Who is Johnny Wilkes? A look at the man suing the Clippers and Jerry West
There were two players from the Dorsey High boys basketball team who earned All-Southern-League honors in 1980.
Johnny Wilkes and Dennis Robertson.
Forty years later, Robertson has become a recognizable figure in the NBA as Clippers star Kawhi Leonard’s enigmatic “Uncle Dennis,” the man believed to have perhaps the biggest influence over the two-time NBA champions and Finals MVP.
Before this week, Wilkes was a virtual unknown — an L.A.-native who had an unremarkable college career at Colorado and Cal State Fullerton, an international professional career in Japan, and whose post-playing career has included jobs in and out of sports.
Then Wilkes filed a lawsuit Monday against the Clippers and team consultant Jerry West alleging he was promised unfulfilled payments to help the team sign Leonard two offseasons ago.
Now, Wilkes’ claims are being investigated by the NBA, while his relationship with Robertson and Leonard has been suddenly brought into the public spotlight.
Clippers star Kawhi Leonard says Johnny Wilkes, the man suing the Clippers and consultant Jerry West, did not influence his decision to join the team.
The lawsuit claims Wilkes, 58, is Robertson’s “best friend,” and that he leveraged that relationship to aid the Clippers’ pursuit of Leonard in the summer of 2019 by providing the team with information while trying to convince Robertson that the then-free agent should sign with the Clippers. Leonard denied that claim to reporters this week, saying “nobody swayed my mind to go somewhere.”
In exchange, the lawsuit says, West promised to pay Wilkes $2.5 million. The lawsuit also alleges that the team later promised other inducements, including a travel expense account and house for Robertson. The Clippers issued a statement saying the lawsuit “is replete with inaccuracies and the allegations are baseless,” while West denied any “improper conduct” regarding Leonard’s signing.
It’s unclear exactly how close Wilkes’ relationship to Robertson and Leonard was at the time, or how much actual influence he would have had in Leonard’s decision-making process.
Wilkes, the younger brother of former UCLA and NBA player James Wilkes, was teammates with Robertson at Dorsey before they both graduated in 1980. After that, however, they followed different career paths.
While Robertson went into banking, Wilkes continued playing in college, spending his freshman year at Colorado before finishing his college career at Cal State Fullerton. He averaged about three points per game over three seasons.
According to Wilkes’ LinkedIn page, he then played professionally in Japan for 14 years between 1984 and 1998. After his playing career, his resume says he worked at international sports management agency as a “mentor coach” from 1998 to 2003, for an airport service company as a “ramp manager” at LAX from 2003 to 2006, and as a high school basketball coach at View Park Prep between 2006 and 2008.
Wilkes lists his current occupation as president of an organization called Inthepaint Academy. According to the academy’s Facebook page, it is a nonprofit organization that works with youth and college-bound athletes from the inner city.
Johnny Wilkes, who says he is best friends with Kawhi Leonard’s uncle ,says West promised him $2.5 million in exchange for helping the team sign Leonard in 2019.
There are several posts on Wilkes’ Instagram that do create the appearance he has been in Leonard’s orbit, including photos taken at the All-Star guard’s 2017 skills camp in Moreno Valley, as well as a firsthand video of Leonard meeting Manny Pacquiao in an MGM Grand Garden Arena dressing room the night of one of the boxer’s fights in July 2019.
Wilkes’ Instagram also includes photos of him posing with boxing agent Sam Watson. According to the lawsuit, Wilkes told a man named Sam Watson that the Clippers “needed to sign Paul George in order to get Kawhi Leonard to sign,” and that “Sam Watson then communicated this information to [West].”
The Clippers did eventually acquire George in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in addition to signing Leonard to a three-year, $103-million contract with a player option for the final season in 2021-22.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.