Michael Avenatti alleges Nike approved payments for Zion Williamson
Attorney Michael Avenatti is once again accusing Nike executives of improper conduct, including approving illegal payments to Zion Williamson and other players.
Avenatti was arrested on March 25 and charged by federal prosecutors for attempting to extort Nike. Avenatti allegedly was threatening to hold a press conference in which he would unveil improper activities between Nike and high school/college programs unless they paid him $25 million.
Avenatti hired legal representation for the extortion case and is seeking to have the charges dismissed on grounds of vindictive and selective prosecution. His attorneys filed a motion in U.S. District Court in New York on Wednesday that included numerous allegations, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.
According to the motion, Avenatti has evidence Nike executives approved cash payments to be made to handlers and family members of amateur players. The payments are often made in an effort to steer an amateur player to a college program sponsored by the shoe company. Adidas was at the center of a college basketball scandal over the past two years for this issue. Avenatti says Nike has engaged in similar practices.
Avenatti claims to have evidence showing a Nike employee was willing to make a $35,000 payment to Zion Williamson, $20,000 for Romeo Langford, and $15,000 for another player. Williamson played his freshman season at Duke, which is a Nike-sponsored school, while Langford went to Indiana, an Adidas school.
Avenatti claims to have gained the evidence and information through former amateur coach Gary Franklin. Franklin coached the California Supreme, a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) team. Franklin alleges Nike tried to funnel payments through him intended for the handlers and/or family of several players on his teams, such as Deandre Ayton. Franklin retained Avenatti’s services after claiming to have been forced out by Nike once he no longer felt comfortable going along with their scheme.
In April, Avenatti also accused Nike of making payments to the mother of Williamson, who ended up going No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.