The New York Knicks filed a lawsuit against the Toronto Raptors and their parent company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), among others, alleging that a former team employee stole propriety information and shared it with his new team, the Knicks confirmed to CNN on Monday.
According to the lawsuit filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and obtained by CNN, the Knicks allege that former employee Ikechukwu Azotam shared thousands of proprietary files with the Toronto Raptors to help the newly-hired rookie head coach Darko Rajaković exploit the Knicks’ organizational structure and coaching methods.
Some of the files allegedly included confidential information such as play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files and materials and more, according to the Knicks in the complaint.
Per the suit, the Raptors began to recruit Azotam, who worked for the team from October 2020 to August 2023 in several roles including, most recently, as a Director of Video/Analytics/Player Development Assistant, to join the franchise around the same time that the team named Rajaković as head coach in June of this year.
The lawsuit alleges that Rajaković and other Raptors personnel conspired with Azotam, while he was still employed by the Knicks, to act as a “mole” and funnel information to aid the rookie head coach “organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff.”
After Azotam informed the Knicks he had received an offer of employment from the Raptors in July, he allegedly started to secretly forward the propriety information from his team account to his personal Gmail account, and then sharing it with the Raptors personnel, according to the complaint.
Furthermore, the Knicks allege that not only did the Raptors defendants know about what was going on but that they directed Azotam to misuse his access to the Knicks’ confidential files “to create and then transfer to the Raptors Defendants over 3,000 files consisting of film information and data,” according to the complaint.
“Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action,” the Knicks said, in part, to CNN.
The Knicks reveal in the suit that the team’s insider threat security team identified the theft on August 15, one day after Azotam’s last day with the team, with records showing that the stolen files were “accessed over 2,000 times by the Raptors Defendants.”
“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from [Madison Square Garden] on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention,” a statement from MLSE and the Raptors said, which CNN obtained Tuesday.
“MLSE responded promptly, making clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to fully cooperate.
“MLSE has not been advised that a lawsuit was being filed or has been filed following its correspondence with MSG. The company strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged.
“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”
Among the damages, the Knicks are seeking that the Raptors personnel refrain from engaging in further acts of misappropriation of any of the Knicks propriety information, a judgement that the Raptors and Azotam’s violations and breaches were “willful and malicious” and for the former Knicks employee to “have no benefit as a result of his misappropriation and wrongful acts,” the suit says.
CNN has reached out to the NBA for comment.
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