'We were the victim:' Knicks continue off-court fight with Raptors as lawsuit saga drags on

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The New York Knicks continue to take on the Toronto Raptors off the court.

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Just over a month after the Raptors sought to get a lawsuit between the two NBA franchises dismissed, the Knicks fired back in a 24-page response filed Monday in a New York court.

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The Knicks are seeking more than $10 million US in the lawsuit and argue that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver cannot be the arbitrator of the case because he is tight with Raptors co-owner and chairman Larry Tanenbaum, Sportsnet New York’s Ian Begley and the New York Post reported on Monday.

The Knicks argued in the response that Tanenbaum, who is also the chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors, “serves as Silver’s boss and exercises control over and heavily influences Silver’s continued employment and salary,” according to the Post. 

“Among other things, Tanenbaum has been described as ‘a close ally of Commissioner Adam Silver.’ Silver himself described Tanenbaum as ‘not just my boss as the chairman of the board of governors, but he’s very much a role model in my life.’

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“If Silver were to preside over the instant dispute, he would be arbitrating a case for his boss and ally,” the response said.

The Knicks have alleged that Ike Azotam, formerly the Knicks’ video coordinator, stole video reports compiled while he worked for the Knicks and gave them to the Raptors when he was hired by Toronto.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri scoffed at media day about the lawsuit, saying: “There has been one time a team has sued a team in the NBA,” Ujiri said. “One time. Go figure.”

The Raptors’ parent company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, previously filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, calling it “baseless.”

The Raptors declined to comment on the latest developments on Monday.

Silver can only levy a penalty on a team of up to $10 million, Begley noted. But the Knicks are seeking more and that’s part of the reason they want this decided without Silver and the NBA making the call.

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Adam Silver Media
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during a press conference at the United Center on February 15, 2020 in Chicago. Photo by Stacy Revere /Getty Images

“As the Knicks intend to prove at trial, damages exceed $10 million,” the paper read. “The Knicks also intend to seek attorneys’ fees,” the Post reported the response noted.

ESPN elaborated on New York’s stance. “Contrary to Defendants’ claims, this is not a dispute about basketball operations,” the Knicks wrote, according to ESPN. “There is no nexus between the claims and the NBA Constitution — it is a dispute about the theft of trade secrets by a disloyal employee, a scenario not contemplated by the NBA Constitution. Trade secret misappropriation, breaches of contract, and tort claims are the types of issues routinely appearing before federal judges. We are unaware of the NBA Commissioner ever having handled something similar. As a matter of contract formation, the arbitration provision cannot be applied to Plaintiff’s claims.”

An MSG Spokesman told the Post on Monday: “We were the victim of a theft of proprietary and confidential files, which is a clear violation of criminal and civil law, and we remain confident that the Court will decide in our favor in this matter.”

Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic, player development coach Noah Lewis and 10 “unknown” Raptors employees were also listed as defendants in the Knicks’ lawsuit.

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