PayPal threatens to sever partnership with Phoenix Suns if owner Sarver returns

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LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 30: Owner, Robert Sarver of the Phoenix Suns interviews after Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 30, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

PayPal, the jersey sponsor for the Phoenix Suns, warned that it would sever ties with the team if owner Robert Sarver remains affiliated with the organization following his one-year suspension.

Sarver was suspended from the league and fined $10 million after an investigation revealed he had made inappropriate comments to female employees and, on multiple occasions, repeated the N-word. 

PayPal, a major sponsor for the team, is asking the team to take disciplinary action beyond the one-year suspension. PayPal and the Suns struck a sponsorship deal in 2018 that included the jersey patch and saw the fintech company’s payments options integrated in the team’s arena and ticket sales.

“PayPal’s sponsorship with the Suns is set to expire at the end of the current season,” CEO Dan Schulman said in a statement released Friday. “In light of the findings of the NBA’s investigation, we will not renew our sponsorship should Robert Sarver remain involved with the Suns organization, after serving his suspension.”

The $10 million fine Sarver faces is the highest allowable under the NBA by-laws, but the league has doled out more significant suspensions in the past. Former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the league for life after his racist comment surfaced. The suspension forced him to sell the team.

PayPal joins multiple NBA players and the players’ association in saying Sarver’s punishment doesn’t go far enough, including Suns star Chris Paul.

“I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior,” Paul wrote in a tweet on Thursday. “My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”

His comments came after Los Angeles Lakers star Lebron James on Wednesday said that the “league definitely got this wrong,” and Tamika Tremaglio, the executive director of the NBA Players Association, said “Mr. Sarver should never hold a managerial position within our league again.”

CNBC reached out to the Suns and its major sponsors for comment.