NBA-U.S. judge sends Knicks-Raptors dispute to NBA commissioner

People walk outside Madison Square Garden before a Knicks game amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York

By Rory Carroll

(Reuters) - The New York Knicks' lawsuit that accused rivals the Toronto Raptors of hiring a "mole" who gave the Raptors scouting reports and other confidential material should be resolved by the NBA, not the courts, a federal judge in New York ruled on Friday.

In a lawsuit filed last August the Knicks accused their former video, analytics and player-development assistant Ikechukwu Azotam of stealing thousands of proprietary files and forwarding them to the Raptors.

U.S. District Judge Jessica Clarke did not rule on the case's merits but granted the Raptors' request to compel arbitration, saying the NBA Constitution gave Commissioner Adam Silver exclusive jurisdiction over disputes involving the two teams.

"The Raptors and (owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) are pleased that the court agreed this should be resolved by the NBA, which we have maintained is the correct forum for disputes of this nature," a Raptors spokesperson told Reuters.

"We hope this brings this matter closer to a resolution."

The Knicks disagreed with the decision.

"We were the victim of a theft of proprietary and confidential files in a clear violation of criminal and civil law and are continuing to evaluate our legal options," a spokesperson said.

"We don't think it's appropriate for the Commissioner of the NBA to rule on a matter involving his boss, the Chairman of the NBA, and his team," the spokesperson said, referring to Larry Tanenbaum, who is the chairman of the NBA Board of Governors and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

The NBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Knicks first hired Azotam as a video coordinator in 2020. The lawsuit said Azotam was recruited by the Raptors starting in June of that year and told the Knicks he had received a job offer from them the following month.

According to the lawsuit, Azotam began sending confidential information to the Raptors around the same time, including details about the Knicks' organizational structure, reports on opponents' plays and tendencies, and game films edited by its scouting team.

The Knicks had requested an unspecified amount of damages and asked the court to permanently block the Raptors and Azotam from misusing their trade secrets.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; editing by Diane Craft)