In response to the NBA’s announcement that Phoenix Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver would receive a $10M fine and a one-year suspension for his sexual and racial misconduct, the NBA Player’s Association has pushed for further action. During an appearance on ESPN, NBPA executive director Tamika Tremaglio said the players are “absolutely” calling for Sarver to be banned.
During his media availability session following the league’s press release, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was asked why Sarver had been allowed to keep his team, considering any other league employee would have been fired for similar behavior. While Silver stated that he alone does not have the power to take Sarver’s team away, he acknowledged that there is a path to doing so. That said, Silver added that he ultimately decided Sarver’s conduct did warrant that consequence.
This is where players, sponsors, and everyone around the league gain leverage.
Had the Donald Sterling scandal in 2014 not already provided a blueprint for instances just like this Robert Sarver case, perhaps Adam Silver could have stood firmer on his statement regarding his lack of authority to take an owner’s team away. While there is a legal process that removes total authority from Silver’s hands, there is indeed a process, and Silver himself admitted that.
Perhaps the most astounding statement from Silver’s press conference, was his belief that Robert Sarver’s conduct, that included racial and sexual abuse, did not rise to the level necessary for expulsion from the league. Recognizing the blueprint established in 2014, Silver was unable to portray a life-time ban as impossible, so he instead chose to say that Sarver’s behavior was somehow not comparable to Sterling’s.
From the NBPA’s message, it is clear they disagree, and are calling for more action. That said, their involvement is only one piece to Adam Silver’s complicated puzzle.
The power of sponsors
In 2014, sponsors began pulling their advertisements immediately upon the release of Donald Sterling’s racist remarks. In an official statement from PayPal, a sponsor of the Phoenix Suns, the company stated, “In light of the findings of the NBA’s investigation, we will not renew our sponsorship should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns organization, after serving his suspension.”
Already with pressure from the players, the league now has immediate pressure from sponsor, making the financial ramifications even more significant. While such motives should not drive decisions such as these, they very often do, and should be leveraged for positive change. Having already handed out what they deemed to be a fair punishment, the NBA may have no choice but the rethink their stance, now feeling pressure from all possible angles.
As seen in 2014, the path to removing an owner exits. For now, Adam Silver has deemed that unnecessary in the case of Robert Sarver. Should the pressure from players and sponsors increase, perhaps he will rethink his position.