Nike issued a statement stating it won’t respond to allegations from celebrity lawyer, Michael Avenatti, that the company paid more than $170,000 to incentivize elite basketball players to attend Nike-sponsored colleges.
Nike’s statement read, “Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”
On March 25, Avenatti was arrested on federal charges of attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike.
On Sunday, April 7, Avenatti released 41-pages of documents that he claimed offered evidence showing Nike “bribed players to attend ‘Nike’ colleges.” Players identified as being involved with the alleged scheme include the Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton, former University of Nevada Las Vegas player Brandon McCoy and Oregon Ducks’ Bol Bol. Redacted bank statements, invoices and text messages appear among the submitted documents.
The documents assert that Nike Elite Youth Basketball executives Carlton DeBose and Jamal James made payments to Gary Franklin, a longtime coach of a Los Angeles AAU basketball team, who then funneled money to reach players.
Avenatti also alleges Nike paid the mother of Duke star, Zion Williamson, for consulting services while her son was one of the top high school recruits.
Duke responded, “We are aware of the allegation and, as we would with any compliance matter, are looking into it. Duke is fully committed to compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations. Every student-athlete at Duke is reviewed to ensure their eligibility. With regard to men’s basketball: all recruits and their families are thoroughly vetted by Duke in collaboration with the NCAA through the Eligibility Center’s amateurism certification process.”