A former sports reporter has filed a lawsuit in which she accuses new Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton of sexually assaulting her when he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.
Kelli Tennant, who worked as a reporter for Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles, filed the lawsuit Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that the incident occurred at the Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica on an unspecified date. Walton was a Warriors assistant from 2014 to 2016. The lawsuit was first reported by TMZ.
According to TMZ, the Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press, Tennant says in the lawsuit that Walton had been a mentor to her and that she knew his wife because both were college volleyball players. (Tennant was a star player at USC.) The lawsuit alleges that Tennant drove to Walton’s hotel during a Warriors road trip to discuss a book she had written, for which Walton wrote a foreword. According to the suit, she accepted his invitation to come to his room, and Walton then pinned her “on the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body,” according to the Times. According to the suit, Walton forcibly kissed her neck, face and chest and groped her breasts and groin, as she yelled for him to stop and tried to free herself.
"She was afraid she was about to be raped," the lawsuit says, according to the Times. Walton ultimately relented, according to the suit, which says Tennant confided with friends at the time of the incident.
Walton denied the accusation through his attorney.
“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations,” Mark Baute said in a statement to the Sacramento Bee. “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
In a brief statement to the Bee, the Kings said they “are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.” The NBA is also investigating, according to ESPN. A league spokesman told The Athletic that the league is “coordinating with the Kings organization” and “in the process of gathering more information.”
The Los Angeles Lakers said in a statement that the alleged incident occurred before Walton was hired as their head coach.
"At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers," the team said. "If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment."
The Warriors were similarly unaware, they said.
"We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information," their statement said. "We'll have no further comment at this time."
No date was given for the alleged incident. Tennant's book, "The Transition: Every Athlete's Guide to Life after Sports," was published in 2014. Walton played for the Lakers from 2003 to 2012. After he retired from playing, he did some broadcast work, at times appearing with Tennant on Spectrum SportsNet, which carries Lakers games. He then became an assistant coach with Golden State and was head coach of the Lakers until he and the team parted ways earlier this month. He was quickly named coach of the Sacramento Kings.
Garo Mardirossian, Tennant's lawyer, told the Times he would share further information in a news conference and declined to say whether Tennant had reported the alleged assault to police.
Tennant continued to work for Spectrum SportsNet and covered other sports as well as basketball, interacting with Walton at least once after he became the Lakers' coach. Tennant reportedly alleges in the lawsuit that there was a "pattern of mistreatment" by Walton, including a May 2017 incident in which Walton made lewd noises and hugged Tennant inappropriately at a charity event at which he and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss were being honored.
Tennant left her job shortly thereafter and has not returned to TV work. In a 2017 Outlier podcast, she spoke of how difficult her job could be in a male-dominated profession.
"I have definitely been in situations with people that are uncomfortable," she said, adding that she had learned to value herself. "That has really gotten me through it. I am here to do my job. I am here to be respected. And I respect myself and I expect you to respect me in return. Because I have that mentality, I can say now I don't have any problems with players."
Since leaving television, Tennant has anchored Amazon Prime's coverage of the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour and focused on a health and wellness podcast and a blog called "Ceremony Wellness." (Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
On her Instagram account, which has more than 33,000 followers, Tennant describes herself as “advocating for women to help them heal, grow, and elevate their lives.”