A man who sued the Los Angeles Clippers and Jerry West alleging he is owed $2.5 million for helping the NBA team sign Kawhi Leonard will have to shore up his lawsuit for it to proceed with all its current allegations, a judge said in a tentative ruling issued Thursday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasugi is scheduled to hear arguments Monday before issuing a final decision in the lawsuit filed Dec. 14 by Johnny Wilkes.
The plaintiff alleges he and West reached a verbal deal in 2019 in which Wilkes would provide the Clippers with information to lure Leonard to Los Angeles, taking advantage of the plaintiff’s close relationship with Leonard and the star small forward’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.
Wilkes also maintains he told the Clippers they should pursue Paul George to join Leonard on the team.
Lawyers for the Clippers and West, who joined the team as a consultant in 2017, deny Wilkes’ allegations and in February they moved to dismiss the suit.
In his tentative ruling, Takasugi said he is leaning toward allowing Wilkes to proceed on causes of action for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress and that Wilkes relied on a promise to his detriment.
Takasugi said the causes of action that need more support are those for intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, false promise and unfair business practices. His tentative ruling is to give Wilkes’ lawyers 20 days to file an amended complaint.
“This dispute concerns the circumstances under which Kawhi Leonard became a member of the L.A. Clippers basketball team,” Takasugi wrote.
“Plaintiff alleges that he entered into an oral agreement with the L.A. Clippers to convince Mr. Leonard to sign with the Clippers, despite Mr. Leonard being under contract with the Toronto Raptors at the time.”
NBA tampering rules prohibit anyone from enticing a player under contract by another member of the association and violation of the rule carries a heavy fine, the judge wrote.
“Plaintiff alleges that defendants entered into the agreement as a way to evade NBA tampering rules,” the judge wrote.
Lawyers for the Clippers and West argued in their court papers that the contract was “illusory and vague” because Wilkes does not specify exactly what he was being paid to do, pointing to Wilkes’ own deposition testimony.
“Did you tell Jerry West that you would do anything for $2.5 million?,” Wilkes was asked by a defense attorney.
The plaintiff replied, “At that time, no,” according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
However, the judge said Wilkes’ deposition testimony “does not establish an admission by plaintiff that no agreement was ever entered into for $2.5 million and the exhibits submitted showing plaintiff requesting a cash infusion to a nonprofit or trust do not conclusively establish that plaintiff did not provide services to defendants in exchange for $2.5 million dollars.”
Accepted as true at the this early stage, Wilkes’ allegations could show that a verbal agreement was entered into wherein he was to convince Leonard to sign with the Clippers to circumvent NBA tampering rules, that Wilkes performed under this agreement, that West and the Clippers failed to pay Wilkes and that he has been damaged as result, Takasugi wrote.