Michael Avenatti goes on Twitter offensive, claims Deandre Ayton, Nike involved in cash payments

Deandre Ayton was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft and is currently a rookie for the Phoenix Suns. (Getty Images)
Deandre Ayton was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft and is currently a rookie for the Phoenix Suns. (Getty Images)

A day after being arrested for allegedly trying to extort Nike for more than $20 million, lawyer Michael Avenatti began following through on a threat to expose the shoe and apparel giant for paying high school basketball stars.

On his Twitter account Tuesday morning, Avenatti wrote, "Ask Deandre Ayton and Nike about the cash payments to his mother and others. Nike’s attempt at diversion and cover-up will fail miserably once prosecutors realize they have been played by Nike and their lawyers at [the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner]. This reaches the highest levels of Nike." Ayton played collegiately for one year at Arizona before becoming the first pick in the NBA draft last year. Avenatti included no specifics to back up his allegation.

Screenshot from Twitter
Screenshot from Twitter

Ayton was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2017 after playing summer basketball under the Nike umbrella. After an intense recruitment, the 7-footer signed and played one season with Nike-sponsored University of Arizona. He was later the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft and is currently a rookie for the Phoenix Suns. Upon turning pro, Ayton eschewed Nike and signed a four-year endorsement deal with Puma.

Avenatti also claimed Oregon freshman center Bol Bol, a top-five NBA prospect and the son of former NBA player Manute Bol, “received large sums of money from Nike,” and the attorney even attempted to implicate Nike director of elite youth basketball Carlton DeBose.

Bol suffered a left foot injury in January that ended his season and career at Oregon.

When contacted for a comment, Oregon released the following statement through a spokesperson: “We are unaware of any evidence that would support these allegations. Diligent inquiry last summer into the amateur status of our student-athletes revealed no indication of improper payments made to any student-athletes or their families.”

And of course, Avenatti didn’t stop there. He brought up Adidas consultant Merl Code, who received a six-month prison sentence for his role in college basketball’s federal fraud scandal.

Code's counsel declined to comment about Avenatti’s allegations.

Avenatti also tweeted that Nike has not been sufficiently cooperative with the ongoing federal investigation of basketball: "Contrary to Nike’s claims yesterday, they have NOT been cooperating with investigators for over a year. Unless you count lying in response to subpoenas and withholding documents as “cooperating.” They are trying to divert attention from their own crimes."

Avenatti, best known as the former lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, was arrested Monday after being indicted by the Southern District of New York. Later Monday, Avenatti was charged in Los Angeles on separate wire and bank fraud allegations in an unrelated manner.

Avenatti, according to the SDNY indictment, threatened Nike that he had a client who was a former AAU basketball coach willing to disclose “evidence that one or more Nike employees had authorized and funded payments to the families of top high school players.” ESPN reported Monday, and Yahoo Sports confirmed, that the AAU coach in question is Gary Franklin of California Supreme, who coached Ayton and many other elite prospects before recently being cut by Nike.

The alleged Nike scheme was similar to the one that caused an Adidas executive and consultant to be found guilty of fraud during a separate October trial in New York. Ayton's name surfaced in that trial when Adidas "bag man" T.J. Gassnola testified that he paid $15,000 to a friend of the family when Ayton was a high school junior.

Avenatti, according to prosecutors, demanded more than $20 million in payments to not publicize the findings during a news conference timed for “the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings and the start of the annual NCAA basketball tournament.”

The indictment says Avenatti, along with an unnamed co-conspirator, whom the Wall Street Journal identified as Mark Geragos — the celebrity lawyer who represents Colin Kaepernick — warned Nike that continued negative publicity and the potential for legal troubles would hurt Nike’s stock, perhaps in the billions.

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