Kelli Tennant, who accused Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed Monday, spoke to the media for the first time on Tuesday to provide more details on the circumstances of the alleged incident and what she hopes to accomplish with the legal action.
Garo Mardirossian, Tennant’s attorney, also released a statement saying that women involved with the NBA have long suffered through “sexual exploitation” from men in positions of power.
During the news conference, Tennant explained why she decided to come forward five years after the alleged incident, saying she was previously “scared” of losing her job.
“I am no longer comfortable staying silent about the things that have happened to me,” Tennant said. “Although this may came as a shock to many of you in this community, this is a reality that I have been living in for years. I can no longer stand to not tell the story of what has profoundly affected my life in all of the events that we have alleged in our complaint.”
Luke Walton’s background with Kelli Tennant
Tennant said she first met Walton 10 years ago at a volleyball tournament through his wife, who played varsity volleyball at Arizona. Tennant is a former USC volleyball player.
The two reportedly became co-workers — and, later, friends — when Walton was hired by Time Warner Sportsnet in 2013 as an analyst. Tennant said she saw Walton as a mentor and someone she looked up to.
Tennant wrote a book, “The Transition: Every Athlete's Guide to Life After Sports,” that was published in 2014 for which Walton wrote the foreword. Tennant said she visited Walton’s Santa Monica hotel to give him a copy of the book as a gift when he was an assistant with the Golden State Warriors.
Kelli Tennant: Luke Walton laughed at me during assault
According to Tennant, the two met outside the hotel and hugged, then Walton told her to park her car so they could talk more. Thinking they would talk in the lobby, Tennant agreed, but Walton then walked to the elevator, saying he didn’t want to be seen by players in the lobby.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s me,” Walton said, per Tennant.
Once in the room, Tennant alleged that Walton grabbed her and held her down on the bed while kissing her face, neck and chest.
“He laughed at me,” Tennant said. “I continued to ask him to stop over and over again without any use of my arms because he continued to hold me down. I could feel him rubbing his erection on me and he continued to laugh at all my pleas to get off and to stop.
“I thought he was going to rape me.”
Tennant said she eventually broke free and left the hotel room, though not before Walton allegedly grabbed her and pressed against her. Tennant said she was happy Walton was no longer based in Los Angeles so she wouldn’t have to see him, but everything obviously changed when the Los Angeles Lakers hired him as their new head coach in 2016.
Once Walton was working for the Lakers, Tennant said that he would always greet her in professional settings with a hug and kiss on the cheek in front of her colleagues.
“I pretended to be completely normal this entire time,” Tennant said. “I felt like I had nowhere to turn ... Every interaction with him that I had over that time made me incredibly uncomfortable and feel unsafe. This type of behavior cannot be condoned and no woman should ever be made to feel like a victim.”
Mardirossian later said that Tennant only told a handful of family and friends, but never informed her employer. The police also reportedly said the incident was never reported to them.
What Kelli Tennant is seeking with her lawsuit
While Walton’s attorney said Tennant is an “opportunist, not a victim” and not credible in a statement released Tuesday, Mardirossian said they were not seeking a specific amount of money or jail time for Walton.
“Our interest isn’t putting Mr. Walton in jail,” Mardirossian said. “It’s for Kelli to feel better about herself.”
The bigger question could be Walton’s job status with the Kings, who have employed him for less than two weeks and might need to make a decision if evidence backing up Tennant’s account is found.
Sam Amick of The Athletic reports that the Kings are proceeding with Walton as their head coach and have continued to interview prospective assistants for the team’s coaching staff. The team is reportedly working with the NBA to investigate the truth regarding the alleged assault.
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