Amid an NBA investigation into allegations that Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury owner Robert Sarver fostered a toxic workplace via racist and misogynistic language, a video has emerged of Sarver cracking jokes along similar lines.
In a posthumous "roast" of Suns minority owner Dick Heckmann earlier this year, Sarver can be seen joking about, among other things, Heckmann's sons having sex with Suns cheerleaders, the size of an acquaintance's receptionist's chest and his friend's own sexual proclivities, according to Sports Illustrated's Alex Prewitt and Jon Wertheim.
Video of Sarver's address was reportedly made available to nearly two dozen members of the Suns ownership group and was eventually obtained by Sports Illustrated. The full video of the roast is available on SI's site, as is a collection of various jokes.
What did Robert Sarver say in video?
Note: The following content contains graphic language:
References to Heckmann’s sons’ sexual exploits: “We just bought the team in June of 2004. My biggest concerns were ticket sales, sponsorship revenue, trying to sign some players, getting a winning record — what I really know is my biggest concern was the Heckmann boys were f***ing their way through the cheerleading team.”
Stories about Heckmann’s own sex life, including one involving former Suns great Steve Nash: “Dick was chasing everything that moved in Scottsdale. And speaking of — someone said he left his DNA. He did leave his DNA in Steve Nash's socks somewhere in the locker room.”
At one point Sarver turned his gaze to someone in the crowd, apparently on their phone and not paying attention. “This guy’s got a make-believe deal going on over here at f***ing three in the morning. You merging on a SPAC, or you lining up a hooker over there? What are you doing? It’s a goddamn memorial service. F***ing idiot, Jesus Christ. I’m gonna guess his receptionist has small t**s. But, he has no idea; he’s just drinking his wine.”
Perhaps most tellingly, Sarver says the following after some kind words about Heckmann's children:
“Look at how good you guys all turned out,” Sarver said. “I never would have believed it, to be honest with you. I mean, you’re married. You got kids. You got a family. You got a business. You're making money. It’s a f***ing miracle, really. Compared to where you guys started 17 years ago, it’s unbelievable. Yeah, I mean we’re lucky we still own the franchise. In today’s environment, we’d have lost it a long time ago.”
Telling raunchy stories about a friend at a private roast, even a posthumous one, isn't inherently wrong or newsworthy.
However, the whole thing takes on an uncomfortable tenor when one has been accused of making dozens of employees uncomfortable with inappropriate jokes and coarse language, including slurs. What may sound funny to a collection of affluent members of an NBA ownership group may ring very differently to their female subordinates (such as the aforementioned cheerleaders and receptionist).
The reason the Sarver video matters is that he and many associated with his teams have responded to reports about his behavior with vehement denials, even though much of what was said above wouldn't have looked out of place in sections of ESPN's explosive report about his workplace behavior, such as this one:
More than a dozen employees recalled Sarver making lewd comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him. Four former employees said that in several all-staff meetings Sarver claimed he needed to wear Magnum or extra-large condoms. Former employees said he asked players about their sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others.
"Women have very little value," one female former staffer said she felt. "Women are possessions. And I think we're nowhere close to where he thinks men are."
Through his legal team, Sarver denied talking about his sex life with employees and said he had "absolutely not" talked about condoms.
The Heckmann family was also among a dozen parties in the Suns-Mercury ownership group to sign a statement in support of Sarver, which included a section disputing ESPN's characterization of Sarver:
“We have reviewed the article published by ESPN about the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization and Mr. Sarver. To a person, we dispute the characterization of Mr. Sarver and the organization as racist and sexist. We support Mr. Sarver’s leadership and stand with him."
The NBA's investigation into Sarver is still pending and it may be awhile before any kind of resolution is reached. Until then, you have to wonder how much Sarver's claim that he "despises language that disrespects any individual, regardless of race, gender, preference or choice," as he said in one statement, can really hold up given the contents of the video.