Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix Mercury’

Robert Sarver says he has started the process of selling the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, a move that comes only eight days after he was suspended by the NBA over workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees.

Sarver made the announcement Wednesday, saying selling “is the best course of action,” although he initially hoped he would be able to keep control of the franchises — pointing to his record that, he claims, paints a dramatically different picture of who he is and what he stands for.

“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible — that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past,” Sarver wrote in a statement. “For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver agreed with Sarver’s decision.

“I fully support the decision by Robert Sarver to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Silver said. “This is the right next step for the organization and community.”

Sarver bought the teams in July 2004 for about $400 million. He is not the lone owner, but the primary one.

Assuming no other team is sold in the interim, it would be the first sale in the NBA since a group led by Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith bought the Utah Jazz in 2021 for about $1.7 billion.

It’s not known if Sarver has established an asking price. Forbes recently estimated the value of the Suns at $1.8 billion. Any new owners would have to be vetted by the NBA, which is standard procedure.

An independent report that was commissioned by the NBA last November and took about 10 months to complete found Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns,” though added that the investigation “makes no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.”

The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language toward female employees, including telling a pregnant employee that she would not be able to do her job after becoming a mother; making off-color comments and jokes about sex and anatomy; and yelling and cursing at employees in ways that would be considered bullying “under workplace standards.”

Once that report was completed, Silver suspended Sarver for one year and fined him $10 million — the maximum allowed by league rule.

“Words that I deeply regret now overshadow nearly two decades of building organizations that brought people together — and strengthened the Phoenix area — through the unifying power of professional men’s and women’s basketball,” Sarver wrote. “As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness. I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends, and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.”

Barely a week later, Sarver evidently realized that would not be possible.

His decision comes after a chorus of voices — from players like Suns guard Chris Paul and Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, to longtime team sponsors like PayPal, and even the National Basketball Players Association — said the one-year suspension wasn’t enough.

James weighed in again Wednesday, shortly after Sarver’s statement went public: “I’m so proud to be a part of a league committed to progress!” he tweeted.

Added retired NBA player Etan Thomas, also in a tweet: “Sarver is cashing out, so this is not really a punishment for him, but definitely glad he will be gone.”

Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi called last week for Sarver to resign, saying there should be “zero tolerance” for lewd, misogynistic, and racist conduct in any workplace. Najafi, in that same statement, also said he did not have designs on becoming the team’s primary owner.

“I do not want to be a distraction to these two teams and the fine people who work so hard to bring the joy and excitement of basketball to fans around the world,” Sarver wrote. “I want what’s best for these two organizations, the players, the employees, the fans, the community, my fellow owners, the NBA, and the WNBA. This is the best course of action for everyone.”

Sarver, through his attorney, argued to the NBA during the investigative process that his record as an owner shows a “longstanding commitment to social and racial justice” and that it shows he’s had a “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Among the examples Sarver cited was what he described as a league-best rate of 55% employment of minorities within the Suns’ front office and how more than half of the team’s coaches and general managers in his tenure — including current coach Monty Williams and current GM James Jones — are Black.

The NBA has suspended Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver for one year, plus fined him $10 million, after an investigation found that he had engaged in what the league called “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.”

The findings of the league’s report, published Tuesday, came nearly a year after the NBA asked a law firm to investigate allegations that Sarver had a history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents over his nearly two-decade tenure overseeing the franchise.

Sarver said he will “accept the consequences of the league’s decision” and apologized for “words and actions that offended our employees,” though noted he disagreed with some of the report’s findings.

The report said Sarver “repeated or purported to repeat the N-word on at least five occasions spanning his tenure with the Suns,” though added that the investigation “makes no finding that Sarver used this racially insensitive language with the intent to demean or denigrate.”

The study also concluded that Sarver used demeaning language toward 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 $10 million fine is the maximum allowed by NBA rule.

“I take full responsibility for what I have done,” Sarver said. “I am sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgment are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my values. … This moment is an opportunity for me to demonstrate a capacity to learn and grow as we continue to build a working culture where every employee feels comfortable and valued.”

Sarver, the league said, cannot be present at any NBA or WNBA team facility, including any office, arena, or practice facility; attend or participate in any NBA or WNBA event or activity, including games, practices or business partner activity; represent the Suns or Mercury in any public or private capacity; or have any involvement with the business or basketball operations of the Suns or Mercury.

The league said it would donate the $10 million “to organizations that are committed to addressing race and gender-based issues in and outside the workplace.”

“The statements and conduct described in the findings of the independent investigation are troubling and disappointing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We believe the outcome is the right one, taking into account all the facts, circumstances and context brought to light by the comprehensive investigation of this 18-year period and our commitment to upholding proper standards in NBA workplaces.”

It’s the second-largest penalty — in terms of total sanctions — ever levied by the NBA against a team owner, behind Donald Sterling being banned for life by Silver in 2014. Sterling was fined $2.5 million, the largest allowable figure at that time, and was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the massive fallout that followed him making racist comments in a recorded conversation.

The allegations against Sarver were reported by ESPN last year, which said it talked to dozens of current and former team employees for its story, including some who detailed inappropriate behavior. He originally denied or disputed most of the allegations through his legal team.

On Tuesday, Sarver’s representatives said the investigation’s findings “confirmed that there was no evidence, whatsoever, to support several of the accusations in ESPN’s reporting from November 2021.”

“While it is difficult to identify with precision what motivated Sarver’s workplace behavior described in this report, certain patterns emerged from witness accounts: Sarver often acted aggressively in an apparent effort to provoke a reaction from his targets; Sarver’s sense of humor was sophomoric and inappropriate for the workplace; and Sarver behaved as though workplace norms and policies did not apply to him,” read the report from the New York-based investigating firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Sarver will have to complete a training program “focused on respect and appropriate conduct in the workplace” during his suspension, the league said.

Sarver, through his attorney, continued denying the allegations as recently as June in a letter to the league and insisted the claims against him were “demonstrably false.”

The attorney, Thomas Clare, wrote that Sarver’s record shows a “longstanding commitment to social and racial justice” and that it attests to his “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“Mr. Sarver is one of few NBA owners who continues to support and advance the development of women’s professional basketball,” Clare wrote, citing upgrades to the Mercury team facilities, how the Suns claim a league-best rate of 55% employment of minorities within its front office and how more than half of the Suns’ coaches and general managers in Sarver’s tenure — including current coach Monty Williams and current GM James Jones — are Black.

Among the league’s findings:

— That Sarver engaged in “crude, sexual and vulgar commentary and conduct in the workplace,” including references to sexual acts, condoms and the anatomy, referring to both his own and those of others.

— The investigation also found that Sarver sent a small number of male Suns employees “joking pornographic material and crude emails, including emails containing photos of a nude woman and a video of two people having sex.”

— Sarver, the investigation found, also exposed himself unnecessarily to a male Suns employee during a fitness check, caused another male employee to become uncomfortable by grabbing him and dancing “pelvis to pelvis” at a holiday party, and standing nude in front of a male employee following a shower.

— He also made comments about female employees, the investigation found, including the attractiveness of Suns dancers, and asked a female Suns employee if she had undergone breast augmentation.

The league also will require the Suns and Mercury to engage in a series of workplace improvements, including retaining outside firms that will “focus on fostering a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace.”

Employees of those organizations will be surveyed, anonymously and regularly, to ensure that proper workplace culture is in place. The NBA and WNBA will need to be told immediately of any instances, or even allegations, of significant misconduct by any employees.

All those conditions will be in place for three years.

The league said the results of the investigation were based on interviews with 320 individuals, including current and former employees who worked for the teams during Sarver’s 18 years with the Suns, and from the evaluation of more than 80,000 documents and other materials, including emails, text messages and videos.

Sarver and the Suns and Mercury “cooperated fully with the investigative process,” the league said.

“Regardless of position, power or intent, we all need to recognize the corrosive and hurtful impact of racially insensitive and demeaning language and behavior,” Silver said. “On behalf of the entire NBA, I apologize to all of those impacted by the misconduct outlined in the investigators’ report. We must do better.”

Chelsea Gray had 27 points and eight assists and hit a career-high seven of Las Vegas’ WNBA playoff-record 23 3-pointers and the Aces beat the Phoenix Mercury 117-80 on Saturday night to sweep the best-of-three series.

Las Vegas, which never trailed, also set WNBA playoff marks for consecutive field goals made to open a game (10) and most 3-pointers in a half (11, in the first). The top-seeded Aces beat Phoenix 79-63 on Wednesday.

Las Vegas will play the fourth-seeded Seattle Storm or the fifth-seeded Washington Mystics in the best-of-five semifinals. Seattle leads the best-of-three series with the Mystics 1-0.

Kelsey Plum added 22 points for Las Vegas.

Kaela Davis led short-handed Phoenix with 23 points, and Diamond DeShields had 21.

Phoenix was without Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner. Taurasi was out with a quadriceps strain, Diggins-Smith stepped away last week for personal reasons and Griner is being detained in Russia on drug charges.

The Phoenix Mercury named Vanessa Nygaard their next head coach, the team announced Monday.

Nygaard already had conversations with current Mercury players following her hiring, according to The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings.

The 46-year-old Arizona native most recently worked as an assistant coach with the Las Vegas Aces last season. In her playing career, she starred at Stanford before spending five seasons in the WNBA from 1999-2003.

Phoenix is coming off a strong season in which it fell short to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals. The team’s roster still features a number of top-tier players, including Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Sandy Brondello is out as the Phoenix Mercury’s coach after leading the team to the WNBA Finals in her eighth season.

The Mercury announced Monday that the team and Brondello mutually agreed to part ways and her contract, which expired after the 2021 season, will not be renewed.

“She oversaw our program with the utmost integrity and I’m sincerely grateful for her partnership and friendship,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said in a statement. “Sandy and her family will always be part of the X-Factor family and we wish them the best. At the same time, we understand an eight-year tenure for a head coach is an exception in any professional sport, and we are confident a new voice is necessary for our team at this time.”

A former WNBA player and four-time Australian Olympian, Brondello led the Mercury to the 2014 WNBA title and to the finals last season, where they lost 3-1 to the Chicago Fire.

Brondello was the 2014 WNBA coach of the year and served as the team’s vice president of player personnel. The Mercury went 150-108 under Brondello.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity and time I have had with the Phoenix Mercury, and would like to thank Robert Sarver and Jim Pitman, my staff and players I have worked with through the years,” Brondello said in a statement. “Thank you also to the X-Factor for your support and making the atmosphere at our games so memorable.”

Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver released a statement Friday, denying claims of racism and gender discrimination made against him in an upcoming ESPN story centered around misconduct within the organization.

“I am wholly shocked by some of the allegations purported by ESPN about me, personally, or about the Phoenix Suns and Mercury organizations,” Sarver said. “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.”

In a separate statement, the Suns organization vehemently denied accusations from the unpublished story, citing “documentary evidence in our possession and eyewitness accounts.”

Sarver, 59, has owned the Suns and Mercury since 2004.

Phoenix is coming off a successful season that saw the franchise reach the NBA Finals and come within two wins of a championship.

The Chicago Sky are WNBA champions for the first time in their 16-year history, capping one of the most surprising postseason runs in recent memory.

Chicago kept fans on the edge of their seats in Sunday’s Game 4, trailing the visiting Phoenix Mercury by nine entering the fourth quarter. However, thanks largely to a timely scoring barrage from Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson, the Sky mounted a late-game comeback to secure an 80-74 win and a 3-1 Finals series victory.

Quigley finished with a team-high 26 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter that helped her squad outscore the visitors 26-11 in the frame.

The win vindicated Candace Parker‘s decision to return home to Illinois last offseason after 13 campaigns as the face of the Los Angeles Sparks.

“Everything that this team went through the entire year prepared us for this,” Parker told ESPN’s Holly Rowe postgame. “We were down nine, we were down 11, we just got to stay with it, and that’s what we’ve done all season. I’m so proud of this group. I am so proud of our fight, next-man-up mentality.”

Mercury star Diana Taurasi finished with 16 points, two rebounds, and two assists. Teammate Brittney Griner scored a game-high 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting but tallied just six points in the last quarter. Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello credited the Sky’s defensive scheme with slowing down the team’s All-WNBA center and flipping the game’s outcome.

“Their defense went to another level trapping (Griner),” Brondello said, according to the Associated Press. “We got some good looks, layups. We missed them and they made them. Allie really changed the momentum of the game there.”

The Sky entered the playoffs with a 16-16 record and were considered long shots to advance to the Finals. As the No. 6 seed, Chicago had to beat out No. 7 Dallas Wings and No. 3 Minnesota Lynx in single-elimination knockout games.

Chicago toppled top-seeded Connecticut Sun 3-1 in the semifinals.

Kahleah Copper scored 20 of her 22 points in the first half and Chicago used a dominant defensive effort to reach a record rout of the Phoenix Mercury 86-50 on Friday night, moving the Sky one victory away from the franchise’s first WNBA title.

Chicago will look to close out the best of five series on Sunday.

The Sky dominated on both ends, holding Brittney Griner to just four first half points on 1 of 8 shooting after she scored 29 in the Mercury’s overtime win on Wednesday. Chicago also took Diana Taurasi out of the game, holding to her five points on 1 of 10 shooting. Griner finished with 16 points as both of their nights ended early in the fourth quarter as the Sky kept the lead in the twenties.

Copper set the tone early for the Sky with seven points in the first quarter. She finished a 3-point play to put Chicago up 20-11 at the end of the first quarter. Copper was 5 of 5 from the line in the quarter, which was a drastic difference from Wednesday’s loss. The Sky only attempted four free throws for the entire game.

The Sky didn’t slow down in the second quarter. They pushed the ball in transition with Allie Quigley and Stefanie Dolson getting easy points in the paint to force a Mercury timeout as the Sky extended the lead to 25-11 with 7:20 left in the second quarter. Copper continued the Sky’s scoring barrage with two three-point plays in just a minute of play to put them up 35-16. She capped off the brilliant first half with another basket to put the Sky up 46-24 at the half.

The 22-point halftime lead matched the biggest ever in the WNBA Finals, equaling the mark held by Phoenix which the Mercury did in 2014 in Game 1 against Chicago. That year was the last time either team had been in the championship round.

Quigley finished with nine points and Courtney Vandersloot ended the game with 10 assists for Chicago.

The Sky hosted the WNBA Finals for the first time since they played in the finals in 2014. But on Friday, it featured more star power led by Parker, who starred at west suburban Naperville Central High School before jumping into the national spotlight at Tennessee then continuing her legacy in the WNBA. She joined the Sky before the 2021 season and she is now one win away from completing a magical homecoming.

FINED

On Thursday, Taurasi was fined $2,500 for making contact with an official as opposed to a suspension. Before the game, Sky head coach James Wade had no comment regarding the incident. “What happened? Did something happen? I didn’t see it in the game, so I have no comment. Whatever happens between Diana and the league is between those two. I don’t want to step into that.”

FACES IN THE CROWD

The Sky played their best game of the season in front of a sold out crowd that included Chicago Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields and hip hop artist Chance The Rapper. NBA commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance, along with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and DePaul women’s head coach Doug Bruno.

Brittney Griner dunked while scoring 29 points, Diana Taurasi had eight of her 20 points in overtime and the Phoenix Mercury evened the WNBA Finals with a 91-86 win over the Chicago Sky on Wednesday night in Game 2.

Griner kept the Mercury within reach of Chicago during a sluggish start and brought the Phoenix Suns players sitting courtside to their feet with her second career playoff dunk in the first quarter. She scored on a turnaround jump to help give Phoenix a late four-point lead in regulation, but just missed blocking Courtney Vandersloot’s tying layup with 4.4 seconds left.

“I mean BG was so big for us the whole game,” Taurasi said. “She’s just incredible. She kept us in the game when we weren’t playing well.”

Taurasi opened overtime with a four-point play and added a 3-pointer that put Phoenix up 89-86 with 1:24 left. She then came up with a huge defensive play, getting a steal with 36 seconds left.

Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had 13 points and 12 assists, sealed it on a layup with 12.8 seconds left.

“In overtime we let it rip,” Taurasi said. “We talked to each other and said it will be our best five minutes of basketball and it happened.”

Vandersloot led the Sky with 20 points and 14 assists. Allie Quigley added 19 points.

Game 3 is Friday in Chicago

Chicago overcame some early jitters and took advantage of the short-handed and fatigued to win Game 1 91-77. (Candace) Parker was a calming influence while scoring 16 points and Kahleah Copper scored 21 points.

Phoenix was without guards Kia Nurse (torn ACL) and Sophie Cunningham (calf), and had to play two days after clinching its semifinal series in Las Vegas.

The Mercury had more prep time and Cunningham back in the lineup after missing three games, but was disjointed early.

Chicago, one of the WNBA’s top offensive teams, was at its free-flowing best, its crisp passing setting up open looks. The Sky knocked ’em down early, hitting 7 of their first 12 shots to take an early nine-point lead.

Phoenix went to Griner early and often. The 6-foot-9 center delivered with an early dunk after the Sky inexplicably left her alone in the lane, bringing the Suns players to their feet, and had 14 points by halftime.

Cunningham hit a pair of 3-pointers to bring the Mercury back from the early deficit and hit another after a wicked crossover to help Phoenix pull even at 40-all at halftime.

Chicago revved up its offense again to start the third quarter, building a seven-point lead. Phoenix countered by getting the ball back in to Griner to help the Mercury surge back into the lead in the fourth quarter.

Kahleah Copper scored 22 points, Allie Quigley added 18 and the hot-shooting Chicago Sky opened the WNBA Finals with a 91-77 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.

The Sky withstood Phoenix’s fast start and took control with a 21-2 run spanning halftime to go up 17. Courtney Vandersloot had 12 points and 11 assists, helping Chicago shoot 53% and snatch home-court advantage from the Mercury in the best-of-five series.

Game 2 is Wednesday in Phoenix.

The Mercury played without guards Kia Nurse (torn ACL) and Sophie Cunningham (left calf strain), and the lack of depth seemed to hurt them against one of the WNBA’s best offensive teams.

Brittney Griner had 20 points and Diana Taurasi 17 for the Mercury, who pulled within eight late before running out of steam and time.

The 2021 WNBA Finals is the first for both franchises since the Mercury swept the Sky in 2014.

It’s also a showdown between two of the sport’s all-time greats still at the top of their games.

A three-time WNBA champion and the league’s all-time leading scorer, the 39-year-old Taurasi took over down the stretch of Game 5 against Las Vegas, scoring 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter. She was voted the greatest player in the WNBA’s 25-history by the fans in ceremony before Game 1 of the finals.

Parker, a two-time league MVP, returned home to Chicago this season after playing her first 13 seasons in Los Angeles and has been a key reason the Sky reached the finals, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the clinching game against Connecticut in the semifinals. The 35-year-old was honored as one of the WNBA’s greatest players during a ceremony after the first quarter of Game 1.

Taurasi kick started Phoenix’s hot start to the final with two early 3s, helping the Mercury build an early nine-point lead.

Parker led the Sky back, scoring 11 first-half points while keying a late second quarter 17-0 run that put Chicago up 46-35 at halftime.

Chicago stretched the lead to 17 in the third quarter before Phoenix went on a 10-2 run to pull within 52-45.

That’s as close as the Mercury would get.

The Sky continued to drop in shots, pushing the lead to 86-66 midway through the fourth quarter before withstanding a late run by Phoenix’s reserves.

UP NEXT

Game 2 is Wednesday in Phoenix.