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Questions Raised About Nike & Zion Williamson’s Mother

Questions yes, but there are questions about the questioner too.

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Virginia Tech v Duke
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On Friday, Michael Avenatti tweeted this out: .@DukeMBB - About this denial by Coach K the other day relating to payments by Nike...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.

There’s a lot we don’t know so we’re going to focus on what we do know.

Let’s start with Avenatti. He rose to prominence as Stormy Daniels’ attorney. Recently he was arrested for attempting to extort Nike when he claimed to have damaging information about possible payoffs from Nike, or at least Nike representatives, to either players or families or representatives of said players.

In late March,he demanded a large sum from Nike - over $20 million - to make the charges go away and said he could and would significantly damage the company’s market cap if they didn’t pay up.

Nike contacted the authorities and before Avenatti could hold a planned press conference, he was arrested in New York and charged with extortion. The charges could send him to prison for decades.

Somewhat overshadowed was his simultaneous legal problems in California. This is from the LA Times:

“Even as events in Manhattan were unfolding, Avenatti was accused in Santa Ana of embezzling from a client’s $1.6-million legal settlement to cover personal expenses and buttress his troubled coffee business, a sideline that operated Tully’s outlets in California and Washington state.

“Avenatti also stands accused of bank fraud in the California case. Prosecutors say he gave a Mississippi bank fictitious personal tax returns to secure more than $4 million in business loans. The high-profile attorney has been in financial peril for some time. A former law partner won a $4.85-million personal judgment against him last year after Avenatti’s firm failed to pay a debt.”

Back to his first claim to fame.

As you may remember, Daniels is an adult actress who signed an NDA to not discuss an affair she may have had with President Donald Trump (we assume an NDA is a de facto admission).

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, hired Avenatti to handle her case. She appears to now regret it.

From the Daily Beast:

“For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests. Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter.

“He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said. I’m deeply grateful to my supporters and they deserve to know their money is being spent responsibly. I don’t want to hurt Michael, but it’s time to set the record straight. The truth has always been my greatest ally.”

Clifford was forced to pay Trump’s legal expenses when the case was dismissed.

You can do a search on Avenatti and ethics or Avenatti sued and reach your own conclusions. Does it mean that his accusations here are suspect as well?

That we can’t say. But it’s reasonable to say: consider the source. At a minimum he’s cutting corners. At worst, he faces significant time in prison and bankruptcy from lawsuits and judgments.

There’s also this.

So if the picture painted in these articles is of a guy who is in clear and serious legal trouble and who is also in deep financial trouble. Does this explain his “shakedown” of Nike, as U.S. attorney Geoffrey S. Berman characterized it?

Well it might. It’s entirely possible that he thought he could scam Nike and get out from under his looming financial crisis.

The Oregonian looked into his allegations about Bol Bol and found that there was money that changed hands and went to multiple people but his allegation that it came from Nike can’t currently be proved.

We also know this. Earlier this year we had a conversation with a person from Duke and the discussion veered to the Adidas scandal and the FBI investigation. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that Duke realized the need to be vigilant and aware of people who might want to get to some of Duke’s players.

And we also know this. You know how every so often people get impatient because the NCAA hasn’t cleared this player or that player to compete yet?

Well there’s a reason. The NCAA asks for records and account information to verify eligibility and when there is reluctance or footdragging, the athlete is the one who pays the price.

When you look at Duke’s class this year, you can be sure that it received intense scrutiny from both the athletic department and the NCAA.

Everything was carefully and thoroughly vetted for all five freshmen.

We can also say this with total confidence.

Duke’s program is run like a precision machine. Every aspect is carefully considered, monitored, and when there’s a problem, it’s fixed. Little if anything is left to chance. It’s as highly and carefully organized as anything on campus. Compliance is taken very seriously and the staff is proactive and works hard to make sure that Duke is doing everything the right way.

As we said, very little is left to chance.

So does all of this mean that Avenatti is simply full of it?

That’s where our knowledge runs out. We can neither prove nor disprove his assertions.

We can only pass on what we know.

There is one more thing worth mentioning here: we’ve argued for at least a decade now that the level of money flowing through all levels of basketball makes the old idea of amateurism, purely on a practical level, impossible.

You cannot reasonably have everyone except the players making a lot of money and expect that to work. That’s made even tougher since so many of the young players come from modest or impoverished backgrounds. They’re not stupid. They see the wealth and the impact it’s having on people’s lives. Excepting them to ignore it is ludicrous if not immoral.

To be clear, we’re not referring to Williamson’s family here. We’re just restating what we’ve been saying for a good long time.

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