Raptors fire back at New York Knicks as lawsuit saga continues

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Losers on the court to the New York Knicks on Monday night, the Toronto Raptors also took some legal shots at their division rival that night, according to reports.

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The Raptors and Knicks have been embroiled in a bizarre legal fight for months now over the alleged theft of confidential information when a former Knicks employee took a job with Toronto. It was Toronto’s turn to respond on Monday and that they did.

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The Raptors said in a court filing the Knicks are dragging out the case “as long as possible because this lawsuit attracts publicity and is directed at harming the Raptors, its head coach and members of his staff,” ESPN reported Monday night.

ESPN also said the filing strongly supported Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic and played down New York’s entire case, saying Rajakovic never even accessed any of the files in question. The Knicks had oddly framed Rajakovic in the lawsuit, labelling him a “novice” head coach and painting him as someone without a clue in his new post that needed the files.

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Clearly the Raptors took issue with that and more. They added in this filing they reserved the right to pursue legal action against the Knicks for defamatory public statements, including accusing them of committing “clear violation of criminal and civil law,” according to ESPN.

“The Knicks’ allegation of a sweeping conspiracy among Defendants to steal the Knicks’ proprietary trade secrets is false,” the Raptors wrote in the filing, per ESPN. “Coach Rajakovic — with nearly 15 years’ experience as a head coach overseas and in the NBA’s G-League and another decade as an assistant coach in the NBA — never needed, wanted, or saw a single piece of Knicks’ proprietary information. Nor did (Ike) Azotam ever share any proprietary Knicks information. The Knicks would have learned this if had they accepted the Raptors’ offer to cooperate in an investigation instead of immediately filing this suit.”

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The report also said the Raptors again asked the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to let Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, arbitrate the case and make a ruling. New York has strongly opposed this and even alleged in a Nov. 20 filing that Silver was biased because of his close relationship with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd. co-owner Larry Tanenbaum and could not be involved because they were seeking more than $10 million US from the Raptors in damages, with the NBA’s constitution limiting awards to that number.

The Raptors countered that claim in Monday’s filing, saying, according to ESPN: “The NBA commissioner is not biased and he is the best person to adjudicate this dispute because of his ability to identify what, if any, information is confidential and proprietary such that its misuse may harm a Member like the Knicks.

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“The Knicks’ aversion to his jurisdiction is simply because they know they will not like his determination. Although it is inevitable the Knicks’ claims will fail on the merits in any forum, this proceeding permits the Knicks to keep their allegations in the public media, causing harm to the Named Defendants.”

They then made a sports comparison: “Akin to a coach bemoaning an injury to his star player even before the game, the Knicks seek to excuse their inevitable loss on the merits by attacking the integrity of the NBA commissioner.”

Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan recently resigned from from his positions on the NBA Board of Governors’ advisory and finance and media committees.

According to ESPN, MSG Sports said through a spokesman about Toronto’s latest filing: “Hopefully the Court will make it clear that Toronto cannot escape the consequence of breaking the law by being a member of the NBA.”

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After the Knicks’ Nov. 20 filing, MSG Sports had told the New York Post: “We were the victim of a theft of proprietary and confidential files, which is a clear violation of criminal and civil law, and we remain confident that the Court will decide in our favor in this matter.”

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That filing had come about a month after the Raptors had sought to get the lawsuit dismissed.

The Knicks argued in the 24-page response that Tanenbaum, who is also the chairman of the NBA’s Board of Governors, “serves as Silver’s boss and exercises control over and heavily influences Silver’s continued employment and salary,” according to the New York Post.

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“Among other things, Tanenbaum has been described as ‘a close ally of Commissioner Adam Silver.’ Silver himself described Tanenbaum as ‘not just my boss as the chairman of the board of governors, but he’s very much a role model in my life.’

“If Silver were to preside over the instant dispute, he would be arbitrating a case for his boss and ally,” the response said.

The Knicks have alleged that Azotam, formerly the team’s video coordinator, stole video reports compiled while he worked for the Knicks and gave them to the Raptors when he was hired by Toronto.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri scoffed at media day about the lawsuit, saying: “There has been one time a team has sued a team in the NBA. One time. Go figure.”

On Monday, in pinning the case as a publicity stunt and an attempt to defame the franchise, the Raptors’ legal team said: “If the Knicks were genuinely concerned that there had been misuse of confidential and proprietary information, they would have accepted the Raptors’ invitation to cooperate with the Knicks in undertaking an immediate and thorough investigation of the Knicks’ allegations. And they would have sought immediate relief from the Commissioner — who could have ruled before the season even began — rather than mired themselves in lengthy judicial proceedings.”

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