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Michael Avenatti Accuses Nike of Paying Money to Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2019

Attorney Michael Avenatti, who is representing an alleged R. Kelly victim, speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago after the R&B singer entered a not guilty plea to all 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, Monday morning, Feb. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Teresa Crawford/Associated Press

After getting charged with extortion and bank and wire fraud Monday, attorney Michael Avenatti took to Twitter on Tuesday to allege that Nike gave cash payments to the mother of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton and the handlers of Oregon freshman Bol Bol.

Avenatti also alleged that Nike is attempting to "cover up" corruption that precipitates from the "highest levels" of the company:

Michael Avenatti @MichaelAvenatti

Ask DeAndre Ayton and Nike about the cash payments to his mother and others. Nike’s attempt at diversion and cover-up will fail miserably once prosecutors realize they have been played by Nike and their lawyers at Boies. This reaches the highest levels of Nike.

Michael Avenatti @MichaelAvenatti

Bol Bol and his handlers also received large sums from Nike. The receipts are clear as day. A lot of people at Nike will have to account for their criminal conduct, starting with Carlton DeBose & moving higher up. The diversion charade they orchestrated against me will be exposed

Oregon head coach Dana Altman later spoke to reporters about the allegations from Avenatti, declining to comment.

“I don’t have any information on that," Altman said, per James Crepea of The Oregonian. "I have no reason to believe any of it’s accurate. Until I get more information I don’t have any comment.”

The 48-year-old Avenatti appeared in court Monday before getting released on $300,000 bond. It is alleged that he attempted to extort $20 million from Nike "by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met," per ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach.

Prior to his arrest Monday, Avenatti tweeted that he planned to hold a press conference Tuesday to go public with allegations against Nike:

Michael Avenatti @MichaelAvenatti

Tmrw at 11 am ET, we will be holding a press conference to disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.

According to ESPN, a complaint detailed the extortion accusations against Avenatti:

"Avenatti stated that he would refrain from holding the press conference and harming Nike only if Nike made a payment of $1.5 million to a client of Avenatti's in possession of information damaging to Nike ... and agreed to 'retain' Avenatti and [the co-conspirator] to conduct an 'internal investigation'—an investigation that Nike did not request, for which Avenatti and [the co-conspirator] demanded to be paid, at a minimum, between $15 [million] and $25 million."

The client Avenatti referenced is reportedly AAU coach Gary Franklin of the California Supreme in Los Angeles. Franklin coached several current NBA players, including Ayton.

Avenatti reportedly told Nike during a March 19 meeting that Franklin had evidence that "one or more Nike employees had authorized and funded payments to the families of top high school basketball players and/or their families and attempted to conceal those payments, similar to conduct involving a rival company [Adidas] that had recently been the subject of a criminal prosecution in this district."

In addition to the $1.5 million Avenatti reportedly demanded for Franklin, who was previously under contract with Nike, Avenatti was also said to have called for Nike to pay him and his "co-conspirator" (believed to be attorney Mark Geragos) millions of dollars in exchange for conducting an internal investigation.

On a phone call, Avenatti reportedly told a Nike representative that he and his "co-conspirator" would settle for a lump sum of $22.5 million in exchange for confidentiality.

Ayton played one season of college basketball at the University of Arizona before the Suns selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft.

Rather than signing a shoe deal with Nike, Ayton signed a four-year, multimillion-dollar contract with Puma prior to the draft.

As a rookie, Ayton is averaging 16.3 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Suns, making him one of the NBA's leading Rookie of the Year candidates.

As for Bol, his freshman season came to an early end after a foot injury. In his limited action, Bol averaged 21.0 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

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