in a tweet that a report will be released with allegations against Sarver that could “forcibly” remove him.
The Suns did not reveal what the exact nature of the allegations were.
When reached for comment, ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz sent the following statement to CNBC: “We don’t comment on stories that may or may not be in progress.”
Sarver said in a statement Friday that he was “wholly shocked” by the ESPN allegations and vehemently denied them.
“While I can’t begin to know how to respond to some of the vague suggestions made by mostly anonymous voices, I can certainly tell you that some of the claims I find completely repugnant to my nature and to the character of the Suns/Mercury workplace and I can tell you they never, ever happened,” Sarver said.
He added that he despises any language that “disrespects individuals, regardless of race, gender, preference, or choice.”
The Suns also said in a statement that the potential ESPN story makes “completely baseless claims,” noting the team has evidence and eyewitness accounts that contradict the accusations against Sarver.
“We urge everyone not to rush to judgment here,” the Suns said in the statement. “Especially based on lies, innuendo, and a false narrative to attack our organization and its leadership.”
Rowley slammed the unnamed ESPN reporter of the proposed story, claiming that they showed a “reckless disregard for the truth.”
“He has harassed employees, former employees, and family members; used truths, half-truths and rumors to manufacture a story in which he’s heavily invested and then perpetuate a completely false narrative within the sports industry to back it up,” Rowley said in a statement.
An NBA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA and fined $2.5 million after an audio of him leaked in which he could be heard making racist comments.
Sarver purchased the Suns from former owner Jerry Colangelo in 2004 for a record $401 million at the time.
Sarver has faced criticism for his level of involvement in the team’s decisions.
In 2018, ESPN reported that Sarver “has earned a long-standing reputation for aggressively involving himself in basketball decisions.”
ESPN added that Suns coaches “became accustomed to regular beratings and demands of strategy and lineup changes” from Sarver.
He was most recently criticized for not offering center Deandre Ayton a max five-year rookie extension contract during the NBA’s offseason. Ayton will become a restricted free agent after this season as a result.