The New York Knicks on Monday sued the Toronto Raptors, members of the Raptors organization and a former Knicks employee whom they alleged "illegally procured and then disclosed proprietary information" to their Atlantic Division rival.
According to a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan and was obtained by ESPN, the Knicks state that Ikechukwu Azotam, who worked for the Knicks from 2020 to 2023, sent the Raptors thousands of confidential files -- including play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files, opposition research and more -- after the team began recruiting him to join their organization in summer 2023.
The Knicks accused Azotam -- who worked for the Knicks as an assistant video coordinator, then as a director of video/analytics/player development assistant -- of violating a confidentiality clause in an employment agreement and alleged that members of the Raptors "directed Azotam's actions and/or knowingly benefited from Azotam's wrongful acts."
Further, the Knicks alleged that the Raptors "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 states.
Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković, player development coach Noah Lewis and 10 "unknown" Raptors employees were also listed as defendants in the Knicks' lawsuit.
In a statement from an MSG Sports spokesperson, the Knicks said, in part, "Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action."
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Raptors, and the team responded to the lawsuit in a joint statement.
"MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from [Madison Square Garden] on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention," the statement reads. "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."
A call and a text message to a phone number listed for Azotam weren't immediately returned. An NBA spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Under federal law, the defendants have 21 days to file a response to the lawsuit.
In July 2023, Azotam informed the Knicks that the Raptors had offered him a position and that he planned to take it the following year. The Knicks alleged that, around that same time, "Azotam began secretly forwarding proprietary information from his Knicks email account to his personal Gmail account, which he then shared with the Raptors Defendants," according to the lawsuit.
The Knicks also alleged that members of the Raptors "directed Azotam to misuse his access to the Knicks' subscription to Synergy Sports to create and then transfer to the Raptors Defendants over 3,000 files consisting of film information and data."
The Knicks learned of the matter Aug. 15, 2023, one day after Azotam's final day as a Knicks employee, the lawsuit states. The Knicks alleged that Azotam "illegally shared 3,358 video files" and that "the stolen files were accessed over 2,000 times by the Raptors Defendants," the lawsuit states.
Among other things, the Knicks are seeking unspecified damages to be determined, that the Raptors refrain from using the confidential information obtained from the Knicks and that "Azotam can have no benefit as a result of his misappropriation and wrongful acts," according to the lawsuit.
News of the lawsuit was first reported by SportsNet New York.