What you need to know about NBA, Kings investigation clearing Luke Walton
This week’s allegations by a Los Angeles sports reporter of sexual assault against new Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton could turn out to be a long, drawn-out affair, casting a shadow over Walton’s current position with the Kings and beyond.
The lawsuit filings list a court trial date 18 months from now. Though that likely is just a placeholder date, it suggests the case may not be over anytime soon.
Kings officials did not respond to Sacramento Bee requests Wednesday for comment. The team published a statement Monday night, when the allegations first became public, saying they were looking into the matter and were attempting to gain more information.
Here is what we know so far:
A 19-page complaint was filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior court, titled “Kelli Tennant vs. Luke Walton.” In it, Tennant accuses Walton of attacking her sexually in his hotel room at the Casa Del Mar Hotel, an upscale hotel on the beach in Santa Monica, sometime late in 2014.
At the time, Walton was an assistant coach with the Warriors. He and Tennant had known each other for years, beginning when Tennant played collegiate volleyball for USC against Walton’s future wife. Tennant and Walton briefly worked together at Spectrum Sportsnet in Los Angeles, where Tennant was a reporter and studio host for Los Angeles Laker broadcasts, and where Walton served as an analyst.
Tennant had written a book to help athletes make the transition to their post-athletic years. Walton had written the foreword. Tennant had arranged to gift Walton a copy of the book at the hotel where he and the Warriors team were staying.
She alleges she had expected to talk to him in the lobby, but he guided her toward the elevators. “Where are you going?” she says she asked. “It’s fine. Come on up. It’s me,” she alleges he told her.
The lawsuit alleges an assault occurred in the hotel room: Walton allegedly pinned her with his body on the bed, sexually attacking her. She resisted. He let her up, then allegedly grabbed her from behind. She plead for him to stop. He did, and she left. As she left, she heard him say, “Good to see you.”
She further alleges that he kissed her, hugged her and made lewd noises toward her in subsequent encounters when he was head coach of the Lakers and she was a reporter covering the team.
Tennant, 31, is charging Walton, 39, with sexual battery, gender violence, violation of the Ralph Act, which protects against threats of violence, sexual assault, battery and assault. Tennant did not list a dollar amount for damages. Her attorney said they would let a jury decide on that.
The Los Angeles court has set a trial date of October 19, 2020.
Walton has hired Mark Baute, a Los Angeles attorney with a tough reputation who successfully represented NBA player Derrick Rose against sexual assault charges. Baute issued a statement this week saying the accusations are baseless: “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
Walton himself has not spoken publicly about the alleged incident or charges.
Santa Monica police said this week they have received no complaint about the incident and are not looking into it. In a Tuesday press conference, where she described the hotel room incident, Tennant said she did not report the alleged attack to police or her employer because she was afraid of losing her job and because she thought she could “push it aside and bury it.”
Her attorney said it is not his or Tennant’s desire to have Walton jailed.
Why speak now?
Tennant said she found herself unable to suppress the incident in her mind. The lawsuit says she has suffered “injuries to her mind and body, shock and injury to her nervous system and person, and both personal physical injuries and mental suffering and emotional distress.”
Tennant’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian, said she did not, however, suffer bruises or cuts in the incident.
Tennant, who now runs a self-help business for empowering women, said she could no longer remain silent. “I look forward to getting this off my chest and learn to heal ... and hope that he learns a lesson and doesn’t do this again.”
The lawsuit also seeks to indict gender abuse in the NBA. In a press statement Tuesday, Tennant’s attorney wrote: “Women connected to the National Basketball Association have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy and powerful men. Aided by their fame, money and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates misogynistic gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women.”
On Thursday, the Sacramento Kings and the NBA announced plans for a joint investigation into allegations, led by Sacramento attorneys Sue Ann Van Dermyden and Jennifer Doughty – high-profile experts in workplace issues and sexual assault claims – as well as Elizabeth Maringer, an NBA senior vice president and assistant general counsel for the league.