Is the NBA truly a copycat league? And if so, what would the Toronto Raptors want with New York Knicks intel?
In a lawsuit against the fellow Atlantic Division squad, its head coach Darko Rajaković, other personnel, and the Raptors’ parent company Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment, the Knicks allege that Ikechukwu Azotam, who worked for them from 2020 until this year, sent 3,358 video files to his new employer, which violated a confidentiality clause in his contract.
The files contained play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files, opposition research, and more. Reportedly, Azotam — who served as assistant video coordinator, then as a director of video/analytics/player development assistant — began passing on the info while Torton began recruiting him this summer.
Furthermore, New York alleges that the Raptors used the stolen proprietary information to help Toronto organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff they hired to replace Nick Nurse and his hierarchy. The list of defendants in Toronto’s suit includes new head coach Darko Rajaković, their player development coach, and 10 other “unknown” Raptors employees.
For Azotam, this is possibly a career-ending accusation. It’s going to be awfully difficult to rise through the NBA ranks with allegations of corporate espionage on his public record. For anyone else within the Raptors organization, stealing proprietary information is tantamount to one of the highest offenses one can commit aside from gambling. In July 2023, Azotam informed the Knicks that the Raptors had offered him a position he planned to take. According to the lawsuit, “Azotam began secretly forwarding proprietary information from his Knicks email account to his personal Gmail account, which he then shared with the Raptors Defendants.”
The Toronto Raptors will have an opportunity to defend themselves in court and have 21 days to file a response. But if the net casts wide enough, this may be worthy of a -Gate moniker.
While Azotam hasn’t commented at the time of publication, the Raptors and MLSE have released a statement.
“The company strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged,” part of it reads.
On the plus side, these revelations provide the Knicks with much-needed clout. Instead of being perceived as a bungling organization that can’t tie its own shoes, the Scott Perry-era Knicks are in the midst of a gold rush and the Raptors allegedly want a piece. The irony is that the Raptors are one of the NBA’s most stable franchises, helmed by a former Executive of the Year and renowned team architect Masai Ujiri. Stealing propriety information from the Knicks in an attempt to kneecap what has historically been one of the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchises feels backward. In the annals of corporate espionage, this would be akin to James Cameron stealing from Tommy Wiseau. (Editor’s note: Oh hai, Mark.)
Put simply, the last two decades have been a boondoggle. Suddenly James Dolan is on a hot streak.
For starters, Vegas’ $2.3 billion MSG Sphere is the most buzzed-about structure on The Strip and beyond. Imitations will begin popping up in no time. For decades, the New York Knicks have been a laughingstock, hoisted by their own petards and outlandish front-office decisions. At one time, the Dolan-verse pinned their dreams on Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, and Isiah Thomas. They also staked its championship aspirations on half-baked fantasies of landing LeBron James or starting over with one-dimensional stars Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Since they put their get-a-’chip schemes to rest, they’ve functioned like an above-average organization.
The Knicks ignored popular sentiment to offer Jalen Brunson a made-man contract. Last offseason, he was the first point guard signed to a $100 million contract with a new team to never make an All-Star game. Today, he’s manning the point for Team USA with the gravitas of a modern-day Chauncey Billups. Given the way contracts are exploding, it was foolhardy to view that $100 million marker as the significant Rubicon it used to be.
Is it enough for the Knicks to be catapulted into contention? No. Not yet at least, but they have the assets to do so and apparently a front office that can be entrusted with that talent.
Having R.J. Barrett and Jalen Brunson ball out for North America in the FIBA Basketball World Cup is a good look. The NBA is a copycat league, but it’s not supposed to work like this. The NBA landscape can’t miss that the Knicks are back and the Raptors trying to copy their analytics reports is the street cred they needed.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex