The New York Knicks on Monday sued the Toronto Raptors, their new head coach and a former Knicks scouting staffer. The defendants have conspired to steal thousands of videos and other scouting secrets over the past few weeks.
The lawsuit in Manhattan federal court seeks an unspecified amount of damages and a ban on further disclosure of the Knicks' trade secrets. The lawsuit alleged that secrets, including scouting and game frequency reports, along with a prep book and a link to valuable software, were downloaded thousands of times by Raptors employees.
“This material consists of classified, proprietary information that is critical to the Knicks' efforts to maintain a competitive advantage over their rivals, including the Raptors,” the lawsuit states.
The Knicks said the theft happened in recent weeks after the Raptors hired and recruited “a mole” within the Knicks organization. He was identified in the lawsuit as Ikechukwu Azotam, who had directed the planning, organization and distribution of all video scouting duties for the Knicks coaching staff since August 2021.
They blamed Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic, who was hired in June, along with player development coach Noah Lewis, the Raptors' parent company – Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Limited – and ten unidentified Raptors employees, saying they were receiving confidential information and sometimes Azotam abuse his access to Knicks information.
In a statement Monday, the Raptors and their parent company said they “strengthly deny any involvement in the alleged matters.”
MLSE will conduct an internal investigation and will cooperate fully
According to the statement, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the Raptors were informed of the allegations by the Knicks' owner on Thursday, but have not yet been served with a complaint.
“MLSE responded promptly and made clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to cooperate fully,” the statement said. “MLSE and the Toronto Raptors reserve the right to comment further until this matter is resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”
An email address listed in the Raptors' lawsuit against Azotam was not accepting emails late Monday.
In a statement, Madison Square Garden Sports said it was suing after Azotam took thousands of company files with him to his new position with the Raptors, including a prep book for the 2022-2023 season.
“Given the clear breach of our employment contract, criminal and civil laws, we had no choice but to take this action,” it said.
Alleged misappropriation of confidential Knicks data
Azotam was hired as an assistant video coordinator in October 2020 and later promoted to director of video analytics/player development assistant, the lawsuit says.
In June, the Raptors began recruiting azotam to help their new head coach assemble a new coaching and video operations team, the lawsuit alleges.
Azotam notified the Knicks in late July that he was leaving. His last day was August 14, and the Knicks' security team identified the theft last Tuesday, the lawsuit says.
In early August, Azotam began illegally converting and misusing the Knicks' confidential and proprietary data, the lawsuit alleges. On Aug. 11, he sent two emails from his Knicks email address to his new Raptors email address that contained “proprietary information containing strictly confidential material,” the lawsuit states.
The second email contained an expanded Denver Nuggets scouting report with information similar to the Indiana Pacers' analysis, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Azotam also shared a game frequency report for the Dallas Mavericks and other information that the Knicks used to prepare for the game against the Mavericks.
The lawsuit alleges that Raptors employees directed Azotam to abuse its access to a Synergy Sports Knicks subscription to create and transmit over 3,000 files consisting of movie information and data, including 3,358 video files, for their use .
The Raptors' employees accessed the stolen files more than 2,000 times, the lawsuit alleges.
“The Knicks have been harmed by this theft and will continue to be harmed unless this wrongdoing is ordered by this court,” the lawsuit reads.