Luke Walton accuser Kelli Tennant speaks out at press conference
An attorney representing Kings coach Luke Walton fired back at the woman accusing him of sexual assault Wednesday, as the Kings were quietly moving forward with plans to build a coaching staff around Walton despite the allegations against him.
Mark Baute, Walton’s lawyer, offered a scathing response after attorney Garo Mardirossian and former Southern California sports reporter Kelli Tennant held a press conference Tuesday accusing Walton of sexual assault. Baute called Tennant’s claims “outrageous” and alluded to Mardirossian’s admission that his case lacked evidence.
“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court,” Baute said in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “Yesterday’s press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. Her lawyer wants to create a public circus to distract from their complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime.”
Earlier this week, Baute called Tennant “an opportunist, not a victim.”
Tennant, 31, filed a civil lawsuit accusing Walton, 39, of assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, gender violence and violation of the Ralph Act, which protects against threats of violence. The suit seeks unspecified damages. Mardirossian said a jury can decide.
The 19-page complaint was filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, titled “Kelli Tennant vs. Luke Walton.” Tennant accuses Walton of attacking her sexually in his room at the Casa Del Mar Hotel, an upscale hotel in Santa Monica, sometime late in 2014.
Walton was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors at the time. 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 Lakers broadcasts, and Walton served as an analyst.
In 2014, Tennant published a book to help athletes make the transition to their post-athletic years. Walton wrote the foreword. Later that year, Tennant arranged to meet Walton at the hotel where the Warriors were staying to give him a copy of the book.
Tennant said she expected to visit Walton in the lobby, but instead he guided her to the elevators and then up to his hotel room.
“Where are you going?” she says she asked him.
“It’s fine,” he said, according to Tennant. “Come on up. It’s me.”
The lawsuit alleges Walton sexually assaulted Tennant inside the room. Tennant said he used his body weight to pin her down on the bed, forcibly kissed and groped her and laughed as she pleaded for him to stop. Tennant also alleges Walton kissed her, hugged her and made lewd remarks toward her in subsequent encounters when he was head coach of the Lakers and she was a reporter covering the team.
The Kings were unaware the allegations were about to surface when they introduced Walton as their head coach last week. The team has been working with the NBA to conduct their own investigations, league spokesman Mike Bass told The Bee.
Meanwhile, the Kings appear to be moving forward with Walton in an effort to assemble a coaching staff.
Walton and Kings general manager Vlade Divac met with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek on Tuesday in Sacramento to discuss the team’s top assistant coaching position, sources told The Athletic. The Kings conducted the meeting hours before Mardirossian and Tennant held their news conference in Los Angeles.
Walton and Divac also interviewed at least one person for a lower-level coaching position, according to The Athletic, which noted the interviews were scheduled before allegations against Walton surfaced Monday.
Hornacek, 55, is a former NBA All-Star who averaged 14.5 points and 4.9 assists in 14 seasons with the Suns, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz before retiring in 2000. He began his coaching career as an assistant with the Jazz in 2011 and compiled a 161-216 record over five seasons as head coach with the Suns and Knicks.
Hornacek was named head coach of the Suns in 2013. He led the team to a 48-34 record in 2013-14 but he was fired after Phoenix went 14-35 to start the 2015-16 season.
The Knicks hired Hornacek as their head coach the following summer. They fired him after he amassed a 60-104 record in two seasons.