ESPN host Stephen A. Smith has apologized for comments made by co-host and former NBA star Jalen Rose regarding the Phoenix Suns, owner Robert Sarver, and star center DeAndre Ayton.
Smith, speaking on ESPN's NBA Countdown on Wednesday night, apologized on behalf of the network after Rose blasted Sarver last week in the wake of an explosive report detailing allegations of shocking racist and sexist behavior by Sarver.
Rose, discussing the damaging Sarver report in the context of Ayton's stalled extension talks, suggested that the Suns' apparent hardball position was driven by Sarver's alleged racial animus. Rose, who finished his career with the Suns in the early days of Sarver's tenure as owner, also suggested Sarver had called Ayton a "lazy N-word."
Smith attempted to clarify Rose's remarks while addressing the matter on Wednesday night.
"We want to clarify a comment that was made on this program last Friday," Smith said directly into the camera. "When we were discussing the Robert Sarver controversy, Jalen Rose made a comment that, 'when it's time to pay DeAndre Ayton, and you're calling him a lazy 'N-word,' what's going to now happen is, it's going to affect your product on the floor.'"
Rose was out of the country and therefore not on-set to issue the apology himself, according to Smith.
"As mentioned previously, Jalen is out of the country this week, but he wanted us to make clear that he did not mean to suggest that Sarver actually spoke those words. And, to be clear, ESPN has never reported that Sarver used those words to describe DeAndre Ayton. Jalen used those words to try to express his personal opinion that the way Sarver handled Ayton's contract situation was demeaning to a Black player, and would be perceived that way by other Black players.
"Jalen recognizes that it was a mistake, and we apologize for the miscommunication."
The Sarver controversy has rocked the NBA, with some parallels to the situation involving former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Sarver has forcefully denied the allegations in the ESPN report, which claimed to have spoken to dozens of current and former Suns employees who detailed a wide range of inappropriate behavior by Sarver.
In addition to alleged frequent use of the N-word, Sarver reportedly openly discussed his sex life with his reports, including detailing how his wife performed oral sex on him.
Warriors star Draymond Green was drawn into the mess after it was reported Sarver had heard Green use the N-word during a game and later asked Suns officials why it was OK for Green to say it while Sarver couldn't.
Green said the allegations were "very crazy."