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Adam Silver Didn’t Do A Very Good Job Defending The Robert Sarver Punishment

Phoenix Suns and Mercury owner Robert Sarver was given a one-year suspension and fined $10 million as the result of a nearly year-long investigation into dozens of reported incidents in which Sarver repeatedly used the N-word, fostered a hostile work environment for women, and more.

That is a considerably light punishment for someone with as much money as Sarver, who won’t lose out on anything else during a year suspension other than the ability to be around the team. The punishment felt particularly lenient considering the last two times NBA owners have been investigated and found to have used racist language — most famously the Clippers with Donald Sterling and more quietly the Hawks’ Bruce Levenson — those owners have been either forced to sell the team (Sterling) or voluntarily sold it to avoid such scrutiny (Levenson).

On Wednesday, Adam Silver met with the media and tried to defend the choice of punishment and the difference between Sarver and Sterling, without offering any specifics and citing it was “proprietary” due to confidentiality agreements.

Silver had the option to suspend Sarver for more than a year but chose not to, citing Sarver expressing remorse for his actions — which is quite the difference from a year ago when Sarver vehemently denied the reporting from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes that proved to be true and accurate.

The more Silver was pressed, the more it became clear there wasn’t really a good answer for Sarver still being an NBA owner. He said the quiet part out loud about the privilege of being an incredibly rich man in America, noting that there’s different rules for owners and team employees (who surely would be fired for similar behavior).

As for the insistence that Sarver has evolved over the last 18 years and many of the allegations are from early in his tenure as owner, Vince Goodwill pointed out that a recent known use of the N-word from Sarver was in 2017.

The truth is, there’s not a good reason for Sarver getting away with this beyond the other owners not liking the precedent being set that using racist and sexist language and fostering a hostile work environment is enough to get someone forced into selling their team. Mark Cuban rather famously called the Sterling decision a “slippery slope,” which we probably should have seen as foreshadowing for the inevitable report that came in 2018 on a hostile work environment in the Dallas Mavericks organization towards women.

This press conference was a reminder that, for as nice as Silver is as a commissioner, his job is to do what the owners want and to then be the meat shield when questions arise. He earned those paychecks on Wednesday, even if the answers he provided were far from what anyone other than the owners wanted to hear.