Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton is being accused of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed by sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant, according to court documents first obtained Monday by TMZ and confirmed by the Los Angeles Times.
TMZ, which originally reported that the incident occurred in May 2017, later corrected the timing to "sometime before Walton became head coach of the Lakers." The Times' Tania Ganguli reported the alleged assault happened when Walton was a Warriors assistant coach, a position he held from 2014 to 2016 before leaving for LA.
Walton's lawyer denied the allegations against his client in a statement released late Monday night.
"Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations," said Mark Baute, whom the Times noted also represented Minnesota Timberwolves star Derrick Rose in a lawsuit in which he was accused of raping a woman. "The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom."
KCRA-TV's Michelle Dapper tweeted four pages from the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, which outlined Tennant's relationship with Walton and detailed the alleged sexual assault, although it didn't provide the exact date of the incident.
According to the suit, Tennant knew Walton and his wife through the competitive volleyball circuit, as both women played in college. Tennant also worked with Walton when he was a Lakers analyst on Spectrum SportsNet and later covered him when he started coaching. Tennant, according to the suit, received "mentorship and advice" from Walton, whom she viewed as "a trusted colleague, mentor and even friend."
Tennant asked Walton to write the foreword to her book, "The Transition: Every Athlete's Guide to Life After Sports," which he did. The book was published July 8, 2014, just before Walton's first season as a Warriors assistant coach, and she later wanted to give him a copy when he was in Los Angeles for a Warriors-Lakers game.
Tennant met Walton at his Santa Monica hotel, where he told her to park her car so they could "catch up." Tennant did, but she was surprised, the suit says, when Walton went to the elevators to the rooms instead of the lobby, and told her: "It's fine. Come on up. It's me."
Once in Walton's hotel room, Tennant and Walton talked about the book, his job with the Warriors and their families (Tennant knew Walton was married and had children). Then, the suit alleges, Walton "suddenly and out-of-nowhere" assaulted Tennant, pinning her to the bed, groping her and forcibly kissing her.
Tennant told Walton to stop, but he "laughed at her pleas," the suit alleges. Walton eventually let go, and after being restrained again, Tennant left the room once he finally released his grasp.
Tennant did not report the incident, though "she confided in certain people," the suit says. She also still had to interact with Walton because of her job, and he "would impose him" on Tennant with "with a big hug or kiss," instead of a handshake, according to the document.
Ganguli and ESPN's Ramona Shelburne confirmed via sources that Tennant's allegations never were reported to the Lakers. The team later said in a statement that the incident occurred before Walton was an employee and it indeed wasn't reported to them.
The Lakers have issued a statement on Luke Walton: pic.twitter.com/AB0iUrFfAm— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) April 23, 2019
Tennant worked for Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles for five years, and covering the Lakers was among her many duties. An August 2018 profile of Tennant in The Press-Enterprise noted she had left Spectrum after the Dodgers' 2017 season ended and "shut down her social media accounts for a few months, and regrouped even as viewers wonder[ed] where she went."
The Times cites a second incident, months before Tennant's departure from the TV network, in the suit. According to the paper, Tennant spoke at a May 24, 2017, charity event in which Walton and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss were honored, and the then-LA coach "made lewd noises and looked at her suggestively before hugging her in an unwanted way." The Times said the suit used that incident as an example of a “pattern of mistreatment.”
The Warriors also provided a statement: "We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time."
ESPN cited sources in reporting that the NBA opened an investigation into the case, although the league hasn't officially commented.