Lawyers for marketing representative Gina Ford are preparing to ramp up the legal battle with her former client, basketball star Zion Williamson, and others in Williamson’s orbit. The discovery process in her suit against the former Blue Devil is likely to extend beyond his family and include deposing legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, the attorneys told Sports Illustrated Monday.
“We are setting depositions as we speak,” said attorney Alvin Pittman. “We can assure you that we are about to hit the road of discovery like you wouldn’t believe.”
Asked specifically if they intend to depose Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in men’s NCAA Division I basketball history, fellow attorney Willie Gary said, “We are leaving no stones unturned, if you get my message.”
Williamson sued Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, last June in an attempt to terminate his representation agreement with her. Several weeks after entering into his agreement with Ford, Williamson changed course and signed with the mammoth Creative Artists Agency, claiming that his contract with Prime Sports was void because it violated North Carolina's Uniform Athlete Agents Act. Prime Sports is not certified as a registered athlete agent in North Carolina.
Ford then sued Williamson for breach of contract and is seeking $100 million in punitive damages. This is discovery process is part of that suit. The goal of these discovery questions, according to Pittman and Gary, is to prove that Williamson was receiving impermissible benefits that voided his status as an eligible NCAA “student-athlete” and thus he was not covered by the Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
Last week, Ford’s attorneys filed a Request For Admission interrogatory in Miami-Dade Circuit Court seeking information from Williamson and his family regarding the player’s high school years and single season at Duke. Specifically, they requested admissions from Williamson, his mother, Sharonda Sampson, and his stepfather, Lee Anderson, about demanding and receiving what would have been impermissible benefits under NCAA rules from representatives of Duke, Nike and Adidas, plus at least one unnamed agent.
That Request For Admission became public Sunday. “We are seeking to get honest answers with pertinent information, under penalty of perjury,” Pittman said.
Among the information Pittman and fellow attorney Willie Gary said they are seeking involves gifts, money, housing and potentially an automobile received by Williamson or his family.
“We’re seeking information on everything,” Gary said. “The house, the car, everything.”
Among the specific questions from Ford’s attorneys that were asked of Williamson in a separate filing last week:
- “What was your temporary address of Sharonda Sampson and Lee Anderson (your mother and step-father, respectively) during the time that you attended Duke?”
- “Who owned the house at which Sharonda Sampson and Lee Anderson … lived during the time that you attended Duke?”
- “Fully state all facts that show how Sharonda Sampson and Lee Anderson … found and paid-for the house in which they lived during the time that you attended Duke.”
- “Identify by Landlord Name, address, telephone number, and monthly rental rate, the property that you, and your family lived in during your attendance of Duke University.”
Williamson’s family relocated from Spartanburg, S.C., to Durham, N.C., while Zion was a college student. Sources previously told Sports Illustrated that the NCAA investigated the family’s living arrangement in Durham.
On Sunday, Duke referred to its statement from January 2020 regarding investigations of Williamson’s amateur status during the 2018–19 season: “As soon as Duke was made aware of any allegation that might have affected Zion Williamson’s eligibility, we conducted a thorough and objective investigation which was directed by individuals outside the athletics department. We found no evidence to support any allegation. Zion thrived as both a student and an athlete at Duke, and always conducted himself with integrity and purpose.”
This is the third public controversy pertaining to what impermissible benefits Williamson may have received during his brief tenure at Duke.
His name memorably came up in federal court in 2018, during one of the trials focused on corruption in college basketball. A transcript of a wiretapped call between Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and Adidas consultant Merl Code was read in court in October 2018.
Code explained what Williamson’s stepfather was asking for in Zion’s recruitment: “I know what he’s asking for. He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family.”
Townsend responded: “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”
That conversation is part of one of five Level One allegations the NCAA levied against Kansas. (Though NCAA Enforcement noted that it was not alleging that Code made an offer of a recruiting inducement, just an impermissible contact.)
A later filing in federal court on behalf of celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti included text conversations between Nike officials about being “willing to do … whatever may be needed” to make sure Williamson wore their brand of shoes and apparel. The price tag at that point was at least $35,000, according to the text exchange.
Those controversies will be fair game for Ford’s attorneys as they attempt to build a case against Zion Williamson.
“She played by the rules,” Pittman said of Ford's contract with Williamson. “They willfully discharged her for no reason.”