Former second-overall draft pick Ja Morant is the face of one of the best franchises in the NBA right now. The Memphis Grizzlies are 23-13, giving them the second-best record in the Western Conference, and the fourth-best record across the league. Amid all the celebration, though, comes a lawsuit against the team’s star player, accusing Morant of punching a 17-year-old during a pickup basketball game at Morant’s Tennessee home in July 2022.
The lawsuit was filed in September but the details of the suit and prior police case were made public today. According to the original TMZ report, a police investigation was conducted following the incident. Morant claimed self-defense. The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has told other outlets that police did not have “enough evidence to proceed with a case.”
Still, the lack of perceived criminal activity did not stop the unidentified, alleged victim 17-year-old from pursuing a civil suit in Shelby County. According to the teenager, the two got into a heated argument during a pick-up game at Morant’s home. At the verbal altercation’s peak, the teen says he “accidentally” hit Morant in the face with the basketball. According to the suit, Morant, still upset from the argument, walked up to the adolescent, put his chin on the kid’s shoulder, and asked a bystander whether or not he should “do it to him.” The teen claims Morant then struck him “with a closed fist,” and continued to hit him even after he had fallen to the ground. The teen also claims another bystander jumped in and started hitting him as well. The second alleged assailant is not identified directly, but Morant’s childhood friend Davonte Peck is listed in the lawsuit as a defendant.
According to the police report, Morant believes the ball was thrown at him intentionally, and therefore believes his actions afterward constituted self-defense. Morant also claims the teenager threatened the NBA star with arson after the fight was broken up, claiming that he’d “light [Morant’s] house up.”
If those statements are true, given the magnitude of those threats, it’s hard to be on the teenager’s side. At the same time, this is a minor we’re talking about. Morant admitted to punching a minor. There’s a six-year age difference between Morant and the teenager in question. Morally speaking, it doesn’t matter what was said beforehand, it’s hard to justify punching someone so young unless there is obvious evidence of intended physical harm prior to the ball being thrown. Legally, who knows how this suit will play out?
Adelman Law Firm, the group pursuing the suit against Morant on behalf of the teen and his family, released a statement to local media:
“Today, we learned of TMZ’s report about the lawsuit. In order to protect the privacy rights of our client as well as the integrity of the judicial system, we thought it best to make an official statement. This is a tragic situation involving an assault and battery by two adults on a minor during a basketball game at the home of Mr. Morant. Our client’s mental and physical well-being now and in his future are our priorities. We do not intend to make any further comments on this pending lawsuit and request that no further efforts be made to contact our client or his family.”
If all facts in the report are accurate, it’s hard to side with either party. On the one hand, Morant should absolutely know better. On the other, once you threaten someone’s life, all bets are off. That said, the threats seem to have only been made after Morant had already struck the teenager several times, meaning the punches may have been unwarranted.
The Grizzlies have won three straight games and 11 of their last 15, leaning heavily on Morant’s talent for much of this stretch. Morant earned his first All-Star bid in 2022 and was considered a serious MVP candidate at the start of the 2022-23 season. There is no word on how this civil suit will affect Morant’s future with the Grizzlies, if at all.