The New York Knicks have fired the latest salvo in their dispute with the Toronto Raptors. In a court filing on Monday, which was obtained by CBS Sports, the Knicks are asking for $10 million in damages and argue that NBA commissioner Adam Silver should not mediate the situation.
Back in August,. According to the Knicks, Ikechukwu Azotam, who is now the Raptors’ head of video and an assistant player development coach, used his position with the Knicks, which he held from 2020-23, to steal “play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files and materials and more” before joining the Raptors.
He did so, the Knicks allege, at the behest of Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic, in order to help the first-year head coach “organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff.”
, which they described as “baseless” and a “public relations stunt.” While the Raptors’ filing did admit that Azotam used his Knicks credentials to obtain files, it asserts that he would have had access to the exact same information with his Raptors credentials once those were set up.
“These were not the Knicks’ team and player statistics, play frequency data, player tendencies or play calls,” the Raptors’ motion to dismiss stated. “But rather those of other NBA teams — including particularly the Raptors’ own game film — compiled from video of their games accessible to all NBA teams (and, indeed, the general public). In other words, they were far from confidential, let alone trade secrets.”
The Raptors’ filing went on to state, “the fact that the Knicks elected to commence their action in this forum despite the overwhelming infirmities of this lawsuit and the inability of the Court to grant the Knicks prompt relief can only be explained by a concern that pursuit of their claims in the proper forum would receive no public attention and would be denied by the NBA Commissioner.”
In their response on Monday, the Knicks claimed that because Raptors owner Larry Tanenbaum “serves as Silver’s boss and exercises control over and heavily influences Silver’s continued employment and salary,” Silver should not be allowed to arbitrate the dispute.
“Among other things,” the Knicks’ filing continued, “Tanenbaum has been described as ‘a close ally of Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver himself described Tanenbaum as ‘not just my boss as the chairman of the board of governors, but he’s very much a role model in my life.’ If Silver were to preside over the instant dispute, he would be arbitrating a case for his boss and ally.”
The Knicks also argued that the matter should be decided by the courts because “it is a dispute about the theft of trade secrets by a disloyal employee, a scenario not contemplated by the NBA Constitution.” Furthermore, the NBA constitution has no mechanism that allows the commissioner to award damages to another team except in the event of tampering.
“To the extent the Commissioner can levy a “penalty,” even that power is capped: the Commissioner cannot impose one greater than $10 million,” the Knicks wrote. “And the NBA Constitution does not authorize the Commissioner to award legal fees in disputes between two teams. NBA As the Knicks intend to prove at trial, damages exceed $10 million. The Knicks also intend to seek attorneys’ fees.
“As a result, the “arbitral forum” provided for in the NBA Constitution limits the remedies that would otherwise be available under federal law and must not be enforced.”
Following the filing, an MSG spokesperson released a statement to ESPN: “We were the victim of a theft of proprietary and confidential files, which is a clear violation of criminal and civil law, and we remain confident that the Court will decide in our favor in this matter.”
The Raptors have previously denied all such accusations.
Rajakovic also addressed the lawsuit during the Raptors’ media day earlier this month. “I was surprised,” he said. “I was shocked. I did not know where it was coming from. What I can say is, I know who I am. I know how my parents raised me. I know what I see every single day when I look in the mirror. I know that there’s nothing that I should be worried about. And I cannot wait for this lawsuit to be over so everybody can find the truth.”