Pressure from sponsors, other owners, Silver pushed Sarver to sell Suns – NBC Sports

The underwhelming “slap on the wrist” the NBA gave Suns owner Robert Sarver after a lengthy investigation turned up racism, misogyny, and toxic work culture he had created with the Suns — a one-year suspension and a $10 million fine — was as far as the other owners and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would go as a first step. They feared pushback and lawsuits from Sarver if they took a bigger first step.
What Silver hoped for — and got a little lucky to get — was genuine pressure from players and the media for a harsher punishment. However, what the Silver really needed to make a change was for Suns and league sponsors to pull back — hit the owners in the pocketbook and suddenly they aren’t so reticent to act.
Silver got that and it wasn’t just PayPal, the Suns/Mercury jersey patch sponsor who said it would not renew next season if Sarver still ran the team. There was serious behind-the-scenes concerns about other team and league sponsors, something Ramona Shelburne detailed on ESPN’s NBA Today.
“There was a lot of private pressure on Robert Sarver behind the scene. We heard PayPal, but there were a lot of other league sponsors and team sponsors that were lining up to pull away from the Suns and not be publicly associated with them. There was also the pressure applied by other owners and Adam Silver behind the scenes. Adam Silver is obviously very good at applying pressure when needed to be and facilitating these types of conversations and discussions to get to this place.”
This is similar to what led Adam Silver to ban then Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life back in 2014 — public pressure was one thing, but when major NBA sponsors started pulling back from any association with the Clippers (State Farm, Carmax, Corona, many others) Silver had the green light from the other owners to take a harsh stand. (Sterling ultimately only sold the team because of a machiavellian move by his wife, Shelly Sterling.)
From the moment the disturbing details of Sarver’s actions became public with the report (and even before that after the ESPN report last November), Suns’ business operations people were trying to find ways to put sponsors at ease. But with public pressure starting to grow — in a league that prides itself on a progressive mindset of inclusion and diversity — there was only so much that could be done. Sarver recognized the situation and stepped aside, albeit in a statement where he weakly tries to come off as the victim.
“As a man of faith, I believe in atonement and the path to forgiveness,” Sarver said in his statement. “I expected that the commissioner’s one-year suspension would provide the time for me to focus, make amends and remove my personal controversy from the teams that I and so many fans love.
“But in our current unforgiving climate, it has become painfully clear that that is no longer possible – that whatever good I have done, or could still do, is outweighed by things I have said in the past. For those reasons, I am beginning the process of seeking buyers for the Suns and Mercury.”
As Michael Holley wisely said on Brother From Another today, men of faith shouldn’t have to tell you they are with their words, their actions should show it.
“I fully support the decision by Robert Sarver to sell the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “This is the right next step for the organization and community.”
It is the right step, but it is only because of behind-the-scenes pressure.
LOS ANGELES — Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Lakers got the full Russell Westbrook experience Sunday

There are more positives than negatives with the Russell Westbrook experience lately in Los Angeles… but oh, those negatives leave a mark.
Westbrook brings energy off the bench the Lakers need nightly. Sunday night against Philadelphia he had his fourth triple-double off the bench this season (20 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists). He’s had improved chemistry with LeBron James of late, which showed with two key buckets late in the first half Sunday.
RUSS TO LEBRON 🤯
TOUGH.
📲 https://t.co/WjxYAo1gl0 pic.twitter.com/pWflnQRaaO
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2023

Even defensively, Westbrook made a play. With the 76ers up one and less than :30 seconds remaining in the game, he got switched onto Joel Embiid and played solid defense, not getting bullied in the paint and pushing Embiid to take a fade-away jumper that hit the front of the rim.
Then came the negative.
Westbrook got the rebound off that Embiid miss, brought the ball up, and never looked to LeBron — who was the best player on the floor in the game, scoring 35 points with 10 assists — instead deciding he would isolate in a cross-match against Joel Embiid (a guy who gets mentioned in Defensive Player of the Year conversations). Westbrook fumbled the ball a little, gathered it, then time was running out so he drove left, couldn’t get by Embiid and the help defense of Georges Niang, and put up what he said was a shot but almost looked like he wanted to skip pass to Troy Brown Jr. in the opposite corner. Whatever it was, Niang was officially credited with a block and, for the second straight game, the Lakers lost in the clutch.
mini: van
HUGE: GAME WINNING BLOCK pic.twitter.com/2ZiTWWuUUY
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 16, 2023

Westbrook said he was fouled on that final shot attempt, even showing a few reporters around his locker a photo as evidence.
“I was trying to attack and get to the basket. Unfortunately, he was grabbing my wrist. I couldn’t get the ball up,” Westbrook said. “But it’s all good.”
Did Joel Embiid get away with a foul on Russell Westbrook on the final play of Lakers-Sixers? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/JazbNRX6Ps
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 16, 2023

Embiid denied that he fouled Westbrook (and countered that Westbrook had fouled him on the other end, but these things don’t get called late in games).
Joel Embiid on the last play guarding Russell Westbrook: “I don’t think I fouled him … He was unlucky because he lost the ball. I would say he was unlucky”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 16, 2023

It may have been a foul by the book, but it was a subtle one in real-time and the kind of thing rarely called in the final seconds of a game. The bigger question was the decision to let Westbrook isolate on Embiid in the first place — why didn’t LeBron James touch the ball? Why didn’t Lakers coach Darvin Ham call a time-out (the Lakers had one) and set up a play?
“Just being down one point in the ball in Russell Westbrook’s hands, I’m comfortable with that. I don’t know how much I can reiterate that,” Ham said postgame. “If that was Bron it’d be the same thing, and we don’t want to bring an extra body over… if we got cross-match within Embiid in front of us again, we just got to make it. We just got to finish the play. That’s it.”
It was the second straight game the Lakers could not get a stop when they needed it, couldn’t get a last bucket when they needed it, and lost in the clutch. The previous loss was to Dallas, this one to Philadelphia — both top-five teams in their conference — but the Lakers are past the point in the season where they can have moral victories. Los Angeles is five games below .500 and sits 13th in the West.
“I know when we have our team together, when we locked in, we’re a really good team,” Westbrook said.
The Lakers’ biggest highlight of the night came in the first quarter, when with a 20-foot straight-on jumper LeBron became only the second player in NBA history to reach 38,000 points.
HISTORY MADE 👑
LeBron James becomes only the second player in NBA history to score 38,000 career points. pic.twitter.com/uqLckZ9LY0
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2023

After this game LeBron is just 364 points shy of the once thought unbreakable NBA all-time scoring mark of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron is on pace to set the record around the All-Star break in February.
It wasn’t pretty. Not the Nuggets’ second half (they led by 15 at halftime), nor the final play itself.
It didn’t matter — Nikola Jokic bailed the Nuggets out with a step-back 3 game-winner to beat the Magic on Sunday.
NIKOLA JOKIC CALLED GAME 😱 pic.twitter.com/5zu0ALNLn4
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2023

It was a league-leading 12th triple-double for Jokic, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. Aaron Gordon led the Nuggets with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
In his revenge game against his former team Bol Bol had 17 points off the bench for the Magic.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day about things far more important than basketball — a chance to reflect on one of the great leaders America ever produced, and the ongoing struggle for the justice and equality he preached.
But it is also a day the NBA has embraced and celebrates with an impressive slate of games.
There are nine games on the day, but three that should draw your focus in particular.
Pelicans at Cavaliers (3 p.m. Eastern, NBA League Pass). New Orleans will be without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, but CJ McCollum and company have still been finding ways to keep their head above water and win some games until their stars return. Getting a win will not be easy against the second-best defense in the NBA (led by Jarrett Allen) and the unleashed scoring machine that is Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland.
Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks (3:30 p.m. Eastern, TNT). Atlanta is a special place on MLK Day, the city where he was born and raised (if you’re there, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is must visit). The Hawks celebrate that legacy well — and they need a win. This is a struggling franchise that has seen a front office shakeup, they are trying to trade one of their stars (John Collins), and the fit of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray has not been smooth all season. Into town comes a Heat team that has won three in a row — sweeping a couple of games against the Bucks — and looks like it is finally starting to find its footing (if they can just stay healthy and keep their stars on the court).
Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies (6 p.m. Eastern, TNT). Memphis is where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and it’s home to the National Civil Rights Museum — another city where the MLK Day events are not to be missed. Memphis is also home to Ja Morant, the most entertaining player in the NBA today, and a Grizzlies team that is finally mostly healthy and starting to play like a contender. They host a Suns team that has struggled mightily without Devin Booker (who remains out), but still can be a threat when Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton get rolling.
The other games on the NBA slate today are Celtics at Hornets, Pacers at Bucks, Raptors at Knicks, Jazz at Timberwolves, Rockets at Lakers.
It’s what Nikola Jokic does.
On a night the Nuggets were sloppy in the second half and almost gave a game away a 15-point halftime lead, Nikola Jokic bailed them out with a step-back 3 game-winner on a busted play.
NIKOLA JOKIC CALLED GAME 😱 pic.twitter.com/5zu0ALNLn4
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2023

It’s good to have Jokic on your team.
Michael Malone: “Are you not entertained? …. (and then whispers) holy shi*.”
That’s the start of the press conference.
— Mike Singer (@msinger) January 16, 2023

Jokic finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, his league-leading 12th triple-double of the season. Aaron Gordon led the Nuggets with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Markelle Fultz led a balanced Magic attack scoring 20, and going against his former team Bol Bol had 17 points off the bench.
LOS ANGELES — Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been in this rarified air.
On a 20-foot straight-on jumper with 5:43 left in the first quarter, LeBron James became only the second player in NBA history to reach 38,000 points.
HISTORY MADE 👑
LeBron James becomes only the second player in NBA history to score 38,000 career points. pic.twitter.com/uqLckZ9LY0
— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2023

That bucket leaves LeBron just 387 points shy of the once thought unbreakable NBA all-time scoring mark of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron is on pace to set the record just before the All-Star break in February, but if he misses a couple of back-to-backs — he has had a sore ankle and is 38 — it could come at home against the Warriors in the first game after the break.
Either way, it’s a piece of history.
“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”
DETROIT (AP) — Julius Randle had 42 points and 15 rebounds as the New York Knicks extended their winning streak against the Detroit Pistons to 11 games with a 117-104 victory Sunday.
Randle, who put up the first 40/15 game for the Knicks since Patrick Ewing on Jan. 19, 1996, averaged 28.5 points in four games against the Pistons this year.
“I’m not sure it has anything to with Detroit,” he said. “I feel like I can get my shot away against any team.”
42 PTS
15 REB
4 AST
4 Threes
W
Julius Randle is the first Knick to drop 40+ PTS and 15+ REB since Patrick Ewing in 1996 💪 pic.twitter.com/1BTGrkpnC6
— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2023

Detroit hasn’t beat the Knicks since Nov. 6, 2019, the end of its eight-game winning streak over them.
Jalen Brunson added 27 points for the Knicks and drew three charges, putting him into a three-tie with Kevin Love and Kenrich Williams for first place in the league.
“If he’s tied for first, it is good, because now he has something to work toward,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That says to me that you are sacrificing yourself for the team – sometimes it is taking a charge, setting a screen or being the first player on the floor. That all goes into winning.”
Immanuel Quickley added 17 points.
“Quick was Quick today,” Thibodeau said. “He’s indispensable.”
Jaden Ivey had 21 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Pistons and Saddiq Bey added 21 points.
“We battled the whole game, but we should have started better,” Ivey said. “We got back into the game, but we wish we could have some of those late-game possessions back.”
Isaiah Livers moved into Detroit’s starting lineup and scored 11 points in 39 minutes, but the focus was on his defense.
“He sets the tone for us,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “He did a good job getting into the ball. Brunson had 27, but he had to work for them because of Isaiah’s size and length.”
New York led by seven at halftime and increased the margin to 90-80 on Randle’s buzzer-beating tip at the end of the third.
The Knicks started the fourth with a 10-2 run, including five from Quickley to go up 100-82 with 9:43 left.
Detroit cut the deficit to 105-98 on Livers’ 3-pointer, but the game was delayed for several minutes by a malfunctioning shot clock. Randle’s 3-pointer put the margin back to double figures, and he answered Bey’s basket with one of his own.
Randle helped the Knicks clinch the game from the line.
“We’re trying to build ourselves as a team so, when the playoffs happen, we’re ready for it,” he said.
The Knicks led by as many as 20 in the first half, taking advantage of Isaiah Stewart‘s foul trouble, but Bey and Kevin Knox II helped Detroit cut the deficit to 62-55 at halftime.
The Pistons’ next home game won’t be at Little Caesars Arena – they are “hosting” the Bulls at the Accor Arena in Paris on Thursday.
“I’ve been out of the country a few times and been to London, but I’m really excited about this,” Ivey said. “I want to see a change of scenery, explore the world, do a little shopping and beat the Bulls.”

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