HBO hammered another nail into Kevin Johnson’s political coffin last night. The network’s news magazine, Real Sports, detailed years of sexual abuse allegations made against the famously ambitious former NBA superstar turned scandal-plagued lame-duck mayor of Sacramento.
While the program did not break new ground, it did feature several accusers and witnesses speaking out against Johnson for the first time. The emotion and clarity of what they had to say gave new life to voices previously heard only in records of investigations into Johnson’s conduct.
The 23-minute segment opened with Mandi Koba recounting being groomed by Johnson for molestation. Koba met Johnson in Phoenix in 1995, when she was 15 years old and fatherless, and he was the star point guard for the local NBA franchise and a pious community leader. HBO showed devastating footage of a 1996 interview between Koba and a Phoenix police detective in which she detailed one of the alleged incidents in which she was sexually abused by Johnson. Deadspin’s publication of a story on Koba in which she spoke out for the first time and of video of that police interview led ESPN to cancel its scheduled October broadcast of Down in the Valley—a sloppy kiss of a documentary that fawned over Johnson for funneling hundreds of millions of tax dollars to the Sacramento Kings to keep the team from leaving town—and preceded Johnson’s announcement that he would not run for a third term as mayor of his hometown.
HBO’s producers also got Xian Thao and Amanda Thomas, two former students of St. HOPE, Johnson’s charter school in Sacramento, and volunteers for his youth groups, to come forward for the first time to the media. The high school friends told of being groped by their supposed mentor nearly a decade ago as 18 year olds. Thomas said Johnson’s standing in the community kept them from speaking out as teens about the alleged abuse from the local hero.
“We were so terrified of disappointing Mr. Johnson,” Thomas said, “that we were just little lambs.”
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Kim Curry-Evans, who resigned from a job working for Johnson in 2009, also blasted Johnson. At the time of her resignation, Curry-Evans cited the mayor’s behavior but made no specific allegations against him. Curry-Evans, whose daughter is an alum of St. HOPE, told Real Sports that she quit after learning of a situation that “fit the pattern of sexual misconduct” of previous allegations against Johnson. That knowledge left her “devastated, shattered into a million bits.”
HBO said it would not disclose details of that particular incident out of concerns for the privacy of the alleged victim.
The renewed focus on molestation accusations leveled against him comes as Johnson awaits news on whether he will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. That announcement is scheduled for early April. Johnson refused to talk to HBO. While viewers everywhere were mulling his alleged dark side, Johnson tweeted about meeting officials from a pharmaceutical company, Anpac:
Real Sports showed Johnson blaming the years of allegations on political enemies. “Politics is a game that throws out dirty things along the way, and you gotta take hits on the chin,” he said. “We’ll do that.” (The clip of Johnson’s comment came from a press conference Johnson held after ESPN canceled Down in the Valley.)
In response, Curry-Evans railed against Johnson’s continued attempts to portray his accusers as politically motivated, and gave the HBO piece its strongest scene.
“Shame on you, Kevin,” Curry-Evans said. “This is not a fucking fist on the chin. This is you not owning up to who you really are and being honest with yourself and with those young ladies. So shame on you.”
The shamelessness of Johnson and those around him continued after the HBO telecast. Steven Maviglio, his former campaign manager, went on KTXL-TV, the Sacramento Fox affiliate, and insinuated that Mandi Koba was motivated by greed to come forward with accusations against Johnson.
“We’re not sure if she was paid for this. Deadspin sorta waffled when they were asked about this,” Maviglio said.
Koba was not paid by Deadspin, which has to this date not paid anybody for any of the interviews, videos, audio tapes or documents used in our reporting on Kevin Johnson.
The only payment I’m aware of to Koba came from Johnson himself, and that was made to stop her from talking. In 1997, Johnson and his lawyers wrote up a contract that paid the then-teenage Koba, her family, lawyers, and doctors a total of $230,600. In exchange for that money, she was told not to talk about what happened between her and Johnson, except to “a priest, a therapist, or a lawyer.”