Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver allegedly runs - and sets the tone for - an organization that is "toxic" and "hostile," according to a bombshell ESPN report published Thursday.

Points this season

Points made: 106,3
Accuracy: 47,0%
Place in standings: 18
Record max: 115
Record min: 98
Best scorer: Devin Booker

The report, based on interviews with more than 70 former and current Suns employees, alleges Sarver has made numerous racist and sexist remarks during the 17 years he has owned the franchise - comments that apparently have cast a pall over the team. He also owns the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA.

"There's literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me," a former Suns basketball executive told ESPN.

The report is filled with examples of Sarver's alleged use of the "N"-word, of comments about his genitals and remarks he purportedly made about him wanting strippers to get pregnant by players so that they would choose Phoenix in free agency to be near their children.

Two weeks ago, aware the ESPN report was coming, Sarver sharply disputed allegations of misdeeds in a pre-emptive strike.

"First and foremost, I reject any insinuation of personal or organizational racism or gender discrimination," he said in a statement posted to social media by the team on Oct. 22.

"I despise language that disrespects any individuals, regardless of race, gender, preference, or choice. Such language has no place in business or at home in what I consider Suns and Mercury families. I am proud of our record of diversity and inclusion on both teams -- whether on the court or in the front office."

ESPN's reporting includes allegations of Sarver using a racial slur while explaining why the Suns needed a Black head coach, saying, "These (N-words) need a (N-word)"; flashing a photo of his wife in a bikini around team headquarters and discussing sexual acts between the couple; and berating coaches and basketball operations staff over the team's play.

Those interviewed said the 60-year-old Sarver also fostered a culture that allowed team executives to behave in a similar manner.

Several women who formerly worked with the team described what they categorized as verbal abuse and sexual harassment from both co-workers and managers.

One woman who worked on the sales staff said a former Suns vice president once asked her how many people in the organization she slept with and about the size of the genitals of some of the men.

"It was terrible because I had not had sexual interactions with anybody on (staff), so that was very weird," she told ESPN. "And (it) also made me uncomfortable because my VP is asking me about my sexual history with other co-workers? That kind of thing was almost normal."

Sarver's team tried to paint a different picture of him and the organization for the ESPN report.

Through his attorneys, Sarver admitted to using the N-word once in conversation with a player who had used the word -- and hasn't used it since. He strongly denied other allegations.

ESPN said Sarver's lawyers made a demand that the reporter contact 10 specific people to ask about their experiences with him. And while they said he could be tough, those hand-picked by Sarver's team said he wasn't racist or sexist.

"Robert is surely a demanding and, at times, difficult manager to work for," said Lon Babby, Suns president of basketball operations from 2010-15. "But I can tell you as assuredly that he is not in any way shape or form a racist or guilty of any kind of sexual harassment or mistreatment of women."

Steve Kerr, who worked in the organization from 2004-10 and now coaches the Golden State Warriors, concurred.

"I never saw anything that suggested racism or misogyny, and I was very surprised to hear those allegations because that's not the person that I know," Kerr said.

Sarver became the Suns' majority owner in 2004. An Arizona native, he made his fortune in banking and real estate.

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