Phoenix Suns Owner Robert Sarver -- Your Public Money at Play

Forget the expensive business conferences: The greatest example of government bailout excess may just be Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver, whose banks have taken $140 million in Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.

Yeah, it must be nice to be the CEO of a couple of banks that need massive public assistance and still be able to afford your own a basketball team.

"Afford" being a relative term. With trade rumors raging, Sarver's reportedly seeking to shed $40 million from his team's payroll in order to make ends meet. In other words, you're helping Sarver keep his banks even as he short-changes your team.

The news about Sarver taking bailout funds has been out since November, but has received little attention, despite the Suns' present prominence in the news. The Arizona Republic merely picked up and revised an Associated Press story, failing to even mention Sarver's local sports connection:

Western Alliance Bancorporation, the parent of Alliance Bank of Arizona, said that the U.S. Treasury indicated it will buy $140 million of the firm's preferred stock and warrants.

"This additional capital will support our continued investment in our markets through prudent lending programs," said Robert Sarver, Western Alliance's chairman and chief executive oficer.

The question is, what has the "additional capital" done for the Phoenix Suns?

Try nothing.

But we guess the bailout money demonstrates why Sarver's worried about that NBA luxury tax he'll have to pay if the team exceeds the league salary cap. Bankers are hurting in this economic crisis.

That's why, despite the team's reputed return to the fast-paced game with the departure of head coach Terry Porter, rumors persist that Amar'e Stoudemire's about to be traded.

See, what the Suns should do (basketball-wise) is keep Amar'e in a system where defense is no longer at a premium (dude won't play D). But money-wise, his big contract (which will get much bigger when he negotiates a new one in the off season) would be a good thing to lose.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.