The leaders of the Phoenix Suns vowed to focus on basketball while awaiting the conclusions from the NBA’s investigation into allegations of misconduct by team owner Robert Sarver.
ESPN published a lengthy story Thursday, based on dozens of interviews, that detailed multiple incidents of misogyny and racism during Sarver’s 17-year tenure as owner. Sarver has issued a series of firm denials in statements and comments through his attorneys. The NBA has directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to commence a comprehensive investigation, which would provide the basis for any action from the league against Sarver.
“I think we have a close-knit team that sticks together,” Suns star shooting guard Devin Booker said after Phoenix’s 123-111 win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday, when Sarver’s courtside seats were empty. “We obviously have conversations about it, but like Chris [Paul] said, we still had to show up to shootaround today and we still had to play a game. We’re focused on basketball, and I think things will get handled how they’re supposed to.”
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Booker, Paul and head coach Monty Williams each acknowledged the severity and sensitivity of the allegations against Sarver but emphasized the need to remain patient as the league’s investigation takes its course.
“As someone who is the caretaker of a program, I find all these things that are being said serious in nature,” Williams said before the game. “It takes courage to come out and express yourself. But at the same time, I’m aware there are two sides to this equation. … We still have to wait to see how clear the facts can appear.”
Williams, who led the Suns to the NBA Finals last season, is in his third year with the team. He pointed out that all of the allegations in the story took place before he was hired by the franchise in 2019.
“If any of that stuff happened while I was here, I wouldn’t be in this seat,” Williams said. “The league is doing an investigation, and we’ll know more obviously once that is settled.”
Booker, a seven-year veteran who has spent his entire career with the Suns, is the franchise’s longest-tenured active player. He said he has not witnessed any instances of racism or misogyny by Sarver.
“In my seven years that I’ve been here, I haven’t noticed that, but that doesn’t make me insensitive to the subject,” Booker said. “I think the NBA opened an investigation, and they’re going to do their due diligence of bringing out facts instead of ‘he said, she said.’ I’m sure the NBA has it in good hands and will do the proper research to find out the truth.”
The accusations included former Suns coach Earl Watson alleging that Sarver repeatedly used the N-word after an Oct. 30, 2016 loss to the Golden State Warriors despite Watson’s strong objection. In a statement on Thursday, Sarver called Watson “clearly not a credible source,” saying Watson created “an unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization.”
Booker, however, vouched for Watson’s character Thursday night. Asked if he considered Watson credible, Booker said, “Earl? Yeah. That’s my guy.”
This is the second time in Paul’s career that the owner of a team he played for was the subject of a major controversy. Former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA in 2014 and forced to sell the team after recordings of racist comments he made became public.
“I feel like situations are different,” Paul said. “We dealt with that in that time when all that happened. I think right now, like Book said, we’re not insensitive to everything that was said or whatnot, but we don’t know all the details. So the NBA will do its investigation, and in that time, all of us on our team will continue to play and do what we do.”
Paul stressed the importance of the Suns to remain “locked in” and to “play for one another” while avoiding getting caught up in the conversation about the controversy.
“I’ve been through a few situations in my time in the league,” Paul said. “The powers that be, they look into it. They do their investigations or whatnot, but I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned through all these years is that us as a team, we’ve got to talk. It’s not about what everybody else is saying or everybody else is telling you to do or you should do. It’s about how we feel as a team, as a unit, coaching staff, everybody within the organization.”
Booker said the Suns would follow the lead of Williams, calling the coach the “perfect person” to guide the team during turmoil.
“He’s the best at that — managing situations, controlling the room and keeping people focused forward,” Booker said. “That’s what he’s done with our team. We’ve talked about it as a team. You can feel everything he says. We’re sticking behind him. We’re going to keep playing hard for him and winning basketball games.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst contributed to this report.
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