With the 2019 NBA Draft less than three months away, all eyes are on Duke University superstar Zion Williamson. Despite the Blue Devils’ loss to the Michigan State Spartans in last week’s Elite Eight game, basketball commentators and pundits are expecting Zion to end up as the No. 1 pick when the draft rolls around. While that might be true, it looks like the young NBA hopeful has some other problems to sort out first, if recent rumors are to be believed.
As recently reported by USA Today, Duke University officials have begun “looking into” rumors and claims that Zion Williamson’s mother, Sharonda Sampson, took bribes in exchange for her son choosing to play at Duke. Attorney Michael Avenatti took to Twitter on Friday, April 6, and called out Nike executive Carlton Debose for bribing multiple basketball players — Williamson included — to attend and play for Nike-affiliated colleges and universities.
While Michael Avenatti might not be a familiar name for those immersed in the world of college basketball, he has been a mainstay in U.S. politics over the last couple of years. Avenatti, aside from being a professional race car driver, rose to fame by representing high-ranking business executives, Fortune 100 companies, and various celebrity defendants. To date, he is best known for representing Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against Donald Trump. Aside from the aforementioned tweet, Avenatti also shared a 41-page document (which has since been archived on Dropbox) which details alleged payments made by Nike, though it’s worth noting that Williamson is not explicitly mentioned in the document.
.@DukeMBB - About this denial by Coach K the other day relating to payments by Nike...Can you please ask Zion Williamson’s mother - Sharonda Sampson - whether she was paid by @nike for bogus “consulting services” in 2016/17 as part of a Nike bribe to get Zion to go to Duke? Thx.— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) April 6, 2019
Kevin White, the current director of athletics for Duke University, released a statement explaining that the school is looking into the allegations. White also explained that Williamson was fully vetted before he began playing for Duke.
“We are aware of the allegation and, as we would with any compliance matter, are looking into it,” White’s statement reads.
“Duke is fully committed to compliance with all NCAA rules and regulations. Every student athlete at Duke is reviewed to ensure their eligibility. With regard to men’s basketball: all recruits and their families are thoroughly vetted by Duke in collaboration with the NCAA through the Eligibility Center’s amateurism certification process.”
Nike also issued its own statement to USA Today.
“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion and aid in his disgraceful attempts to distract from the athletes on the court at the height of the tournament,” the statement reads, in part.
Michael Avenatti claims Zion Williamson’s mother, Sharonda Sampson, was among those receiving money from Nike during her son’s recruitment. https://t.co/xonMZJInSy— USA TODAY Sports (@usatodaysports) April 6, 2019
For now, Zion Williamson has kept quiet about the allegations — his last Twitter post dates back nearly two weeks.