Basketball: NBA and Sacramento Kings will investigate claim against Luke Walton

Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court.PHOTO: AFP

(NYT) - The NBA and the Sacramento Kings announced a joint investigation on Thursday (April 25) into allegations of sexual assault against Luke Walton, recently hired as head coach for the Kings.

Two lawyers at Van Dermyden Maddux, a Sacramento-area law firm specialising in investigations, will work on behalf of the Kings.

Elizabeth Maringer, who has been in charge of NBA investigations since 2015, will handle the inquiry for the league.

Walton was accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Kelli Tennant, a former host for Spectrum SportsNet, a Southern California television network.

In the lawsuit, Tennant said that Walton had sexually assaulted her in a Santa Monica hotel room in 2014, while he was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors. Walton had been a friend and mentor to Tennant, even writing the foreword to her book.

According to Tennant, Walton took Tennant up to his hotel room when she delivered a copy of her book to him. She said he groped and forcibly kissed her, according to the lawsuit.

At a news conference Tuesday, Tennant said she had not reported the encounter at the time because she was early in her career and afraid of the ramifications.

 

Walton's lawyer, Mark Baute, has denied the accusations.

Walton was hired by the Sacramento Kings two weeks ago, just two days after he and the Los Angeles Lakers mutually agreed to part ways. The Lakers finished a disappointing 37-45 this season, missing the play-offs for the sixth straight year, even after acquiring LeBron James.

Walton was the head coach of the Lakers for three seasons, and a Warriors assistant for two seasons before that. He played for 10 years in the NBA, spending most of his career with the Lakers.

This is not the only allegation of sexual assault facing a high-profile NBA figure.

Last month the New York Police Department opened an investigation into a claim that Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis sexually assaulted a woman last year, while he was a member of the New York Knicks.

Through his lawyer, Roland G Riopelle, Porzingis has denied the accusation, and Riopelle called the accuser's demands "extortionate." The NBA has not announced an investigation into the Porzingis matter, with league spokesman Mike Bass saying that "our review of the situation is ongoing."

The investigation into Tennant's claims comes seven months after the NBA completed its last big investigation, a seven-month inquiry into the culture of the Mavericks after Sports Illustrated reported a number of instances of sexual harassment and misconduct.

The NBA's investigation largely confirmed Sports Illustrated's report, and the league mandated a number of changes to the Mavericks workplace. The Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, apologised and donated US$10 million (S$13.61 million) to women's leadership and domestic violence organisations.