NBA News: Knicks Sue Raptors, Ex-Employee Who Funneled Team Secrets to Toronto

The latest on the legal battle between two teams

Jordan Pagkalinawan
Boundless & Ballin’

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Image via SBNation/Posting and Toasting

The New York Knicks don’t face the Toronto Raptors until Dec. 1, but their respective front offices could be facing off soon…in court.

On Monday afternoon, Knicks reporter Ian Begley tweeted that the team is suing the Raptors after a former employee, Ikechukwu Azotam, “illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position,” according to a statement released by MSG and obtained by Begley and SNY. The statement continued:

“These files include confidential information such as play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022–23 season, video scouting files and materials and more. Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action.”

Azotam previously served as the Knicks’ director of video, analytics, and player development, per ESPN. He was hired by the Raptors to join the staff of their new head coach, Darko Rajaković.

Additional reporting from The Athletic went into deeper detail about Azotam’s alleged actions, stating that the theft was “in an effort to help Rajaković acclimate to his first head coaching job.” Azotam was encouraged to transfer “3,000 files with film and data, including 3,358 video files” to the Raptors via his Knicks Synergy Sports account.

“The Knicks discovered his transfer on Aug. 15 and say that those files were accessed more than 2,000 times by the defendants.”

The Raptors, in turn, released their own statement. They are one of 14 defendants named in the suit, per The Athletic. Others include Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (the Raptors’ parent company), Rajakovic, members of his staff and ten John Does — unknown Raptors employees who “improperly obtained Knicks proprietary information.”

“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from MSG on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention. 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.”

Knicks-Raptors Lawsuit: More on the Charges

Though nothing else has been confirmed beyond the initial suit, ESPN reported that the Knicks are “seeking unspecified damages to be determined. ” The Knicks also claim the Raptors violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Defend Trade Secrets Act, in addition to charges of “tortious interference” by the Raptors and a breach of contract by Azotam, according to The Athletic.

The charges of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) include “access without authorization” and “exceeding authorized access.” The Defend Trade Secrets Act was made to take action against “trade secret misappropriation.” Finally, the charge of “tortious interference” is a claim for damages from a defendant who interfered with one’s contractual relationships.

Legal Battles in Sports: Trade Secrets and Contractual Interference

Legal cases involving the above infractions are common in other areas, mainly business-related. However, there have been numerous occasions — particularly in recent years — where sports has been at the center of some of these exact charges.

A notable example of trade secret theft came from Major League Baseball only a decade ago. In 2013, members of the St. Louis Cardinals were accused of hacking into the Houston Astros’ proprietary database, “Ground Control,” which housed player evaluations and discussions around trade talks. Two years later, the FBI subpoenaed the Cardinals with evidence that their employees were behind the breach. At the time, the New York Times reported: “The attack would represent the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team hacked the network of another team.” In 2017, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred punished the Cardinals with a $2 million fine, the loss of two draft picks and the official ban of Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa, who was sentenced to nearly four years in prison.

In the Journal of Sports Analytics, Matthew J. Frankel argued that the Cardinals-Astros incident exemplified a violation of the CFAA and noted that the Astros could have sued the Cardinals as a result. The Knicks, albeit in different circumstances, took that extra step.

The latest sports-related instance of tortious interference came in 2021, when then-Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden sued the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, claiming they were responsible for the email leak that led to his resignation. A review of the case by the business law firm Berman Fink Van Horn P.C. stated:

“The crux of the lawsuit is a claim of intentional interference with contractual relations. Specifically, the claim alleges that the defendants interfered with Gruden’s existing contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, and also seeks damages for losses of endorsement with Sketchers and the video game Madden NFL 2022.”

As of July, the case has been paused in Nevada’s state Supreme Court, but Gruden refuses to back down.

Though both incidents don’t mirror the Knicks’ charges against the Raptors, they still prove that such issues — compromising proprietary information and interfering with contractual agreements — have affected the big leagues before. And with this new lawsuit, they could do it again.

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Jordan Pagkalinawan
Boundless & Ballin’

Top Writer in NBA & Sports. Student journalist & podcaster. Socials manager at PerThirtySix, editor for Last Word on Hoops, & writer for YRMedia. Emerson ’26.