NBA investigating Clippers after allegations against Jerry West are made in lawsuit
The NBA has opened an investigation into the Clippers days after a lawsuit filed against the team and team consultant Jerry West alleged the Hall of Fame player and longtime executive promised, but did not pay, a man $2.5 million in exchange for helping star free agent Kawhi Leonard sign with the team in 2019, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Thursday.
In a statement to TMZ, which first reported the lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes, a representative for West dismissed the allegations.
“I deny engaging in any improper conduct in connection with the signing of Kawhi Leonard,” the representative told TMZ.
The suit seeks damages related to breach of an oral contract, among other complaints that include intentional inflection of emotional distress.
“The lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes is replete with inaccuracies and the allegations are baseless,” the team said in a statement. “The Clippers are fully cooperating with the NBA in its investigation, which is standard when these types of allegations are made. They are providing the NBA with evidence that the allegations are false.”
Wilkes’ lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleged that West and Wilkes met April 10, 2019 inside Staples Center and spoke on June 28, days before free agency began. Leonard, a Southern California native, was fresh off winning a title with the Toronto Raptors. During the June phone conversation West asked for Wilkes’ assistance, according to the lawsuit, in which Wilkes is described as “the best friend to Kawhi Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.”
Asked how well he knew Wilkes and whether he played a role in his decision to join the Clippers, Leonard said “not at all,” Thursday.
“That has nothing to do with me swaying my mind to go somewhere,” he said. “I’m from L.A. and I grew up here my whole life and out here people try to find any way to get some money, so he probably won’t be the last. I know a lot of people out here.”
The Clippers had to skip the traditional team dinner because of health protocols, but they still took time to bond during a question-and-answer session.
The assistance Wilkes allegedly provided was relaying to West that the team should include four specific pieces of information in its free-agency pitch to Leonard: that Leonard would have a “great life as a Clipper”; that the team’s roster “possessed a great deal of upside and would be around for years to come”; that the team would “do whatever it takes to compete with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James”; and that it would acquire a second star to pair with Leonard, specifically Paul George.
“This information was vital because it was the exact information that Kawhi Leonard wanted to hear at the time in order to effectuate his signing with the Clippers,” the suit said.
The suit alleges that on July 4, at West and the Clippers’ direction, Wilkes told Robertson that if Leonard signed with the Clippers, Robertson would receive a house in Southern California, a travel expense account and that team owner Steve Ballmer would fund a marketing campaign for Leonard worth $100 million if Leonard joined the team.
Leonard agreed to join the team July 5, after the team reached a trade with Oklahoma City to acquire George.
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