The Sarver Suspension
There are numerous topics of leaguewide interest as the start of a new NBA season looms, but a one-year ban for Suns owner Robert Sarver will inevitably (and rightfully) dominate this week's talk
The first event that Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver was forced to miss after receiving a one-year suspension from the NBA: This week's Board of Governors meetings in Manhattan.
Sarver was barred Tuesday from participating in any Suns or league business for one calendar year and fined $10 million after an investigation commissioned by the NBA found him responsible for “workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.” Tuesday's announcement of the sanctions against Sarver came some 10 months after the league hired the firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to investigate numerous allegations of racist, misogynistic and other inappropriate statements and/or conduct, as first reported by ESPN, throughout Sarver's nearly two-decades-long ownership tenure in Phoenix.
Sarver's penalties, widely received across the NBA map as insufficient, were made public in the midst of the usual September session for the Board of Governors, which is typically punctuated by a news conference starring Commissioner Adam Silver.
Any Silver address this week will thus now be dominated by questions about Sarver and the Suns, with elaboration sure to be sought regarding how the NBA arrived at a mere one-year suspension in addition to the league's maximum allowable financial penalty — and why, specifically, such a damning report that addressed numerous reported complaints of racism and misogyny did not result in Sarver being punished with a semblance of the severity faced by ousted former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014.
One senses, though, that this saga is far from over. Public pressure on Sarver, as well as the NBA regarding Sarver, has come nowhere close to Sterling levels — presumably because there is no TMZ recording, as with Sterling, of Sarver's misdeeds. Yet that climate could change. We're less than two weeks away from Suns Media Day on Sept. 26, which is the latest we will start hearing frequent questions posed to Chris Paul and other Phoenix players, as well as Coach Monty Williams, about Sarver's ongoing operational control of the Suns. It really shouldn’t fall on them to make up for punishment this light, but the reality is that how players and Suns staffers — and, of course, sponsors — react will have a significant influence on what happens next in terms of a potential external push to urge Sarver to sell the team.
In-person BOG attendance is sadly not possible for me this time, given some previous faraway commitments, so I await the forthcoming Sarver debriefing from the league side as much as you. Other subjects that hold the most curiosity at Stein Line HQ … if there is indeed a window for any others to be broached:
🏀 The state of collective bargaining negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association as a Dec. 15 deadline looms for either side to opt out of the current labor agreement, which is scheduled to run through the 2023-24 season.
🏀 The growing likelihood that the NBA implements an in-season cup competition starting with the 2023-24 season. Over the weekend, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban shared his radical proposal for how to incentivize the interest of participating teams.
🏀 How threatened the league feels about facing its most direct challenge yet from the NFL when the NBA stages its usual five games on Christmas Day — which falls on a Sunday this year — against three nationally televised gridiron football games.
🏀 I reported in June that NBA expansion is not expected until the league has secured both a new labor pact with the players' union and a new television deal. That didn't stop a recent report out of Las Vegas about expansion announcements coming much sooner for Sin City and Seattle, but there was a silver lining to that erroneous report: It almost ensures that someone will press for an up-to-date sense of the league's expansion plans.
🏀 An update on the league's investigations into the 76ers' and Knicks' free agent signings — and hopefully some elaboration on what prompted investigations of those two teams specifically after another offseason filled with signings that became public knowledge within seconds of the start of free agency on June 30 at 6 PM ET.
The Stein Line is a reader-supported newsletter, with both free and paid subscriptions available, and those who opt for the paid edition are taking an active role in the reporting by providing vital assistance to bolster my independent coverage of the league. Feel free to forward this post to family and friends interested in the NBA and please consider becoming a paid subscriber to have full access to all of my posts.
As a reminder: Tuesday editions, on this and every Newsletter Tuesday, go out free to anyone who signs up, just as my Tuesday pieces did in their New York Times incarnation.
Springfield Photo Album
Another rushed trip ... and another flurry of pictures.
It happened that way on my recent all-too-brief visit to the EuroBasket tournament and again last week in Springfield, Mass., where I couldn't bear to miss a taste of 2022 induction weekend but regretfully had to leave before Saturday night's array of memorable speeches.
Two full days in Springfield did still afford me sufficient time to collect a handful of decent snaps that I hope give you a sense of what a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame feels like. My best advice: You need to go check it out for yourself if possible.
The NBA announced Tuesday that more than 80,000 documents and interviews with 320 people featured as part of the independent investigation commissioned by the league office that led to Suns owner Robert Sarver receiving a one-year suspension.
The Celtics, not surprisingly, have 41 former players and head coaches in the Basketball Hall of Fame — tops in the NBA. Next in line: The Lakers are next with 34, followed by the Knicks (29) and three teams tied with 26 (Hawks, Pistons and Warriors).
The New Orleans Pelicans, just 20 seasons into their existence (officially), are the league’s only current franchise without a single former player or head coach in the Hall of Fame. Memphis and Minnesota have only two each; Charlotte has three. (PS — Many thanks to Golden State’s tireless Darryl Arata for his research on these last two items.)
One last word about the Hall of Fame, its Class of 2023 and what awaits:
Remember in our EuroBasket preview how we made a big deal about a Spain roster that, thanks to injuries to Ricky Rubio and Sergio Llull, boasted only one recognizable name (Rudy Fernández) from España’s golden generation? That didn’t stop the Spaniards from reaching the EuroBasket’s final eight for the 21st Euros tournament in a row. (Spain has since advanced to a semifinal against tournament hosts Germany since the tweet below.)
Despite the presence of Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valančiūnas on the roster, Lithuania met with another early exit at this EuroBasket with its Round-of-16 loss to Spain in overtime.
On the same day that Queen Elizabeth II died at age 96 after a reign of 70 years, Great Britain’s basketball team played its final game at the EuroBasket tournament, making it perhaps the last GB national team this century to hear “God Save the Queen” played before a game. Anthem references to the Queen, for the first time since 1952, will be amended after King Charles III’s ascent to the throne in the wake of his mother’s death.
I was quite moved Monday when my Substacking colleague Tom Ziller wrote that the first brand of NBA Power Rankings that he “religiously followed” was my ESPN incarnation of the rankings, which debuted in 2002-03 and ran through 2016-17. I referred to myself as The Committee (of One) throughout those 15 seasons and, of course, still do so now with my monthly rankings here. As a new season begins, I was reminded again recently that ESPN (ironically?) replaced me with an actual committee; six writers were cited as contributors in its most recent rankings post.
Rest In Peace
The NBA community at large, its subset of basketball writers and the Dallas hoop sphere in particular suffered an immeasurable loss over the weekend when The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks passed away at the wholly unfair age of 34 ... not quite 18 months after he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as a BCOR-CCNB3 sarcoma.
I wanted to try as best as possible here to pay tribute to Jon, who was a man of intense faith and a lifelong Mavericks fan — as well as an absolutely fervent admirer of stretch 5s like Karl-Anthony Towns, Chet Holmgren and even Kyle O’Quinn. He parlayed that passion for his team and the ever-evolving game into writing stints with Mavs Moneyball, SB Nation and RealGM — as well as his personal blog: The Pattern of Basketball — and eventually won over a notable admirer named Bill Simmons to earn a spot on The Ringer staff.
Since his diagnosis in April 2021, Jon wrote incredible pieces to discuss his cruel fate and granted some deeply personal podcast interviews in which he so openly (and amazingly) discussed his own mortality.
Jon is survived by his wife Melissa and their young son Jackson ... and I urge you to read Melissa's own incredible writing about the family's painful journey.
I asked Bobby Karalla, who covers the team for Mavs.com and shared a close friendship with Jon, to pass along some personal reflections. His tales:
"Every time we spoke, even in the press box at (hundreds of) Mavs games, he'd finish our conversations by asking if there's anything happening in my life that he can pray about on my behalf," Karalla said. "I was not unique in that regard; so many other people have said the same exact thing.
"At first I joked that he shouldn't waste his energy on a heathen like me, but we quickly grew so much closer once I started honestly answering that question. He did the same for every single person he ever connected with — and there were many. It was never, ever about himself."
Karalla added: "He'd always joke when being introduced as some sort of authority figure on a podcast or to colleagues that 'Only God's an expert.' I always loved that line — it showed both his humility and sense of humor while also introducing and reinforcing his commitment to his faith."
As for Tjarks' basketball sensibilities, Bobby added: “He was an extreme (and I mean EXTREME) proponent of 5-out basketball, to the point that he once predicted Kyle O'Quinn would be an All-Star if used in the correct offense. … As a former center himself, he always had a soft spot for big men. As much as he loved basketball, he loved talking about the future of it even more. He was so in love with the game, but in particular this generation of wings and bigs and how the sport is finally catching up with his vision.”