Sacramento Kings, NBA investigating coach Luke Walton amid sex assault allegations

A former TV sports reporter filed a lawsuit accusing Walton of a 2014 sexual assault.
Image: Luke Walton looks on during a game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 5, 2019.
Luke Walton looks on during a game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 5, 2019.Yong Teck Lim / Getty Images file

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By David K. Li

The Sacramento Kings and the NBA announced Thursday they've launched a joint investigation of the team's newly hired head coach, Luke Walton, who's being sued over an alleged sexual assault.

The Kings said they tapped two attorneys from a Sacramento law firm to handle their half of the investigation, while the NBA said its assistant general counsel — who is a former federal prosecutor — will lead the league's share.

The lawyers are Sue Ann Van Dermyden, founding partner of the Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux, senior associate Jennifer Doughty, and Elizabeth Maringer, an NBA assistant general counsel and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

"The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation," according to a statement by the Kings.

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Walton, 39, the son of NBA Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, was hired to lead the Kings on April 14. He had been head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers for the past three seasons, before he was let go.

Former sports reporter Kelli Tennant speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles on April 23, 2019. Tennant filed a lawsuit alleging that basketball coach Luke Walton assaulted her while he was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.Jae C. Hong / AP

A lawsuit by Kelli Tennant, a former on-air personality for Spectrum SportsNet LA in Southern California, claims Walton pinned her on the bed of his Santa Monica hotel room in 2014 after she dropped off a book she'd written for student-athletes.

Walton's legal team has rejected Tennant's claims.

"The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom," Walton's lawyer Mark Baute has said.

Walton, whom Tennant had known for years and considered a "trusted mentor and colleague," had written the book's forward, according to Tennant's lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court.

At the time of the alleged attack, Walton was in the first of two seasons as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, according to the lawsuit.

“Out of nowhere he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down with all of his weight while he kissed my neck and my face and my chest,” Tennant told reporters this week. “I thought that he was going to rape me."

Tennant said she was able to get away from Walton and has hesitated for years on whether or not to share her story publicly.

"Coming forward is a scary thing and I have spent years now dealing with this, trying to forget about it, hoping I could push it to the side and bury it," she said.