Kelli Tennant is a former sports reporter accusing newly hired Sacramento Kings basketball coach Luke Walton of sexual assault in a lawsuit filed April 22 in Los Angeles. Tennant, now a wellness coach and podcaster, says Walton forced himself on her in a Santa Monica hotel room during a business meeting while he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, TMZ reports.
Per court documents obtained by TMZ Sports, the former Spectrum Sportsnet reporter is saying that Walton went up to her room to help consult with a book she was working on. According to TMZ, the pair had an ongoing business relationship and she was hoping he would write a foreword for the book. Walton was the Los Angeles Lakers coach from 2016 until earlier this month, when he parted ways with the team and was hired by the Kings. He was an assistant with the Warriors from 2014 to 2016. Walton is a former NBA player for the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers and the son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton.
Tennant says in the lawsuit that Walton groped her breasts and groin area and “laughed at her pleas to stop,” according to court documents. She says she, “was afraid she was about to be raped.” Tennant said in the lawsuit that Walton was a trusted “mentor” and she knew him to be a “married man with children whose wife she was acquainted with,” according to the lawsuit.
Walton has not commented about the accusations, but his attorney, Mark Baute, told NBC News the lawsuit is “baseless.” Baute added, “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
Tennant and her attorney, Garo Mardirossian, have also not commented. Mardirossian declined to tell the Los Angeles Times whether Tennant reported the incident to police. The court filing notes that while Tennant hadn’t made the accusations public prior to filing the lawsuit, she said she did tell others about the alleged assault, the Times reports.
On June 5, Tennant amended her suit to add negligence to the charges. According to the Sacramento Bee, this points to the possibility that the NBA, Lakers and Warriors being named co-defendants.
The amended complaint alleges that “all defendants” negligently breached a “duty of due care,” exposing Tennant to personal, physical and emotional damages.
The Bee reached out to Michael Robbins, a Los Angeles-based attorney, who explained why the NBA, Warriors and Lakers could potentially be named as defendants.
“Attorneys are generally looking for deep pockets,” Robbins said. “They want to go after people who have the most money, and that’s probably not Luke Walton. So it may be that, at some point, they’re going to bring the NBA and the teams into this, because the NBA and the teams have more money, but bringing this cause of action doesn’t necessarily mean she’s adding defendants.”
The Kings said in a statement after the initial lawsuit, “We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”
“We’re trying to find out the truth,” Kings general manager Vlade Divc said Wednesday. “The (investigator) was contacted by the Kings and the NBA. It’s independent. So until they finish, there is nothing to say there.”
The Lakers issued a statement at the time saying, “This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”
The Warriors issued a statement at the time saying, “We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”
Here’s what you need to know about the accusations and Kelli Tennant:
1. Kelli Tennant Accuses Walton of Pinning Her to the Bed
The lawsuit does not state exactly when the alleged assault took place. Kelli Tennant says in the lawsuit that the assault occurred at the Casa Del Mar Hotel. Tennant said Luke Walton was working for the Golden State Warriors at the time, placing the date of the alleged assault between 2014 and 2016. She also said she went to his hotel room to drop off a book she had published. Tennant published her book in 2014. In the court documents from the TMZ report, Tennant’s accuses Walton pinning her to the bed by “placing his hips and legs over her body.”
In the docs, Tennant claims Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. She claims she screamed for him to stop and tried to free herself, but he held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.
She says he eventually relented and let her get up from the bed, but as she was walking towards the door to leave he grabbed her from behind and again forced his body up against hers.
Tennant claims when Walton finally released his grasp, she opened the door and left, but could hear him say,
‘Good to see you.’
Walton is currently married to Bre Ladd, a former volleyball player at the University of Arizona. He also attended Arizona, and played basketball for the Wildcats, and the pair have been married since 2013.
Tennant’s attorney wrote in court documents, “Plaintiff Kelli Tennant — a former rising star sports broadcaster — is a woman who has had to tolerate, endure and suffer in silence from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Defendant Walton. But no longer. By this lawsuit, Ms. Tennant speaks up and says #timesup to the culture of abuse of women in the NBA that is demonstrated by the conduct of Defendant Luke Walton.”
UPDATE (4/23/19): She held a press conference on Tuesday, saying that “I thought he was going to rape me.”
2. Tennant, a Coach Volleyball Player at USC, Previously Wrote a Book With Walton on Athletes’ Transition From Sports
Tennant was a volleyball player at USC before her career in media. Her bio states that she transitioned away from sports after suffering from fibromyalgia.
Kelli Tennant played two seasons at USC (2005-06)…Tennant was sidelined for the entire season after being diagnosed with having fibromyalgia (a rare, non-life threatening human disorder)…she retired from collegiate volleyball at the conclusion of the season…despite the injury, she served as one of the team’s co-captains.
She co-authored a book with Walton in 2014 titled “The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports.” The Google Books description states:
The Transition is a student-athlete’s guide to life after sports. As athletes make the move from sports into the real world, they often experience feelings of loss, depression, anxiety and an inability to find their next passion. This book lays out the different emotions that will be brought forth through the tales of various famous, highly successful athletes that have all had similar stories. By the end of this book, readers will not only feel a sense of community, but will have an understanding of how to transition successfully by learning how to find mentors, internships, careers and new identities.
According to The Blast, Tennant said in the lawsuit that Walton was a “trusted mentor and colleague.” Tennant claims in the lawsuit that after the alleged Santa Monica hotel incident, Walton continued to verbally and physically harass her, according to The Blast, “causing more damage and re-igniting the painful wounds of his sexual assault of her.”
Tennant said during contacts with Walton, he “made implied threats of additional physical assaults,” and would hug and kiss her. At a charitable organization’s event, Tennant says Walton, “uttered vulgar, guttural sounds at her in a lewd manner and remarked, ‘Mmmm … you’re killing me in that dress!'” according to the lawsuit. She claimed she felt like a “piece of meat,” and said Walton harassed her despite, a “clear lack of consent or interest.”
Tennant is seeking unspecified damages, and claims to have suffered, injuries to her “mind and body,” including, “shock and injury” to her “nervous system and person,” according to the lawsuit documents obtained by The Blast and TMZ.
3. Tennant Talks Openly About Her Life-Long Battle With Fibromyalgia
According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease that Tennant suffers from is chronic, but non-life threatening.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.
Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.
Tennant talked on the Align podcast about her journey dealing with the condition, including recovering from being bed-ridden for 5 months. Tennant runs her own Wellness podcast called Ceremony Wellness.
The podcast has a goal of, “advocating for women to help them heal, grow and elevate their lives,” according to her website.
“I’ve been on this spiritual path for the last year, 18 months of trying to get to the root of my chronic illness and disease,” she said, and continued to mention how different practices she uses to deal with the emotional trauma and difficulty of her life.
Her Instagram page also demonstrates her commitment to Ayuahasca yoga practice.
4. She Worked for Spectrum Sportsnet, as Well as Several Other Sports Media Networks
After being diagnosed with her condition, she started her career in television by working as the school on-camera interviewer for volleyball games. Per her USC bio:
Served as an on-camera interviewer for TrojanTV All-Access and provided color analysis for USC men[apos]s volleyball matches during live video webcasts…she has worked for FOX in its sports and entertainment divisions and in the summer of 2008, she began working for the AVP.
She has also worked for ESPN, the PAC 12 Network, E! News and Fox Sports, and was the Lakers reporter for Spectrum Sportsnet and SportsNet LA. She also spent time covering the Dodgers, Sparks and Galaxy. Tennant stepped away from SportsNet to transition into a new career as a wellness coach and podcast host.
5. She Was Once Engaged to Former UCLA Offensive Linemen Nick Ekbatani, but Called it Off After He Severed His Leg in a Motorcycle Crash
According to My LA, Tennant was engaged to former UCLA offensive linemen Amir “Nick” Ekbatani. They became engaged in December 2013, a year and a half after he was involved in a Redondo Beach motorcycle crash. After several surgeries, he was forced to amputate his leg.
In a Nov. 2013 column by Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, the couple were happy and making it work through the adversity.
Tennant testified that she was uncomfortable with the weight of being Ekbatani’s caretaker, as well as his growing depression.
The former fiancee of a onetime UCLA offensive lineman who lost part of his left leg in a 2012 motorcycle accident testified Thursday that the pressures of being the man’s caretaker eventually led her to call off their wedding plans.
“It just became too much,” said Kelli Tennant, who was engaged to Amir “Nick” Ekbatani. “I’m trying to build my career at the same time I’m trying to keep this guy alive. I just couldn’t handle it myself anymore.”
Tennant, a 6-feet-2 inch former USC women’s volleyball player, said Ekbatani also sometimes talked in a depressed, even suicidal way, expressing such thoughts to her as, “I have no value, I have no worth.”
Ekbatani successfully sued Caltrans in 2017 for more than $27 million after his attorney argued that that the state transportation department failed in making the intersection where the crash occurred safe, The Daily Breeze reported. Ekbatani’s attorney in that lawsuit was Garo Mardirossian, who is now representing Tennant. She testified in support of her ex’s case during that civil trial
Tennant told the court, “As much as I loved and cared about him, the transition from girlfriend and fiancée to caretaker was difficult. I had to say no to more job opportunities than I would have liked. I couldn’t travel or do events like I wanted to.”
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