Knicks sue Raptors, accusing foe of using ex-Knicks employee as 'mole' to steal scouting secrets
Toronto Raptors new head coach Darko Rajakovic and team president Masai Ujiri attend a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press
Published Monday, August 21, 2023 8:41PM EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Knicks sued the Toronto Raptors, their new head coach and a former Knicks scouting employee on Monday, saying the defendants conspired to steal thousands of videos and other scouting secrets over the past few weeks.
The lawsuit in Manhattan federal court seeks unspecified damages and a ban on the further spread of the Knicks' trade secrets. The lawsuit claimed that secrets including scouting and play frequency reports, along with a prep book and a link to valuable software, had they been downloaded thousands of times by Raptors employees.
“This material consists of secret, proprietary information critical to the Knicks’ efforts to maintain a competitive advantage over their rivals, including the Raptors," the lawsuit said.
The Knicks said the theft occurred in recent weeks after the Raptors hired and recruited “a mole” within the Knicks organization. The lawsuit identified him as Ikechukwu Azotam, who since August 2021 had directed the planning, organizing and distribution of all video scouting responsibilities for the Knicks coaching staff.
They blamed Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic, hired in June, along with player development coach Noah Lewis, the Raptors' parent company — Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Limited — and 10 unidentified Raptors employees, saying that they received propriety information and sometimes directed Azotam to misuse his access to Knicks information.
In a statement Monday, the Raptors and its parent company said it “strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged.”
According to the statement, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the Raptors were notified by the owner of the Knicks on Thursday about the allegations, but they had not yet been served a lawsuit.
“MLSE responded promptly, making clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to fully cooperate,” the statement said. "MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”
An email address listed in the lawsuit for Azotam with the Raptors was not accepting emails late Monday.
In a statement, Madison Square Garden Sports said it sued after Azotam took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position with the Raptors, including a prep book for the 2022-2023 season.
“Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action,” it added.
Hired in October 2020 as an assistant video coordinator, Azotam was later promoted to the position of director of video-analytics/player development assistant, the lawsuit said.
In June, the Raptors began recruiting Azotam to assist their novice head coach in assembling a new coaching and video operations staff, the lawsuit said.
Azotam notified the Knicks in late July that he was leaving. His final day was Aug. 14, and the Knicks' security team identified the theft last Tuesday, the lawsuit said.
In early August, Azotam began to illegally convert and misappropriate the Knicks’ confidential and proprietary data, the lawsuit said. On Aug. 11, he sent two emails from his Knicks email address to his new Raptors email address containing “proprietary information with highly confidential material,” the lawsuit said.
One email, the lawsuit said, included an advanced scouting report of the Indiana Pacers players with team and player statistics, key plays and play frequency data, specific player tendencies and scouting, strategy analyses and other information.
The second email contained an advanced scouting report of the Denver Nuggets with information similar to the analysis of the Indiana Pacers, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Azotam also passed along a play frequency report for the Dallas Mavericks and other information the Knicks had used to prepare to play the Mavericks.
The lawsuit said the Raptors' employees had directed Azotam to misuse his access to a Knicks subscription to Synergy Sports to create and transfer for their use over 3,000 files consisting of film information and data, including 3,358 video files.
The Raptors' employees had accessed the stolen files over 2,000 times, the lawsuit said.
“The Knicks have been harmed by this theft and will continue to be harmed if this misconduct is not enjoined by this Court,” the lawsuit said.