Chris Paul got the Phoenix Suns to their first NBA Finals in 28 years last summer. But what he does in the coming weeks will define his legacy with the franchise. The NBA is launching an investigation into allegations of misconduct by majority governor Robert Sarver. The Suns have won three straight games after a 1–3 start, including a come-from-behind 123–111 victory over the Houston Rockets on Nov. 4.
Whether they want to be or not, Phoenix players are going to be in the tsunami of national scrutiny that is already descending on the franchise over Sarver’s alleged behavior over the 17 years he’s controlled the club. One player on the Suns’ roster has navigated these waters before, though. It will be up to Paul to show his teammates the way through the storm.
Chris Paul was a central figure during the Donald Sterling controversy in 2014
The NBA banned former Los Angeles Clippers governor Donald Sterling for life in 2014 in the wake of recorded conversations leaking his use of racist language to the media.
Clippers players wore their warmup shirts inside-out during their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors following the allegations. In July 2014, Paul told ESPN he was considering sitting out if Sterling remained in control of the franchise when the 2014–15 season opened.
It never came to that. A lawsuit attempted to block former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion bid for the Clippers, but the sale did go through, and Sterling was excised from the franchise. The organization unveiled a new logo in 2015 and broke ground earlier this year on a new arena in Inglewood at the old Forum site.
Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers had also considered quitting his job had Sterling remained.
Given that the allegations against Sarver involve both racist and misogynistic comments and behavior, parallels between Sterling’s fate in 2014 and what happens to the majority shareholder of the Phoenix Suns are already being drawn.
Chris Paul taking the lead in the Phoenix Suns locker room
For his part, Chris Paul isn’t leaping to compare the situations. His focus after the win over the Rockets was on the future, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN:
“I feel like all situations are different. We dealt with that in that time when all that happened. I think right now, like [Devin Booker] said, we’re not insensitive to everything that was said or whatnot, but we don’t know all the details. So the NBA will do its investigation, and in that time, all of us on our team will continue to play and do what we do.”
He said the most important thing is not getting swept up in the controversy.
“I’ve been through a few situations in my time in the league,” Paul said. “The powers that be, they look into it. They do their investigations or whatnot, but I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned through all these years Is that us, as a team, we’ve got to talk. It’s not about what everybody else is saying, or everybody else is telling you to do, or you should do. It’s about how we feel as a team, as a unit, coaching staff, everybody within the organization.”
The Phoenix Suns will be the center of attention whether they want to be or not
Given the explosive nature of the allegations leveled in the report released Thursday by Baxter Holmes of ESPN, the Phoenix Suns will be in the spotlight. It won’t have anything to do with results on the basketball court.
Coach Monty Williams drew rave reviews for his work over his first two seasons in Phoenix. Last year’s Finals run was the Suns’ first playoff appearance since 2010. They hadn’t played for a championship since 1993.
His challenge will be to keep his team focused on the job at hand. Everyone in the world wants to talk about Sarver and the allegations against him. Booker said the team is in the best possible hands.
“He’s the best at that — managing situations, controlling the room, and keeping people focused forward,” Booker said. “That’s what he’s done with our team. We’ve talked about it as a team. You can feel everything he says. We’re sticking behind him. We’re going to keep playing hard for him and winning basketball games.”
It may not be that simple given modern media’s penchant for pursuing drama. That’s where having a 17-year veteran in Paul will be vital. At age 36, Paul may not have seen it all during his NBA career, but he’s seen a lot.
The job of keeping the gaze of the Suns players and coaches on the job at hand will fall primarily to Chris Paul. His experience in the murky waters of racism allegations against a team’s governorship will be invaluable if the Phoenix Suns are to get through this as a potential title contender.