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Kelli Tennant says she met Luke Walton at a volleyball tournament ten years ago, and their professional relationship continued through her reporting career covering the Los Angeles Lakers while Walton was a studio analyst. Tennant was also close with Walton's wife over the years, and Walton wrote the foreword to her book.
But according to a lawsuit filed by Tennant, that relationship took a turn when she tried to give Walton a copy of that book in 2014. She met Walton, then an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, in a Santa Monica hotel and he sexually assaulted her in his hotel room, according to the suit.
A Reporter and a Coach
"[W]omen connected to the National Basketball Association (NBA) have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy and powerful men," Tennant's attorney Garo Mardirossian said during a press conference this week. "Aided by their fame, money and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates misogynistic gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women."
Tennant's lawsuit claims that she was reluctant to follow Walton to his hotel room, but he insisted he couldn't be seen in the lobby with players from the team, and assured her, "It's fine. Come on up. It's me." "As someone that I trusted for a long time, I realized I shouldn't overthink it, and followed his lead," Tennant said at the press conference. "I walked up to the hotel with him and continued to tell myself not to overthink it and that I could trust him."
Once in the room, however, Walton pinned Tennant to the bed and began kissing her despite her immediately yelling "Stop it," the suit alleges. Tennant claims he continued to grope her and kiss her forcefully. "I thought he was going to rape me," she said, also claiming that Walton laughed off her protests. According to the lawsuit, Tennant was able to get off the bed, but Walton again assaulted her on her way out of the room.
An Opportunist or a Victim?
Walton's attorney, Mark Baute, who also defended Derrick Rose on gang rape accusations in 2016 called Tennant "an opportunist, not a victim," and labeled her accusations "baseless." Walton, who played for the Lakers from 2003 to 2012, was hired as their head coach in 2016. He was fired this month, but hired by the Sacramento Kings just days later.
The Kings released a statement on Monday, saying: "We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time."