The Knicks-Raptors lawsuit is hilarious, makes no sense
The New York Knicks are suing the Toronto Raptors in the most comical way imaginable.
Background: the suit alleges that the Raptors hired an employee from the Knicks, and in the weeks before his exit, the employee forwarded a bunch of information from his time with the Knicks to his new team.
From The Athletic:
The lawsuit says that [the employee] Azotam told the Knicks he had an offer from the Raptors on or around July 25, 2023, and adds that his final day with the organization was Aug. 14…
The suit alleges that the Raptors defendants directed Azotam to “misuse” his access to the Knicks’ Synergy Sports account to create and transfer more than 3,000 files with film and data, including 3,358 video files. The Knicks discovered his transfer on Aug. 15 and say that those files were accessed more than 2,000 times by the defendants…
The suit says on Aug. 11, Azotam sent two emails from his Knicks email account to his Raptors account with what they say is proprietary and confidential information. In one email, which had a subject line of FW: INDIANA GAME 82, he had an advanced scouting report of the Indiana Pacers, diagrams of more than 250 Pacers plays and spreadsheet of play frequency, and a spreadsheet with Pacers play calls for a game, the suit claims. It alleges he sent another email with similar information about the Denver Nuggets.
I spoke with Seth Partnow, former Milwaukee Bucks employee and current NBA analyst for The Athletic (and many other places), and Michael Kasdan, an IP expert and lawyer, about this case. (The podcast link can be found here; we dive much deeper into the legal side of things!) I had a few more thoughts after that conversation.
It’s still very early on, but let’s acknowledge off the bat that some of the allegations are likely true by the letter of the law. There’s clear evidence the employee, one Ikechukwu Azotam, forwarded scouting reports, video clips, and more from his Knicks email account to his personal account and other Raptors employees. That is, at the very least, almost certainly against his terms of employment. But I’m not a lawyer, and without seeing the evidence, it’s impossible to say for sure if these emails consisted of “trade secrets.” (For what it’s worth, Kasdan notes that the bar for proving something is a “trade secret” is traditionally low, but it’s never really been applied to this specific situation before.)
In an initial reading of the lawsuit, it doesn’t seem there’s much in there that would constitute true competitive-advantage data. Synergy is a widely-used system that every NBA team has access to; it sounds as though Azotam might’ve just been bringing over boilerplate stuff to save himself some time on the new job. Annoying for the Knicks, but hardly damaging.
But there’s so much more to this lawsuit. First, Partnow was adamant that this is very, very commonplace (if more clumsily done than usual). Other online rumblings from former NBA team employees have concurred. So why would the Knicks A) want to go at the Raptors, and B) want to go through court instead of NBA channels?
Did the Knicks want to personally attack new Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic, who is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit? The answer is clear. According to the lawsuit:
To assist this novice coach in doing his job, Defendant Rajaković and the other Raptors Defendants conspired to use Azotam’s position as a current Knicks insider to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff.”
“As a first-time NBA coach, Defendant Rajaković would be expected to bring his own organizational structure and coaching methods. Apparently, given his non-traditional path to his head coaching job, Defendant Rajaković did not have his own, so he chose to exploit the Knicks’ methods.
That part literally made me laugh out loud.
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