A joint investigation by the NBA and the Sacramento Kings found Friday that there was insufficient evidence to support the claim by a former sports journalist that she was sexually assaulted by Kings Coach Luke Walton.
Walton will not face punishment from the league or the team, and both consider the matter closed, according to a joint news release.
Kelli Tennant, a former correspondent at a television network where Walton once worked as an analyst, alleged in a lawsuit filed in April that Walton, then an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, assaulted her in 2014 in a hotel room in Santa Monica, Calif., as she visited to thank him for offering professional advice.
Walton has denied the accusations, and Tennant’s lawyer said her client does not have any photographs or video to corroborate the allegations. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The NBA and the Kings, though, retained attorneys to independently investigate the claims two days after Tennant filed suit. Sue Ann Van Dermyden and Jennifer Doughty of the firm Van Dermyden Maddux along with Elizabeth Maringer, the NBA’s senior vice president and assistant general counsel and a former deputy U.S. state’s attorney, interviewed more than 20 people, including Walton, and reviewed “numerous documents and other relevant materials.”
“The investigators made repeated attempts to interview Ms. Tennant, but, through her counsel, she declined the opportunity to participate,” the NBA and Kings said in a joint statement.
After filing the suit, Tennant said Walton was a professional mentor and had assisted her in writing a book. The alleged assault occurred during a visit to deliver a copy of the book, Tennant said, when Walton took her from the lobby of the Hotel Casa del Mar to his room because “he didn’t want to be seen in the lobby with the players,” she said.
In the room, she claims Walton pinned her down by holding her wrists to the bed and kissed her neck, face and chest and laughed as she demanded he stop.
“I continued to ask him to stop over and over again without any use of my arms,” she said. “I could feel him rubbing his erection on me. He continued to laugh at all of my pleas to get off and to stop. I thought he was going to rape me.”
Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, called the allegations “baseless” and said Tennant was “an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible."
Walton, the son of NBA legend Bill Walton, took over as head coach in Sacramento in April two weeks before Tennant filed her lawsuit. He spent the previous three seasons coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, where he failed to produce a winning record despite attracting LeBron James to sign with the team in free agency before the 2018-19 season.
Before that, he was considered a fast riser in the league and was the top lieutenant of Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr from 2014 to 2016. That team won an NBA championship in 2015. The next season, Walton filled in as interim coach while Kerr took a medical leave of absence. The team’s play under Walton helped fuel his ascent in the league’s coaching ranks.
Staff writer Ben Golliver contributed to this report.