After being drafted first overall in the NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans and signing a lucrative sneaker deal with Jordan Brand, Zion Williamson is set for the foreseeable future. But just a few years ago, Williamson was a fresh-faced high schooler from South Carolina who could've theoretically used some extra cash in his pocket at college. And according to a new federal filing made by embattled attorney Michael Avenatti, Nike was planning to do just that.
Reporting for the The Action Network, Darren Rovell highlights a specific portion of Avenatti's filing, one which is said to include text message correspondences between Nike EYBL manager Jamal James and EYBL director Carlton DeBose, as well as Nike recruiting coordinator John Stovall. The messages are said to show James asking the DeBose and Stovall if they'd be "willing to do…whatever may be needed" to sway Williamson and other EYBL recruits including Romeo Langford, who was drafted 14th overall by the Boston Celtics.
In response to James' inquiry, Stovall is alleged to have stated the Swoosh would pay over $35,000 to Williamson, along with $20,000 to Langford and an additional $15,000 to an unnamed minor. Despite the text messages, the filing does not include any evidence proving that the players received payouts. Of course, Williamson ultimately went on to suit up for Duke, a Nike school, while Langford played for Adidas-sponsored Indiana.
"Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion. Nike will continue its cooperation with the government's investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case," a Nike spokesperson told Sole Collector.
In March, Avenatti was arrested for a scheme in which he attempted to extort $20 million from Nike. "The truth is, for years Nike and its executives have been funneling payments to amateur players, high school players, and to their handlers and family members in an effort to get them to go to colleges that were Nike colleges and ultimately hopefully to the NBA so they can sign a shoe deal with Nike," Avenatti said in an interview with CBS following the arrest. He was later indicted on the charges in May.