Jason Rowley resigning as Phoenix Suns team president, CEO with new owner about to take over
BROOKLYN – No one was more outspoken about ESPN’s report back in November 2021 that Robert Sarver created a “toxic” work environment during his tenure as Phoenix Suns team owner that began in 2004 than Jason Rowley.
“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article,” said Rowley, the Suns' president and CEO, said in a very lengthy statement in reaction to the report.” Our two organizations have always worked hard to create an environment that is respectful and diverse; where racism, sexism and damaging behavior of any kind are not condoned.”
Now he’s resigning.
Persons with knowledge of the situation informed The Arizona Republic that Rowley will part ways with Suns after holding those positions with the team since 2012. The persons requested anonymity since they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
ESPN’s Baxter Holmes first reported the news Monday.
The NBA approved billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia as the Suns new team owner ahead of a scheduled press conference Wednesday in Phoenix. The NBA franchise is moving forward without Rowley, who ESPN reported was involved in incidents that remained an issue with team employees.
The following has been released by the NBA. pic.twitter.com/rdp1b5J2fv
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) February 7, 2023
Ishbia agreed in principle Dec. 20 of last year to buy the Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for a record $4 billion.
MORE: Phoenix Suns team owner Robert Sarver suspended for 1 year, fined $10M after NBA investigation
NEW OWNER: Former Michigan State walk-on buys Phoenix Suns, Mercury for nearly $4 billion
Sam Garvin has been serving as the team’s interim governor after Sarver elected to sell team amid the backlash from the results of an 10-month investigation that resulted in Sarver receiving a year-long suspension and $10-million fine for "'workplace misconduct and organizational deficiencies.''
The NBA gave the Suns a list of provisions in imposing the Sarver sanctions, with the final one related to the interim governor, stating he couldn’t “terminate or hire a new Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, or Chief Revenue Officer” of either the Suns or Mercury without Sarver’s written approval, according to the ESPN report.
That essentially meant Garvin, a minority team owner, couldn’t fire CFO Jim Pitman, CRO Dan Costello and Rowley without Sarver’s written approval. For some Suns employees, that was a problem because they contend Rowley contributed to the toxic work environment during Sarver’s run as team owner, according to the ESPN report, which outlines several incidents.
The ESPN report unveiled the backstory to an incident from the Watchell and Lipton report on the 10-month Sarver investigation in which Rowley, Costello, Suns senior vice president of ticket sales Kyle Pottinger and Melissa Goldenberg, a team general counsel, knew of an “a representative of a team sponsor” grabbing the buttocks of female Suns employee at a bar in Mexico City when the Suns played the Spurs there in December 2019.
Rowley reportedly had a history of behavior that some employees say contributed to the toxic work environment established by Sarver. The ESPN report says Rowley had a “profane-laced tirade” aimed at a female employee in 2013.
Pregnant at the time, the employee struggled to get her maternity leave and was fired when returning from her leave, ESPN reported. A former employee told ESPN Rowley was one of the Suns executives who looked to terminate the pregnant female employee while she was on leave.
The ESPN report provided additional examples of Rowley taking a highly aggressive approach at Suns employees, female and male.
A Suns employee told ESPN Rowley “tore into” a female employee for a mistake regarding an executive gathering at a Phoenix restaurant. The Suns employee witnessed the incident as the restaurant was unable to accommodate the gathering due to a scheduling mistake made by the restaurant.
In 2015, Rowley reportedly cursed out security as he and his wife were stopped at the arena main entrance for a concert, according to the report.
"Don't you know who I f---ing am?" Rowley allegedly asked security officials, according to one former employee who was present. "Do you want to lose your f---ing job?”
This led to arena officials creating a special orange badge for entry Suns executives like Rowley could wear, but he did and his wife weren’t wearing it for a 2020 concert at the arena.
According to the ESPN report, Rowley’s wife was stopped for entering a restricted arena, which led to Rowley having words with an arena employee.
Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Suns team president, CEO Jason Rowley resigning position