In a court filing Monday, the The New York Knicks said they are asking for more than $10 million in damages from the Toronto Raptors as part of lawsuit alleging the theft of thousands of confidential filesand argued that NBA commissioner Adam Silver should not arbitrate the dispute in part because of his close relationship with Raptors governor Larry Tanenbaum.
The Knicks’ presentation, which was obtained by ESPN, came in response to the Raptors’ Oct. 16 motion to dismiss Knicks’ initial complaint and have Silver arbitrate the dispute.
In Monday’s filing, the Knicks also argued that Tanenbaum’s position as chairman of the NBA’s board of governors would create a conflict of interest, as “Tanenbaum serves as Silver’s boss and exercises control and strongly influences employment and Silver’s continued salary.” Additionally, the Knicks noted a friendship between Silver and Tanenbaum.
“Among other things, Tanenbaum has been described as ‘a close ally of Commissioner Adam Silver,'” the Knicks wrote. “Silver himself described Tanenbaum as ‘not only my boss as chairman of the board of governors, but he is very much a role model in my life.’ If Silver were presiding over the present dispute, he would be arbitrating a case on behalf of his boss and ally.”
The Raptors declined to comment.
Monday’s filing marked the first instance of the Knicks outlining potential monetary damages since filing their initial lawsuit in August in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
That complaint accused former Knicks employee Ikechukwu Azotam, who worked for the Knicks from 2020 to 2023, of sending the Raptors thousands of confidential files, including game frequency reports, a preparation book for the 2022-23 season , video scouting files, opposition investigations. and more, after the team began recruiting him to join their organization in the summer of 2023.
The Knicks also accused Azotam (who worked for the Knicks as an assistant video coordinator and later as a video director/analysis/player development assistant) of violating a confidentiality clause in an employment agreement and alleged that members of the Raptors “directed Azotam’s actions and/or knowingly benefited from Azotam’s unlawful acts.”
Additionally, the Knicks alleged that the Raptors “conspired to use Azotam’s position as a current member of the Knicks to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan and structure new training staff and video operations,” the statement states. demand.
Raptors coach Darko Rajaković, player development coach Noah Lewis, and 10 “unknown” Raptors employees are also listed as defendants in the Knicks’ lawsuit.
During the Raptors’ media day on October 2, Raptors president Masai Ujiri addressed the lawsuit, saying: “There has been one time when a team sued another team in the NBA. Once. Imagine. “.
In an Oct. 16 filing, the Raptors called the Knicks’ lawsuit “baseless” and a “PR stunt,” while asking Silver to arbitrate the dispute. The Raptors have made that request several times since August.
In fact, about a week after the Knicks filed the initial complaint, the Raptors sent an email to NBA general counsel Rick Buchanan asking that Silver exercise jurisdiction over the dispute between the teams, in accordance with the statute.” d” of Article 24 of the NBA constitution. That statute states: “The Commissioner shall have exclusive, full, complete and final jurisdiction over any dispute involving two (2) or more members of the Association.”
But the Knicks (then and even more strongly in Monday’s filing) have opposed Silver resolving the dispute. In a Sept. 9 email to legal counsel representing both teams, Buchanan stated that the league would abide by further proceedings in the Southern District Court in Manhattan “to determine whether this dispute should be resolved in federal court or sooner.” [Silver]”.
In another email on Sept. 19, Buchanan repeated the league’s position to legal representatives for both teams.
In their filing Monday opposing any arbitration by Silver in the matter, the Knicks said there are no provisions in the NBA constitution that address intellectual property theft or the protection of a team’s intellectual property.
“Contrary to Defendants’ assertions, this is not a dispute over basketball operations,” the Knicks wrote. “There is no nexus between the claims and the NBA Constitution: it is a dispute over the theft of trade secrets by a disloyal employee, a scenario not contemplated by the NBA Constitution. The misappropriation of trade secrets, the Breach of contract and tort claims are “the type of issues that routinely appear before federal judges. We are not aware that the NBA Commissioner has ever handled anything similar. As a matter of contract formation, the arbitration provision cannot be applied to plaintiff’s claims.”
The Knicks pointed out the limits of Silver’s power to impose monetary sanctions under Article 24 of the NBA constitution, which states that the commissioner cannot impose a sanction of more than $10 million. Additionally, the Knicks noted that the league constitution does not authorize Silver to award legal fees in disputes between two teams.
“As the Knicks intend to demonstrate at trial, the damages exceed $10 million,” the Knicks said in Monday’s filing, adding that they also intend to seek attorneys’ fees.
An MSG spokesperson issued the following statement to ESPN on Monday: “We were victims of a theft of confidential and proprietary files, which is a clear violation of criminal and civil law, and we remain confident that the Court will rule in our favor in this issue.”