Knicks suing Raptors, former employee for taking proprietary information with him to Toronto

By Fred Katz, Mike Vorkunov and Eric Koreen

The New York Knicks are suing the Toronto Raptors as well as their parent company, Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, alleging that a former Knicks employee who joined the Raptors this summer stole proprietary information and took it with him to his new job.

“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from MSG on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention,” MLSE said in a statement. “MLSE responded promptly, making clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to fully cooperate. MLSE has not been advised that a lawsuit was being filed or has been filed following its correspondence with MSG. The company strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged. MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”

The lawsuit, which the Knicks filed Monday, names 14 defendants: the Raptors, as well as MLSE; new Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković; Raptors player development coach Noah Lewis; 10 unnamed John Does; and the aforementioned former Knicks employee, Ikechukwu Azotam, who the lawsuit says took a job with Toronto this month. The Knicks allege that not only did Rajaković know about what was occurring but that he “recruited and used” the then-Knicks employee to help him build out the operations for his coaching staff.

The Raptors named Rajaković — a former assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies — head coach on June 13. He replaced Nick Nurse, who coached the Raptors for five seasons.

The lawsuit alleges Azotam, the Knicks’ former director of video, analytics, and player development, stole proprietary information — including “scouting reports, play frequency reports, a prep book, and a link to third-party licensed software” — and used it in an effort to help Rajaković acclimate to his first head coaching job. The suit says that in July, around the time Azotam told the Knicks he had a job offer from Toronto, he started to forward information from his Knicks email account to his personal Gmail account.

“To assist this novice coach in doing his job, Defendant Rajaković and the other Raptors Defendants 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 reads, according to legal filings The Athletic uncovered Monday.

The suit alleges that the Raptors defendants directed Azotam to “misuse” his access to the Knicks’ Synergy Sports account to create and transfer more than 3,000 files with film and data, including 3,358 video files. The Knicks discovered his transfer on Aug. 15 and say that those files were accessed more than 2,000 times by the defendants.

The 10 John Does are “currently unknown Toronto Raptors employees who improperly obtained Knicks proprietary information, and at all relevant times were employed by the Raptors in Toronto, Ontario, in Canada,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit also names Lewis, an assistant video coordinator and player development coach with the Raptors, as a defendant. In 2021, Lewis was a recipient of the Wayne & Theresa Embry Fellowship, the club’s program that allows Canadians to work for the Raptors in a variety of departments over the course of a season. He was an assistant coach for the Raptors 905 last year. The suit alleges Lewis, along with Rajaković, received five separate zip files from Azotam on Aug. 5.

The lawsuit says that Azotam told the Knicks he had an offer from the Raptors on or around July 25, 2023, and adds that his final day with the organization was Aug. 14.

The Raptors have not announced Azotam’s hiring, although the Raptors do not publicize every coaching/management addition that they make.

“As a first time NBA head coach, Defendant Rajaković would be expected to bring his own organizational structure and coaching method. Apparently, given his non-traditional path to his head coaching job, Defendant Rajaković did not have his own, so he chose to exploit the Knicks’ methods,” the lawsuit claims.

Rajaković is the second person born outside of North America to be named an NBA head coach. He began coaching in what is now called the G League in 2012, joined the Thunder’s coaching staff in July 2014 and has remained an NBA assistant until the Raptors hired him this summer.

The lawsuit also alleges that “Defendant Rajaković and the other Raptor Defendants recruited and used Azotam to serve as a mole within the Knicks organization to convey information that would assist the Raptors Defendants in trying to manage their team.”

The suit says on Aug. 11, Azotam sent two emails from his Knicks email account to his Raptors account with what they say is proprietary and confidential information. In one email, which had a subject line of FW: INDIANA GAME 82, he had an advanced scouting report of the Pacers, diagrams of more than 250 Pacers plays and spreadsheet of play frequency, and a spreadsheet with Pacers play calls for a game, the suit claims. It alleges he sent another email with similar information about the Denver Nuggets.

“Azotam also emailed his personal email address several documents containing additional proprietary Knicks information,” the lawsuit reads.”He provided this material to the Raptors Defendants at their request, including: a. the prep book for the 2022-23 season includes confidential information related to the Knicks’ process for planning its season, including the template and organizational structure that the Knicks used to plan and assign scouting responsibilities.”

The suit alleges that Azotam illegally shared 3,358 video files with the Raptors.

The Knicks allege that the Raptors defendants violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, that all defendants violated the Defend Trade Secrets Act and that they misappropriated trade secrets under NY common law, and that Azotam breached his contract, and that the Raptors defendants committed tortious interference with Azotam who was under contract. There are other counts and eight in all.

A written statement that an MSG Sports spokesperson provided to The Athletic states that “we were left no choice but to take this action.”

(Photo: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

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