Ex-manager seeks discovery into Zion Williamson's parents' living arrangements while at Duke

Attorneys representing Zion Williamson's former marketing manager have asked a federal judge in North Carolina to deny the New Orleans Pelicans star's motion for partial judgment and allow them to conduct discovery into his parents' living arrangements and financial history before and while he played at Duke.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina on Tuesday, Gina Ford's attorneys argued that her company's marketing agreement with Williamson was valid, even though she wasn't a registered agent in the state and their contract didn't include a warning that was required by the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agents Act [UAAA] designed to protect amateur athletes from unscrupulous agents.

Williamson, who played one season at Duke before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, sued Ford and Prime Sports in June 2019 in an attempt to terminate his marketing agreement with her company.

The same month, Ford and Prime Sports Marketing sued Williamson, Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and two of its employees for $100 million in a Florida court, alleging that CAA interfered with Prime Sports' deal with Williamson and that he breached their five-year contract.

Ford's attorneys have argued that Williamson wasn't subject to the North Carolina agent law because he wasn't eligible to play at Duke under NCAA rules.

Last month, in a motion in the state court case, Ford's lawyers asked Williamson to admit that his mother, Sharonda Sampson Anderson, and stepfather, Lee Anderson, demanded and received gifts, money and other benefits from persons acting on behalf of Adidas and Nike and from people associated with Duke to influence him to sign with the Blue Devils and to wear Nike or Adidas products.

A Florida appeals court last week temporarily granted Williamson's attempt to block Ford's effort to have him answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils. Ford's attorneys had 10 days to respond to the ruling.

In the latest motion in federal court, Ford's attorneys argued that discovery is needed because "even if Duke was to have discovered that Plaintiff and/or a third party had engaged in NCAA prohibited conduct, Duke would have an incentive to withhold same from the NCAA, to continue to play Plaintiff despite knowing that he is ineligible and/or to submit false and/or misleading certification(s) about Plaintiff's eligibility."

The motion by Ford's attorneys included property records and real estate listings that they say show that after Williamson signed with Duke, his parents moved from a home in South Carolina with an advertised monthly rent of $895 to a home in Durham, North Carolina, with a listed monthly rent of $4,495. Ford's attorneys wrote that a Duke graduate owns the North Carolina home, which was valued at approximately $950,0000 at the time.

Ford's attorneys also asked the judge to allow them to examine whether three vehicles registered to Williamson's parents -- a 2018 Mercedes Benz G Wagon, 2016 GMC Yukon and 2015 Cadillac Escalade -- "impacted Plaintiff's eligibility to be/remain a 'Student-athlete.'"

The motion also includes a property deed for a $730,000 home that was purchased on May 28, 2019, by SSA Enterprises LLC, a South Carolina corporation registered by Williamson's mother in April 2019. Ford's attorneys claimed the home was purchased three days before CAA announced that it had signed an all-inclusive representation contract with Williamson.

"Based upon the Recorder of Deeds, the purchase of the foregoing house may have been a cash purchase as there is no mortgage recorded for the same," Ford's motion said. "Discovery should be allowed as to the foregoing purchase because at the time, Plaintiff was not yet drafted to the NBA."

In a statement to ESPN, Williamson's attorney, Jeffrey S. Klein, called Ford's and Prime Sports Marketing's latest filing a "shameful attempt to distract from their admitted violations of North Carolina law."

"As Duke University stated in 2019, they and the NCAA both investigated and confirmed Mr. Williamson's student-athlete eligibility," Klein wrote. "The defendants' baseless allegations are a continuation of the predatory acts the agent statute was designed to protect against. Mr. Williamson looks forward to his day in court in North Carolina and, until then, remains focused on the NBA season and proudly representing his family, fans, and the city of New Orleans."

Ford's attorneys indicated they want to depose Williamson's parents, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and others at the university.

"Testimony from Coach K is warranted regarding his statements about the NCAA 'pay to play' scandal as, when questioned about same and any alleged involvement by Duke, he stated the scandal was just a 'blip'/'minute,'" Ford's attorney's wrote in the motion. "Collegiate sports is indeed replete with corruption by universities/colleges knowingly violating NCAA eligibility rules and playing students who are ineligible/permanently ineligible based on their conduct/receiving prohibited benefits/compensation."

Ford's attorneys also wrote that, "upon information and belief based upon public news," Nike paid Williamson's mother, who previously worked as a middle school teacher, for alleged "consulting services"in and around 2016-17.

Ford's motion included several purported text messages between Nike EYBL executives Carlton DeBose, Jamal James and recruiting coordinator John Stovall, in which they "discuss alleged financial offerings made by Nike to Plaintiff," according to Ford's attorneys.

Most of the text messages were previously disclosed in evidence during attorney Michael Avenatti's federal criminal trial earlier this year. In February, a jury convicted Avenatti of attempting to extort as much as $25 million from Nike over threats that he would expose misdeeds in the apparel company's grassroots basketball division.

In one of the text messages on Feb. 12, 2017, Stovall wrote that he "... was willing to spend to cripple adidas."

Stovall previously served as a recruiting writer for ESPN.

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