Sacramento Kings

Luke Walton's lawyer responds to assault allegations from Kelli Tennant

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AP

Luke Walton's lawyer responds to assault allegations from Kelli Tennant

On Tuesday afternoon, sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant and her attorney Garo Mardirossian laid out sexual assault allegations against Kings head coach Luke Walton.

In a statement obtained by NBC Sports California, Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, responded Wednesday with a strongly worded statement of his own:

“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court. Yesterday's press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. Her lawyers want 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.”

The Kings have been quiet on the subject of Tennant's accusations against Walton since releasing a short statement on Monday after the initial news broke:

“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time,” the Kings said in an official statement.

The NBA released a similar statement on Wednesday:

“We are coordinating with the Kings organization and are in the process of gathering more information.”

Kelli Tennant, lawyer publicly allege Luke Walton sexually assaulted her

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USATSI

Kelli Tennant, lawyer publicly allege Luke Walton sexually assaulted her

Sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant, one day after filing a lawsuit alleging Luke Walton sexually assaulted her in 2014, sat alongside attorney Garo Mardirossian on Tuesday afternoon and held a press conference to further state her allegations against the Sacramento Kings coach.

“I am no longer comfortable being silent about the things that have happened to me," Tennant told an assembly of reporters in Los Angeles, "and although this may come as a shock to many of you in this community, this is a reality that I have been living in for years, and I can no longer stand to not tell the story of what has profoundly affected my life in all of the events that we have alleged in our complaint."

According to Tennant, she has known Walton and his wife, Bre Ladd, for many years through ties with volleyball. In 2013, Tennant and Walton became colleagues at Spectrum SportsNet and developed a friendship. She also looked to him as a mentor.

Tennant was writing a book and asked Walton to write the foreword for her, which he agreed to do. They met and worked together on the book, and when she eventually published it, she wanted to give him a copy of the finished work. 

Tennant alleges the two agreed to meet up at his hotel in 2014, when Walton was in town to face the Lakers as part of the Warriors' coaching staff. But when she arrived at the hotel to give him a copy of the book, Walton told her that he didn’t want to hang out in the lobby because the players were around.

He then brought her up to his room, where Tennant claims an aggressive attack occurred.

“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down with all of his weight,” Tennant said. “He kissed my neck and my face and my chest. As I kept asking him to please stop and get off, he laughed at me.”

After the initial encounter, Walton allegedly grabbed her a second time from behind and started kissing Tennant’s neck. 

“I thought he was going to rape me,” Tennant said.

During the press conference, Tennant explained how she eventually was able to leave the hotel room, but that wasn’t the last encounter she had with Walton. 

Walton joined the Lakers as head coach in 2016, which resulted in Tennant working with him on a daily basis. According to Tennant, Walton was inappropriate with her on multiple occasions, including unwanted hugs and kisses.

“Every interaction with him that I had over that time made me incredibly uncomfortable and feel unsafe,” Tennant said.

Their last encounter was at a charity event in 2017, when Walton allegedly made a comment about her dress, followed by an uncomfortable hug. 

“Every feeling I had from that first experience of feeling disgusted and betrayed, came back,” Tennant said.

According to Tennant, she had been working for Spectrum SportsNet for just under one year when the initial incident occurred with Walton at his hotel. She was 25 years old at the time and feared for her job.

“I was scared,” Tennant said. “When someone assaults you and you think you’re going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing. I have spent years now dealing with this. Trying to forget about it. Hoping I could push it to the side and bury it, and hoping that time would heal. That was not the case.”

According to Mardirossian, they haven’t taken the case to law enforcement, and outside of Tennant’s account, they have no other further evidence to support the claim. Tennant told family members of the event but did not discuss it with anyone in human resources at Spectrum or with either the Warriors or the Lakers.

The Kings, who hired Walton as their coach last week, have not released anything other than their initial statement, “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The NBA added this statement, per multiple reports: “We are coordinating with the Kings organization and are in the process of gathering more information.”

According to league sources, Kings general manager Vlade Divac did not know of pending allegations when he signed the 39-year-old coach to a four-year contract. 

Sexual assault allegation against Luke Walton puts Kings in tough situation

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AP

Sexual assault allegation against Luke Walton puts Kings in tough situation

After celebrating Luke Walton's arrival as the franchise’s new coach just a week ago, the Kings now are embroiled in a controversy not of their own making.

Walton has been accused of sexual assault by former sports broadcaster Kelli Tennant. Her civil lawsuit paints a startling picture of Walton forcibly attacking a woman with whom he had a long-standing business relationship. Four pages of the suit can be found here.

Through his attorney, Walton has vowed to fight the allegations.

"Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations," Mark Baute said. "The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom."

All of this is playing out in real time, so the Kings have very little time to make a difficult decision on Walton and his future with the team. The Athletic's Sam Amick cited a source in reporting the Kings still are in the fact-finding stage of the process and the prospect of firing him has no momentum at this time.

Here is where we are less than 24 hours after the revelation.

What did Vlade know?

According to league sources, Kings general manager Vlade Divac was unaware that allegations were pending against Walton. It’s possible Walton didn’t know the lawsuit was coming either.

In addition, both the Lakers and the Warriors -- Walton’s two previous employers -- as well as the NBA, were surprised by the lawsuit. The alleged incident happened while Walton was an assistant coach for the Warriors, a position he held from 2014 to 2016. The exact date of the alleged event is still unknown.

Following his stint with the Warriors, Walton was hired in 2016 by LA, where he spent three seasons as the team’s coach. He mutually parted ways with the Lakers on April 12 of this year, and less than 24 hours later, he was in Sacramento preparing to sign on the dotted line with the Kings.

It was a whirlwind of events, but not unheard of in the NBA. Coaches often are let go in the days following the end of the season.

Walton’s situation with the Lakers was heading for a quick split, and Divac moved in to acquire an up-and-coming young coach who also was his former teammate during his playing days.

It should be noted that Steve Kerr, Walton’s head coach in Golden State, had this to say about his former understudy after learning about his split from the Lakers: “They are losing one of the best human beings in the NBA, they’re losing a guy who knows the game as well as anybody I’ve ever met, they’re losing somebody players believe in and players want to play for."

We don’t know what the Kings’ vetting process was in this situation, but if neither of his previous employers had a clue about this alleged incident, there is a good chance that nobody knew.

What do the Kings do now?

It’s a difficult decision. Walton’s reputation is hanging in the balance. Divac’s might be as well if he sticks with his newly hired coach.

Sacramento can take a cautious approach and thoroughly vet the allegations at hand. In conjunction with the NBA, they’ve already started the fact-finding process.

This is a difficult path. While Walton is innocent until proven guilty, allegations like this usually stick with a person long after the case is settled.

It’s a "he said, she said" situation, which never is easy to parse out, but Divac and the Kings need to know for sure that this isn’t the beginning of something bigger. If stones weren’t turned over before, they need to be now.

The Kings also could decide to terminate Walton’s contract now and jump right back into the coaching carousel. Other quality coaches are available, although the hiring process is starting to heat up. Coaches like Monty Williams and Ettore Messina, whom the Kings were interested in a little over a week ago, still are available, although they're linked to other openings around the league.

Either way, the Kings need to act decisively, and time is of the essence. This can’t be a dark cloud hanging over the franchise for the foreseeable future. They must sift through the facts quickly and decide whether Walton still is a viable option to coach the team.