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Documents Allege Nike Discussed Paying Zion Williamson, More While in HS

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IAugust 15, 2019

FILE - In this Thursday, June 15, 2017, file photo, the Nike logo adorns the Nike SoHo store, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York. Nike, Inc. reports earnings, Thursday, June 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Noble Jr., File)
Michael Noble Jr./Associated Press

A new motion filed in federal court Wednesday night by Michael Avenatti claims Nike paid high school athletes, according to Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel.

Avenatti's motion "alleges text[s] and emails by Nike executives prove widespread under the table payments" to encourage high school players to participate in Nike's Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL). Wetzel noted that these allegations "mirror what Adidas executives were found guilty of committing."

Wetzel provided further details on the motion, which also alleges Nike discussed a plan to pay Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford while they were in high school, though "there is nothing that suggests the deals were made or even presented" to them:

Dan Wetzel @DanWetzel

Another allegation is that EYBL Director Carlton DeBose told another Nike exec that he was "willing to bet that 38 of 40 teams in the EYBL had to pay a moderate to considerable ransom for families just to play in the EYBL.”

In October, a Manhattan federal jury found former Adidas executive Jim Gatto guilty of "wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the University of Louisville and wire fraud in connection with the University of Kansas," Rebecca Davis O'Brien of the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

Merl Code, who formerly worked as a consultant for Adidas, and former agent runner Christian Dawkins were also found guilty on two counts.

Williamson was selected as the top overall pick in this year's NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans. The 19-year-old signed a five-year shoe deal with Jordan Brand last month, which ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported is the richest annual shoe deal ever for a rookie.

Romeo Langford was selected with the Boston Celtics' 14th overall pick. The Indiana product does not yet have a shoe deal.

However, Langford's name was previously floated in connection with Adidas. Will Hobson of the Washington Post published a story in May 2018 outlining how "Adidas played a crucial role in giving its sponsored college teams—which include Indiana, Kansas and Louisville—a lift over the competition in Langford's recruitment."

Avenatti's motion filed Wednesday, according to Wetzel's expanded report alongside Pat Forde and Pete Thamel, names EYBL director Carlton DeBose and Nike recruiting coordinator John Stovall as part of the alleged discussion regarding Williamson and Langford.

Avenatti seemed to foreshadow the motion earlier Wednesday:

Michael Avenatti @MichaelAvenatti

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” Phaedrus #BuckleUp

The 48-year-old attorney has bad blood with the shoe company, as he faces federal charges for "allegedly attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike," Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann reported in March.