The New York Knicks have launched a lawsuit against a former team employee, Ikechukwu Azotam, accusing him of sharing confidential information he stole from the franchise with his new organization in the Toronto Raptors.
Ian Begley of SNY first broke the news on Monday, revealing the saga and publishing the official statements made by both the Knicks and Raptors in response.
In lawsuit filed today and obtained by SNY, Knicks allege that a former employee “illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position” with the Raptors. Suit alleges that material included play frequency reports, a prep book for ‘22-‘23 & video scouting.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) August 21, 2023
This legal action, filed in the US District Court, implicates Azotam, the Raptors organization, parent company Maple Leaf Sports, Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic, and player development coach Noah Lewis.
The Knicks claim that Azotam, previously their video coordinator, unlawfully transferred proprietary files, including “play frequency reports, a 2022-23 prep book, video scouting data, and other materials,” as told to the New York Post.
This information was sent by Azotam to his personal Gmail in an archival manner and subsequently shared with the Raptors once they hired him.
After discovering the leak, the Knicks organization through a statement made by an MSG Sports spokesperson, said that “Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action.”
According to the NYP, the Knicks “reached out to the Raptors and the NBA last week, to inform them of what the team found,” adding that ”no action was taken before the lawsuit was filed.” The Knicks, clearly on the losing end of this saga, decided to take action after waiting for that period of time and seeing no response come their way to try to peacefully defuse the situation.
The lawsuit alleges that Rajakovic and other members of the Raptors organization were complicit, using Azotam’s prior position at the Knicks to extract insider information from his former employer in order to kickstart the restructuring of the Raptors' coaching and staff organigram.
For context, Toronto fired Nick Nurse earlier this offseason and hired Darko Rajakovic on June 13 as the new head coach for the 2023 season.
According to a post published on The Athletic covering the story, the Knicks revealed that Azotam told the franchise he “had an offer” from the Raptors on July 25. The final day of Azotam under contract with New York was Aug. 14, although the Raptors have not made an official announcement of Azotam’s hiring. However, Toronto is known for not making such sort of public announcements regarding the hiring/firing of employees.
It’s been reported that Azotam had access to the Knicks’ Synergy Sports account and that he used it to “create and transfer over 3,000 files, including 3,358 video files.” Further statements reveal that Azotam’s shared files were accessed “more than 2,000 times” by the defendants, those being the members of the Toronto Raptors organization.
Additionally, the lawsuit names Noah Lewis, an assistant video coordinator and player development coach with the Raptors, alleging his involvement in receiving files from Azotam. According to the Knicks’ suit, “Lewis, along with Rajakovic, received five separate zip files from Azotam on Aug. 5,” around a week before his departure from his now-former organization.
There is a lot of very murky stuff involved in this whole story, and digging deeper you find very concrete details shared by the Knicks that leave no room for imagination when it comes to Azotam’s culpability here and the Raptors' being in full knowledge of the whole affair.
The suit includes verbiage in which it mentions Rajakovic and the other Raptors defendants “recruiting and using” Azotam to “serve as a mole” within the Knicks organization and to “convey information that would assist the Raptors defendants in trying to manage their team.”
It also mentions two emails sent by Azotam from his Knicks email account to his own Raptors account with “proprietary and confidential information.” One of the emails, per the suit, had “a subject line of FW: INDIANA GAME 82,” and it included “an advanced scouting report of the Pacers, diagrams of more than 250 Pacers plays and spreadsheet of play frequency, and a spreadsheet with Pacers play calls for a game.”
In response, MLSE and the Raptors expressed intent to conduct an internal investigation, denied their involvement in the stealing of the proprietary information, and released their own statement saying, partially, that will “fully cooperate,” and that “MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”
The NBA released the official schedule for the 2023/24 regular season on Thursday, Aug. 17. The New York Knicks will play back-to-back games, separated by 10 days between Dec. 2 and Dec. 10, against the Toronto Raptors.
New York will play the Raps on the road first before hosting them in the second leg of the aforementioned back-to-back meetings at MSG.