TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Long before he owned the Phoenix suns and Mercury, Robert Sarver grew up in Tucson. He went to Sabino High School.
Childhood friend Kip Johnson went to school with him.
“And I consider Robert a good friend still,” he said Thursday.
The two were roommates for two years at the University of Arizona in the early ‘80s.
“He was a great roommate, a great friend,” Johnson said. “He was the smart guy from the beginning and we all knew he’d do very well. Very outgoing.”
Sarver went on to found the National Bank of Arizona before later selling it. He also worked in real estate.
He gave back to the Tucson community, including a large gift to the university’s heart center, now known as the Sarver Heart Center. His father, Jack, died of heart disease.
In 2004, Sarver bought the Suns and Mercury.
“He liked being around the athletes,” Johnson said. “He always did. He liked that in college, too. He had usually some of the athletes were around our apartment a lot. And he always enjoyed that part of it.”
Now amid public pressure, Sarver plans to sell the teams.
An NBA investigation linked him to inappropriate workplace conduct over the years, alleging Sarver was crude, misogynistic and racially insensitive.
Johnson did not work with Sarver in the Suns organization, but he believes the story is overblown.
“He is not at all a racist. Like I said, I’ve known him for 50 years,” he said. “We’ve all said things that we regret and I’m sure Robert did. But again, it didn’t need to be blown into this big of a story… He didn’t deserve what he’s gotten. And I don’t feel that this story represents Robert. I think he was bullied into now selling the team.”
But many don’t see it that way. Many fans, players and high-ranking members of the NBA believe Sarver must be held accountable for behavior that’s not acceptable.
Sarver is now faced with a low point in his career. Johnson believes he can climb out of it.
“Knowing Robert, he’ll bounce back stronger than ever,” he said. “And right now I’m sure he’s gonna spend some family time with his wife and three boys. And that’s probably the best thing for him right now.”
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