Since resigning from his Board of Governors committee positions, owner James Dolan and the Knicks launched a lawsuit against the Raptors seeking more than $10MM in damages over an issue that would typically be arbitrated by the NBA.
The suit, which alleges that a former team employee illegally took “confidential” files with him to his new position in Toronto, accused commissioner Adam Silver of bias due to his friendship with Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Tanenbaum’s position as chairman of the Board of Governors.
As Baxter Holmes writes in an in-depth story for ESPN, Dolan also has a lengthy history with Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Back in 2011, when Ujiri was Denver’s lead basketball executive, he traded Carmelo Anthony to New York — a deal in which Dolan was later criticized for giving up too much on a player who wanted to sign with the Knicks in free agency.
Ujiri had another famous trade with the Knicks a couple years later while he was running the Raptors, Holmes notes, sending Andrea Bargnani to New York for Marcus Camby, Steve Novak and multiple first-round picks. Bargnani only played 71 games over two seasons with New York.
Dolan reportedly nixed a deal between Toronto and New York that same year — 2013 — that would have sent Kyle Lowry to the Knicks because he “didn’t want to get fleeced again by Masai,” a source told The New York Daily News.
As far as the ongoing lawsuit, legal experts, analytics staffers and rival executives alike are skeptical and “generally dismissive” of the Knicks’ claims, according to Holmes.
“If you were concerned about privacy and the loss of proprietary information, the last place you would be pursuing that is in a court proceeding seeking only monetary damages — because whether it’s actually proprietary is going to be an issue,” said Robert Boland, a professor of sports law at Seton Hall University Law School who also maintains a practice focused on sports labor and governance issues.
“You have to prove your damages in this circumstance and you’re going to have to tell the court, and by extension the public, what they took from you and what its value was. So more of that becomes public, which likely means the Knicks don’t care about it. I’m assuming by the time we get through the court hearings, all this information will be out of date. I’m not sure the subject matter is proprietary or that it’s even timely anymore.”
Executives in particular cited Dolan’s “litigious reputation,” Holmes adds.
“I think this is a complete middle finger from Dolan to Larry Tanenbaum — and I think it’s nothing more than that,” one Eastern Conference executive told ESPN.
According to Holmes, the Raptors are expected to file a response to the Knicks’ latest filing on December 11. Boland — one of the legal experts Holmes spoke to — is unsure what will happen next.
“I don’t see a settlement in this case, but I don’t know if the Knicks are going to win,” said Boland, an admitted Knicks fan. “I don’t really see a clear strategy. I think the attention is the desired outcome.”
Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic is also named in the lawsuit. He once again defended himself amid the allegations and said he’s looking forward to the case being resolved, per Stefan Bondy of The New York Post.
“Support from the beginning was just fine because we talked about it, we explained what happened or what did not happen. I know who I am, I know my integrity, I know who I represent,” Rajakovic said. “I represent one amazing organization and people in the front office and the players. I’m really looking forward for all of this to be solved and for everybody to find out the truth. I’ve got nothing to worry about.”