Knicks, Raptors rift reaches new heights, Knicks demand $10 million in damages

Phoenix Suns v New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns v New York Knicks / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

In August, the New York Knicks filed a lawsuit against the Toronto Raptors and others, alleging a former Knicks employee stole proprietary information and provided it to the Raptors upon being hired.

The Raptors responded in October with a court filing over their own, seeking the case be dismissed, calling the suit "baseless," and asking for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to adjudicate the case.

Now, the Knicks are firing back.

The Knicks latest filing asks for $10 million

In their Monday, Nov. 20 court filing, the Knicks asked for $10 million in damages and have argued that Adam Silver be barred from arbitrating the dispute due to his relationship with Raptors' Governor Larry Tanenbaum and their belief in the limited powers the commissioner holds to award monetary damages over intellectual property theft.

The filing is the first to contain specific monetary damages, and details the depths of Silver's relationship with Tanenbaum. Per the Knicks' court filing:

"Among other things, Tanenbaum has been described as 'a close ally' of Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver himself described Tanenbaum as 'not just my boss as the chairman of the board of governors, but he's very much a role model in my life.' If Silver were to preside over the instant dispute, he would be arbitrating a case for his boss and ally."

While it is true the NBA Board of Governors, colloquially called owners, are Adam Silver's bosses, Tanebaum, Governor of the Raptors, along with James Dolan, Governor of the Knicks, the two parties in the suit, would both qualify as Silver's boss.

According to NBA bylaws, "The Commissioner shall have exclusive, full, complete, and final jurisdiction of any dispute involving two (2) or more Members of the Association." The league stated on Sept. 9, they would honor proceedings in the Southern District Court in Manhattan "for a determination of whether this dispute should be adjudicated in federal court or before [Silver]."

However, the Knicks believe the nature of the disputes prevents the Silver from handing down a fair punishment, as NBA bylaws contain no language over intellectual property theft, the largest penalty the commissioner can issue is $10 million, and the commissioner cannot award legal fees in disputes.

According to the filing, "the Knicks intend to prove at trial, damages exceed $10 million," and will seek to recoup legal fees, both of which are out of the purview of the NBA Commissioner -- Adam Silver.

Why the Knicks v. Raptors lawsuit started

The lawsuit started when Ikechukwu Azotam left the Knicks front office for the Raptors. The Knicks allege that Azotam sent the rival team thousands of confidential files when they began recruiting him in the summer of 2023. The files in question contained play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting, and opposition research, among others.

The Knicks also alleged that Azotam violated a confidentiality agreement when the Raptors "directed Azotam's actions and/or knowingly benefited from Azotam's wrongful acts," and, "conspired to use Azotam's position as a current Knicks insider to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff."

The lawsuit also lists first-year head coach Darko Rajaković, player development coach Noah Lewis, and 10 unnamed Raptor employees as defendants. Rajaković was hired as the Raptors' head coach on June 13, 2023, after being an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies since September 2020.

An MSG Sports Spokesperson responded to this article with the following statement: “We were the victim of a theft of proprietary and confidential files, which is a clear violation of criminal and civil law, and we remain confident that the Court will decide in our favor in this matter.”

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