In a motion filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York, the attorney alleges the sportswear giant approved illicit payments to former Duke basketball star Zion Williamson while he was still in high school.
Avenatti claims that a Nike employee OK’ed sending money to Williamson and ex-Indiana baller Romeo Langford in February 2017, when both athletes were still in high school. More specifically, Avenatti alleged that the brand approved payouts of $35,000 to Williamson and $20,000 to Langford.
“Nike possessed text messages, emails, and other documents from 2016-17 … proving that Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,’ ” the filing reads.
Avenatti did not provide evidence in the filing that payments were ever sent to either athlete.
The lawyer, who rose to fame for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels against President Donald Trump, was indicted in May for allegedly attempting to extort $22.5 million from Nike. He faces additional federal charges amid claims he cheated Daniels out of $300,000 for a book deal.
In a statement to FN, the Swoosh declined to comment regarding Avenatti’s filing.
“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” the Beaverton-Ore. brand wrote. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”
Both Williamson and Langford were “one-and-done” at the college level. The former was drafted No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans, while the latter was scooped up by the Boston Celtics with the 14th pick. Following the NBA Draft, Williamson signed a contract with Nike-backed Jordan Brand. Langford has yet to ink a shoe deal.
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