After conducting a five-month internal investigation into lawyer Michael Avenatti’s allegations that Nike paid basketball players, including Zion Williamson, to play for sponsored schools, Duke announced Friday it has cleared its former star of wrongdoing. But Avenatti remains far from satisfied.
Duke did not reach out to Avenatti for information, he told The News & Observer in a statement Friday. He reiterated his claim that Nike paid Williamson, the 2019 ACC Player of the Year and No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and additionally alleged that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski not only knew of that payment, but also “has been part of such payments to players for years.”
“I never heard from anyone associated with Duke in connection with my allegations or any investigation,” Avenatti told the News & Observer. “I was never asked a single question. I was never asked what information or documents that I was aware of. Who the hell conducted this investigation? Inspector Clouseau? The documents and the hard evidence do not lie. Zion Williamson was paid to attend Duke. Coach K has made and facilitated payments to players for years. And when the truth comes out -- and eventually it will -- Coach K and Duke’s reputation will be forever and rightfully tarnished.”
Avenatti’s allegations against Nike grow
Avenatti was previously charged by the U.S. Justice Department with attempting to extort $20 million from Nike, to which he pled not guilty. The famed lawyer was representing former California youth basketball coach Gary Franklin, who claimed Nike ended its decade-long sponsorship of his AAU team because he would not participate in a pay-for-play scheme involving top high school basketball players.
Last spring, Avenatti produced documents that allege Nike dished out approximately $170,000 to people – many of them family members – connected to elite high school basketball players, including Bol Bol and Deandre Ayton. He also tweeted suggesting that Williamson’s mother, Shaondra Sampson, was paid for “consulting services” while her son was still in high school.
.@DukeMBB - About this denial by Coach K the other day relating to payments by Nike...Can you please ask Zion Williamson’s mother - Sharonda Sampson - whether she was paid by @nike for bogus “consulting services” in 2016/17 as part of a Nike bribe to get Zion to go to Duke? Thx.— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 6, 2019
In August, a motion filed on Avenatti’s behalf alleged to show correspondences between Nike officials and coaches regarding under-the-table payouts directly to elite high school players within Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball (EYBL) division. It also suggested Avenatti has additional information and documentation detailing Nike’s conduct.
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