On college basketball’s biggest weekend, California lawyer Michael Avenatti resumed his allegations against Nike. In a series of tweets, Avanatti claimed a Nike executive offered bribes to steer high school players to schools affiliated with the brand, including Duke’s Zion Williamson.
Avenatti tweeted Friday that Nike executive Carlton DeBose bribed Williamson and more than 100 other high school players to attend Nike schools.
Previous allegations included former Arizona star Deandre Ayton and Oregon freshman Bol Bol. In his latest social media flurry, Avenatti attests that Williamson’s mother, Sharonda Sampson, received money from Nike during her son’s recruitment. Avenatti shared a 41-page document on social media but it did not contain any references to Williamson.
Avenatti tweeted: “Can you please ask Zion Williamson’s mother – Sharonda Sampson – whether she was paid by @nike for bogus “consulting services” in 2016-17 as part of a Nike bribe to get Zion to go to Duke? Thx.”
During the NCAA Tournament, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had denied comment on Avenatti’s previous allegations. Nike issued a statement Saturday to Yahoo Sports in which it says Avenatti should share his information with the proper authorities.
Duke athletic director Kevin White issued a statement Saturday to the university’s student newspaper, The Chronicle. “We are aware of the allegation and, as we would with any compliance matter, are looking into it. Duke is fully committed to compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations,” White wrote. “Every student athlete at Duke is reviewed to ensure their eligibility. With regard to men’s basketball: all recruits and their families are thoroughly vetted by Duke in collaboration with the NCAA through the Eligibility Center’s amateurism certification process.”
Williamson’s recruitment also came up during the FBI investigation in college basketball corruption case involving Adidas officials and includes Kansas.
During a federal trial last year, a defense attorney representing former Adidas employee Merl Code discussed a wiretapped phone call between Code and Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend.
The attorney told the judge in the case about the call, which concerns Williamson’s family: “In this call between Mr. Code and Mr. Townsend, Mr. Townsend says ... ‘Hey, but between me and you, you know, he asked about some stuff. You know? And I said, well, we’ll talk about that you decide.’
“And then Mr. Code says: ‘I know what he’s asking for.’ ... ‘He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational prospective. He’s asking for money in the pocket. And he’s asking for housing for him and the family.’
“And they go on to talk. And Mr. Townsend says: ‘so, I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.’”
Williamson committed to Duke in January 2018 and finished his freshman season as the Associated Press and U.S. Basketball Writers college basketball player of the year. He is expected to enter the NBA Draft and is projected to be chosen No. 1 overall.
Avenatti was arrested last month in New York, and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York charged him with attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to make damaging charges against the company.