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Penny Sarver, wife of Robert Sarver, sent messages to three former Phoenix Suns employees

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Three former Phoenix Suns employees have received messages from Penny Sarver, the wife of Robert Sarver, who is the team’s majority owner.

Two messages came from the @pennsar Instagram account and another was a text message from a number that belongs to Penny Sarver.

These former employees say they consider the messages an attempt to intimidate them. The NBA has launched an investigation into Sarver and the Suns in the wake of ESPN publishing a story based on interviews with more than 70 current and former Suns employees who described a sometimes toxic and hostile workplace during Sarver’s 17-year tenure in Phoenix.

When reached for comment, Penny Sarver confirmed she sent the messages and said she looks forward to the NBA’s investigation.

“Over the weekend, I decided on my own to reach out to a few people to try to set the record straight and to share how disappointed and hurt I am by the lies that are circulating about my husband and the Suns organization,” Penny Sarver said. “I shared the betrayal that I felt and I touched on some of the pain that we are going through as a family.

“Any suggestion that I tried to ‘intimidate’ anyone is as silly as it is wrong and outrageous.”

ESPN has reviewed the messages, which the former employees each confirmed receiving.

“This is Penny Sarver,” one message began. “I know a lot of bridges were burned between you and Robert and you are very bitter. I want to remind you that real lives are at stake here.”

Later, the message added, “Please put your hatred aside and realize the hurt you are causing by spreading lies and fabrications. Is your time in the spotlight that important? If something happens to one of my children, I will hold you and Earl Watson personally responsible. Think about your own child for a second and imagine the tables turned.”

Watson is a former Suns head coach who told ESPN that Sarver’s language and behavior emboldened a toxic workplace.

“I don’t know how to interpret it other than as a threat,” one former employee said of the message they received.

A second former employee received a message that began, “I am so terribly saddened that you would say such untrue things about my husband. Your interpretation of what happened is so far from the truth. You are crushing my families lives. Thanks for that.”

A third former employee said their message began, “You are such a liar. In your trying to destroy my husband with [your] lies — you have destroyed my family and children.”

One of the employees said they were unsettled by the message but that they would not be intimidated and were even more emboldened to speak to investigators about their experiences at the Suns under Robert Sarver.

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Charlotte Hornets have four players, including LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, enter COVID-19 protocols

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The Charlotte Hornets have had four players — LaMelo Ball, Jalen McDaniels, Mason Plumlee and Terry Rozier — enter into the NBA’s health and safety protocols, it was announced Saturday.

The Hornets have sent players and staff home from their practice facility as there’s concern of possible positive COVID-19 tests, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

If a player has a confirmed positive test for COVID-19, the NBA mandates a minimum of 10 days of isolation away from his team without any physical activity. After that period, a player must undergo a cardiac screening and reconditioning in order to be cleared to return to the court. A player who tests positive also could clear the protocols by returning two negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests within a 24-hour period.

Barring more positive tests, the Hornets would meet the NBA’s minimum required eight players to play their next scheduled game on Sunday night at Atlanta. The team is scheduled to depart for Atlanta on Saturday.

The Hornets, who last played Wednesday at Milwaukee, also have home games this upcoming week against the Philadelphia 76ers (Monday and Wednesday) and the Sacramento Kings (Friday).

Charlotte (13-11) is currently seventh in the Eastern Conference standings.

The 20-year-old Ball, who was the league’s Rookie of the Year last season, leads the Hornets in scoring (20.0 points per game), rebounds (7.7 per game), assists (8.2 per game) and steals (1.9 per game).

Rozier is averaging 17.7 points per game, while Plumlee leads the team in blocks (1.0 per game) and is averaging 7.3 rebounds.

McDaniels is averaging 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15.0 minutes per game.

The NBA has said about 97% of players are vaccinated. It is unclear how many players have received booster shots. The NBA told teams on Friday that those who have not received booster shots by Dec. 17 will be subject to stricter rules; for players, that will mean gameday testing and for staffers, it would mean they cannot continue interacting with players or have the level of access that would allow them to be around the court and travel with the team.

There have now been more than 20 players placed in the league’s health and safety protocols since the season started. In most cases, that has meant a positive test was detected and players have been sidelined for at least 10 days — some significantly longer. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid was out for about three weeks.

There is a notable exception: The Los Angeles LakersLeBron James, who entered the protocols after a combination of results on tests, then was cleared after returning multiple negative PCR tests in a 24-hour window.

The league postponed about 30 games last season, mostly for virus-related reasons, but none were ultimately canceled. The NBA has not had to postpone a game for the virus yet this season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith taking break from day job to caddie for longtime friend Tony Finau

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NASSAU, Bahamas — The tanned, stubbled face behind the dark sunglasses and a black T-shirt underneath a white bib made Ryan Smith look the part of a PGA Tour caddie in the Hero World Challenge.

Looping for Tony Finau is a break from his day job, and Smith only missed his regular routine briefly when he considered the calendar. The Utah Jazz owner would be missing a home game Friday night against the Boston Celtics.

Even so, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Finau’s regular caddie, Mark Urbanek, is home as his wife prepares to have a child. Finau and Smith have been friends in Salt Lake City longer than either can remember.

“He called me and he’s like, ‘Bro, I need you to caddie for me.’ I had to answer the bell, right?” Smith said after his boss for the week rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt for a 6-under 66 to sit one shot off the lead going into the weekend.

“When Tony calls, you go. He doesn’t ask for a lot.”

The Jazz beat the Celtics 137-130 in Smith’s absence.

This isn’t their first time inside the ropes at a tournament. Finau and Smith have been partners twice in the Dunhill Links Championship, a three-course rotation that allows Smith to take on the Barry Burn at Carnoustie and the Road Hole at St. Andrews.

“I’ve been next to him as an amateur partner when he’s in contention on the Old Course, so I know his game well enough, and kind of his temperament,” Smith said. “It’s the perfect setup.”

Almost.

Smith reached the top of the stairs next to the scoring room as Finau stepped inside to sign his card at Albany Golf Club. This was more work than play, but he was loving it.

“Hauling a 50-pound bag around, I think everyone thinks I’m on vacation,” he said. “This is hard work. I’m exhausted.”

Smith is co-founder of Qualtrics, a cloud-computing company in Utah that was sold to German software firm SAP for $8 billion three years ago. The 44-year-old then became majority owner of the Jazz a year ago.

Basketball has been a lifelong passion, and so has golf.

“I had a stepfather who is no longer with us, but he kind of got me going in golf,” Smith said. “I worked at a golf course when I was 14 years old, picking balls on the range and then just loved it. At some point in my 20s, I was like, ‘OK, you’ve got to sit down and see what your things are. And golf is one of my things.”

Even as he was building Qualtrics, Smith spent enough time on his game to get down to a 2 handicap index. Along with playing the Dunhill Links with Finau in 2018 and 2019, he has been at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with players like Branden Grace and Josh Teater.

Smith won the Jack Lemmon Award at Pebble in 2019, giving to the amateur who provides the most help to his pro. He and Teater finished third in the pro-am.

“It’s like suiting up and playing an NBA preseason game,” Smith said.

As much as he loves the competition, Smith finds great value in relationships through golf, not to mention a little peace and quiet.

“Some of the best business relationships and the best partners I’ve met on the golf courses. No way our paths would have crossed if not for this game,” he said. “And it’s the one place I go where the phone stays in the bag, which is incredible.

“My wife says, ‘You need yoga.’ I tell her my yoga is golf.”

Smith plays as much basketball as he does golf with Finau, one of the more popular players on the PGA Tour. Finau ended a drought that stretched 142 tournaments over five years when he won The Northern Trust to start the PGA Tour’s postseason.

That victory made Finau a shoo-in to be picked for the Ryder Cup team, where he teamed with Harris English during a record rout by the Americans at Whistling Straits.

This is a good way to end a big year — a 20-man field of elite players, a $3.5 million purse and $1 million to the winner. Finau says his billionaire friend will be treated like his regular caddie.

“He’s taking an extreme pay cut, I know that,” Finau told Golf Channel. “It’s a fun atmosphere and the perfect tournament to bring Ryan along.”

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Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James ‘frustrated’ by NBA’s COVID-19 testing process

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James said his brief stint in the NBA’s health and safety protocols left him feeling “confused,” “frustrated” and “angry” after his first game back in the Lakers’ 119-115 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday night.

James missed the Lakers’ game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday after returning a positive test for COVID-19 on Tuesday morning that required him to isolate from his team and fly back to L.A. solo on a plane chartered by the team.

“I knew I was going to get cleared because I never, ever felt sick at all,” James said after finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals against the Clippers. “I just thought it was just handled very poorly.”

James said he initially tested negative on Tuesday and then tested positive in a follow-up test. The league reintroduced more rigorous testing to its teams following Thanksgiving, hoping to catch any cases that could have arisen from players expanding their circles around family and friends for the holiday.

“Usually when you have a positive test, they’ll test you right away to make sure,” James said. “There was not a follow-up test after my positive test. It was straight to isolation and you’ve been put into protocol. That’s the part that kind of angered me. I had to figure out a way to get home from Sacramento by myself. They wouldn’t allow anyone to travel with me, no security, no anything, when I traveled back from Sacramento.

“And then I had to put my kids in isolation for the time being, the people in my household in isolation for the time being, so it was just a big-time inconvenience. That was the anger part.”

James was cleared to return to the lineup on Thursday afternoon after returning a second negative PCR test within a 24-hour window. James returned eight negative tests in total from the time he returned to L.A. until he was cleared on Thursday, sources told ESPN.

Much like how the league did not require its players to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but enforced stricter testing and social-distancing rules for those who were unvaccinated compared with those who were, the NBA will be rolling out similar enforcement later this month when it comes to COVID-19 booster shots, The Athletic reported on Friday.

James gave a roundabout answer when he was asked if he had received a booster shot and if the process he went through over the past several days affected his thinking on getting the booster shot if he hadn’t yet.

“No, this process … we’ve all been doing exactly what the protocols have told us to do and taking the tests and things of that nature,” he said. “It’s unfortunate when you get a false positive and you get put right into isolation. That’s just the unfortunate part. But we’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, the Lakers saw their meager two-game winning streak snapped against a Clippers team that came into the night having lost six of its previous eight games.

James, who said he didn’t pick up a basketball from the time L.A.’s game against the Detroit Pistons ended on Sunday until shootaround on Friday, admitted his rhythm has been affected by the stop-and-go nature of his season. He played in the Lakers’ first three games, then missed two games because of an ankle injury. Then he played in the Lakers’ next three games after that, then missed the next eight games because of an abdominal strain. Then he played two games before missing a game because of the first suspension of his 19-year career. Then he played three games before he missed the Kings game.

“Going into Sacramento, I was getting into the rhythm — a really, really good rhythm — like offensively, defensively,” James said. “It’s just been very frustrating either dealing with the groin or the abdomen, and then having to deal with the false positive that knocked me out a game, then knocked me off the floor and not being able to keep my rhythm. It’s just … it’s been a very challenging year to start a fourth of the season for myself. But, only good things ahead.”

Friday’s loss dropped the Lakers to 12-12, seventh in the Western Conference, with their next game coming Tuesday at home against a Boston Celtics team that beat L.A. soundly at TD Garden on Nov. 19.

“It’s just tough when you’re in and out of the lineup, especially when you, I guess, don’t really have a reason to be out,” Anthony Davis said, looking back at the James saga. “We were playing well. So it’s just frustrating a little bit, but no one is feeling sorry for us. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. We got to go out there and play basketball games with whoever is available.”

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