Ikechukwu Azotam

Raptors Respond To Knicks As Legal Battle Continues

While two Atlantic Division rivals competed on the court on Monday, their legal battle raged on off the court, with the Raptors responding to the claims made by the Knicks in a court filing last month, according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

To recap the events to date, the Knicks filed a lawsuit against the Raptors in August, alleging that former employee Ikechukwu Azotam illegally took confidential files with him when he was hired by Toronto. The Raptors called the suit a “baseless” PR stunt and sought to have it dismissed, insisting that commissioner Adam Silver – rather than the courts – should arbitrate the dispute between two NBA teams.

In November, the Knicks responded by questioning Silver’s impartiality due to his friendship with Raptors governor Larry Tanenbaum and contending that the courts should handle the case because the Knicks are seeking more than $10MM in damages, which is the maximum amount the league can penalize a team.

[RELATED: Knicks’ Dolan Resigned From NBA Board Committee Positions]

In Monday’s filing, according to Holmes, the Raptors accused the Knicks of dragging out the case for publicity and – for the first time – raised the possibility of filing a countersuit against the Knicks for defamatory public statements once this case is resolved. The Raptors also challenged New York’s claim that Silver is biased, insisting again that the NBA commissioner arbitrate the dispute.

“The NBA Commissioner is not biased and he is the best person to adjudicate this dispute because of his ability to identify what, if any, information is confidential and proprietary such that its misuse may harm a Member like the Knicks,” the Raptors wrote. “The Knicks’ aversion to his jurisdiction is simply because they know they will not like his determination. Although it is inevitable the Knicks’ claims will fail on the merits in any forum, this proceeding permits the Knicks to keep their allegations in the public media, causing harm to the Named Defendants.”

As Holmes details, the Raptors have maintained throughout the legal process that the information Azotam took with him to his new position wasn’t confidential and that head coach Darko Rajakovic and the Raptors never saw any of the Knicks’ trade secrets.

“Coach Rajakovic — with nearly 15 years’ experience as a head coach overseas and in the NBA’s G-League and another decade as an assistant coach in the NBA — never needed, wanted, or saw a single piece of Knicks’ proprietary information,” the Raptors said. “Nor did Azotam ever share any proprietary Knicks information. The Knicks would have learned this if had they accepted the Raptors’ offer to cooperate in an investigation instead of immediately filing this suit.”

If the Knicks were “genuinely concerned” about misuse of proprietary information, the Raptors stated in their filing, they would have accepted Toronto’s invitation to cooperate in a thorough investigation of the allegations rather than having “mired themselves in lengthy judicial proceedings.” The Raptors also argued on Monday that the Knicks’ claims of having incurred $10MM+ in damages hasn’t been substantiated in any way.

“To the contrary,” the Raptors wrote, “the Knicks have offered the Court no theory or measurement of damages whatsoever — because they have not been harmed but appear to have made this claim to generate press attention.”

According to Holmes, an MSG spokesperson responded to the Raptors’ repeated insistence on referring the dispute to Silver for adjudication by stating, “Hopefully the Court will make it clear that Toronto cannot escape the consequence of breaking the law by being a member of the NBA.”

As Holmes writes, legal experts have referred to the standoff between the Knicks and Raptors as virtually unprecedented, making it difficult to predict the outcome, though many of those experts have been skeptical about New York’s chances of winning the case.

On the court, the Knicks defeated the Raptors on Monday for a second time this month, pulling out a 136-130 home victory.

Knicks Respond To Raptors’ Motion, Don’t Want Silver To Rule On Dispute

The Knicks have responded to a motion filed by the Raptors that sought to dismiss New York’s lawsuit against them, Stefan Bondy of the New York Post reports. The Knicks are seeking more than $10MM in their lawsuit and have also dragged commissioner Adam Silver’s name into the dispute between the Atlantic Division clubs.

The Knicks argued that the court system should handle the matter, rather than the NBA, because of Silver’s allegedly tight relationship with Toronto minority owner Larry Tanenbaum.

Tanenbaum is currently the NBA’s Chairman of the Board of Governors.

The Knicks wrote in their 24-page response on Monday, “Silver himself described Tanenbaum as ‘not just my boss as the chairman of the Board of Governors, but he’s very much a role model in my life. If Silver were to preside over the instant dispute, he would be arbitrating a case for his boss and ally,” ESPN’s Baxter Holmes tweets.

The Knicks also inferred that Tanenbaum was handpicked by Silver as Chairman, Bondy adds.

The lawsuit stems from their allegations that Ikechukwu Azotam, a former Knicks video coordinator, stole scouting and analytics secrets – including files containing “over 3,000 videos” – and gave them to the Raptors after he was hired by their organization. Azotam and Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic were also named in the suit.

In the motion to dismiss, Toronto called the lawsuit “baseless” and “a public relations stunt” by the Knicks. The Raptors also wrote that the dispute should be handled by Silver instead of a federal judge, pursuant to a bylaw in the NBA’s constitution that reads, “The Commissioner shall have exclusive, full, complete, and final jurisdiction of any dispute involving two (2) or more Members of the Association.”

The Knicks also claim that since their damages exceed $10MM, which is more than NBA can penalize a team, the courts should handle the case rather than the league office, Mike Vornukov of The Athetic tweets.

Raptors Seek To Have Knicks’ “Baseless” Lawsuit Dismissed

The Raptors have filed a motion in New York to dismiss the Knickslawsuit, which alleges that former employee Ikechukwu Azotam “illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position” with Toronto, according to Mike Vorkunov, Eric Koreen and Fred Katz of The Athletic.

In the motion to dismiss, Toronto called the lawsuit “baseless” and “a public relations stunt by the Knicks,” per The Athletic.

Azotam, head coach Darko Rajakovic, development coach Noah Lewis and are among several defendants in the lawsuit.

As the Knicks surely expected and presumably intended, the filing of this lawsuit — virtually unprecedented between two members of the NBA or, frankly, two teams in any North American professional sports league — generated significant publicity,” the motion to dismiss states. “The effect of such a public accusation of wrongdoing in federal court was to tarnish the stellar reputations of Messrs. Rajaković, Lewis and Azotam, as well as MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the Raptors’ parent company), and to chill present and future Knicks’ employees from their pursuit of employment with other members.”

To support the claim that the Knicks were seeking publicity rather than something legitimate, the Raptors put out a timeline of events in their filing, The Athletic’s trio writes. On August 18, a day after the Knicks told the Raptors about the allegations, Toronto said it had no interest in the “proprietary” data that Azotam took and would cooperate with New York. The Knicks filed the lawsuit the next business day, August 21.

The Knicks alleged that Rajakovic “recruited and used” Azotam as a “mole.” However, the Raptors’ filing says those allegations are “false and overblown” and that the data was not confidential, but rather “publicly available information.”

These were not the Knicks’ team and player statistics, play frequency data, player tendencies or play calls, but rather those of other NBA teams — including particularly the Raptors’ own game film — compiled from video of their games accessible to all NBA teams (and, indeed, the general public). In other words, they were far from confidential, let alone trade secrets. The Knicks surely know this,” the motion states, according to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes.

As we have previously stated, given the theft of proprietary and confidential files and clear violation of criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this to federal court and are confident the judicial system will agree,” a Knicks spokesperson said in reply to the filing.

According to Holmes, the Raptors believe that the dispute should be handled by commissioner Adam Silver instead of a federal judge, pursuant to a bylaw in the NBA’s constitution that reads, “The Commissioner shall have exclusive, full, complete, and final jurisdiction of any dispute involving two (2) or more Members of the Association.”

Obviously the Knicks disagreed, arguing the NBA doesn’t have “exclusive authority over criminal matters.” NBA general counsel Rich Buchanan later told the two teams that the league would abide by the judge’s decision on if the lawsuit should be decided by the NBA or the court.

Atlantic Notes: Lawsuit, Knicks, Raptors, Warren, Stevens

While the Knicks made some bold claims in their lawsuit against the Raptors, people around the NBA aren’t convinced it’s as big of a scandal as it might seem on paper, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca.

I’m not being dismissive of this,” a league executive told Grange. “But people take stuff all the time (when they change jobs). Yes, it’s proprietary, but it’s usually their own product; work that they’ve done over time. So, without knowing the sensitivity level or what was taken or how egregious it was, it’s not something I’d care about that much.

“And timing matters, too. If it was mid-season and he was taking stuff for the current year, or the upcoming season, I might be more upset about it, but if it’s from the previous year, I don’t know if I’d be all that mad.”

As Grange writes, the NBA is a copycat league, so proving that the “confidential Knicks information” that was allegedly taken by former employee Ikechukwu Azotam was truly invaluable might be difficult. There’s a reason the Knicks left the damages they’re seeking as “TBD” — they probably don’t know what exactly was taken and if it will materially impact their business, a lawyer told Grange.

Ultimately, Grange thinks the lawsuit is unlikely to go to court and will probably be handled by the NBA. He suggests Toronto might face a six-figure fine and perhaps the loss of a second-round pick.

Here’s more from the Atlantic:

  • Head coach Tom Thibodeau will likely gripe about the Knicks‘ schedule for the 2023/24 season, writes Zach Braziller of The New York Post (subscriber link). After being tied with the Hornets for the fewest games (five) with “rest advantage” last season, the Knicks have eight such games during the upcoming campaign — tied for fifth-fewest in the league, per Braziller. Rest advantage is exactly what it implies — games in which a team will be more rested than the opponent. The Celtics lead the league with 16 rest advantage games, Braziller notes.
  • The Celtics are working out — or have worked out — a number of veteran free agent wings, including T.J. Warren and Lamar Stevens. Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston considers whether Warren and/or Stevens would be good fits for the back end of the roster.
  • In case you missed it, the NBA fined Sixers star James Harden $100K for recent comments he made, but the Players Association disagreed with Harden’s fine and is filing a grievance on his behalf.

Raptors Respond To Lawsuit; Knicks Allege Former Employee Was ‘Mole’

The Raptors and the team’s parent company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, expressed surprise that the Knicks filed a lawsuit against them regarding alleged proprietary violations and issued a denial that the company was involved, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets via a Raptors press release.

The Knicks filed the lawsuit on Monday alleging that former employee Ikechukwu Azotam “illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position” with the Raptors. Azotam, who was hired away by Toronto this offseason, allegedly shared the proprietary information with “several members” of the team, including head coach Darko Rajakovic and player development coach Noah Lewis.

“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from MSG on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention,” Toronto’s response reads. “MLSE responded promptly, making clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to fully cooperate. MLSE has not been advised that a lawsuit was being filed or has been filed following its correspondence with MSG. The company strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged. MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”

The Knicks allege that not only did Rajakovic know what was occurring but that he “recruited and used” Azotam to help him build out the operations for his coaching staff, according to The Athletic’s Fred Katz, Mike Vornukov and Eric Koreen.

The lawsuit alleges that the information Azotam forwarded to the Raptors included scouting reports, play frequency reports, a prep book, and a link to third-party licensed software. It also alleges that “Defendant Rajaković and the other Raptor Defendants recruited and used Azotam to serve as a mole within the Knicks organization to convey information that would assist the Raptors Defendants in trying to manage their team.”

The Athletic trio received a written statement from an MSG Sports spokesperson which stated that “we were left no choice but to take this action.”

Knicks File Lawsuit Against Raptors, Former NYK Employee

The Knicks filed a lawsuit on Monday alleging that former employee Ikechukwu Azotam “illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position” with the Raptors, which he then shared with his new club, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter thread).

Azotam, who was hired away by Toronto this offseason, allegedly shared the proprietary information with “several members” of the team, including head coach Darko Rajakovic and player development coach Noah Lewis, Begley adds.

The lawsuit alleges Azotam signed a confidentiality agreement with the Knicks which required him “to maintain the secrecy of all confidential or proprietary Knicks information.” A source tells Begley the Knicks contacted both the Raptors and the NBA prior to filing the lawsuit in the Southern District of New York.

According to Begley, the lawsuit also alleges that the Raptors “directed Azotam to misuse his access to the Knicks’ subscription to Synergy Sports to create and then transfer to the Raptors Defendants over 3,000 files consisting of film information and data.”

A Madision Square Garden Sports spokesperson released a statement to Begley regarding the lawsuit (Twitter thread).

The New York Knicks have sued the Toronto Raptors and several members of their organization, including a former Knicks employee, after the former employee illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position with the Toronto Raptors. These files include confidential information such as play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files and materials and more.

“Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action.”

[UPDATE: Raptors Respond To Lawsuit]

In addition to Azotam, Rajakovic, and Lewis, 10 other Raptors employees are also accused of wrongdoing, tweets Steve Popper of Newsday. Those employees are currently unknown — they’re listed as John Does “1” through “10.”