Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs is accused of choking, slapping, biting and pushing a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship. The accusation came to light on Tuesday, when the 21-year-old Latvian native was arraigned in Kings County Criminal Court in Brooklyn. The arraignment was first reported by Trevor Boyer and Graham Rayman of The New York Daily News.
The allegations and charges
Kurucs allegedly became enraged during an argument with the complainant on the evening of Thursday, June 27. The purported incident occurred in his Brooklyn apartment. According to an account shared by the complainant with prosecutors, Kurucs allegedly screamed that he was going to “kill” himself. This account depicts the 6’9", 210 pound forward as then grabbing the complainant’s neck and choking her. He then, allegedly, slapped her in the face, bit her on the lip and pushed her onto a bed.
Although it’s unclear when the complainant sought medical attention, at some point prosecutors say she told a clinic that she had suffered bruises to her rib area and left hand. She also claims to have experienced difficulty breathing as a result of the incident.
Many facts have not yet been made public, thus leaving an incomplete narrative. To that end, it’s unknown if there were witnesses other than Kurucs and the complainant, or if alcohol or drugs may have played a role in the couple’s argument. Likewise, it’s unknown if there are texts, emails and social media messages that may shed light on the veracity and accuracy of the accusation. The complainant reportedly did not report the incident to law enforcement for nearly two months. It appears she continued to date Kurucs, including taking a trip to Las Vegas with him.
Kurucs has been charged with three-degree assault and other misdemeanor offenses. Under the New York State Penal Code, a person is guilty of third-degree assault when they intentionally or recklessly cause another person to suffer physical injury. A defendant can also be guilty of this offense when he or she acts with criminal negligence and injures another person by using a weapon.
Third-degree assault is a class A misdemeanor under New York law; class A is the most serious of three types of New York misdemeanors, though is not a felony. A class A offense is punishable by up to one year in jail or three years of probation. In some instances, this type of charge can be resolved through a plea deal in which the defendant is not jailed. Instead, he or she receives a combination of probation, community service, counseling and/or a fine. Since Kurucs does not appear to have a criminal record, he begins the legal process in a more favorable position than if he were a “repeat offender.”
Early indications suggest that Kurucs doesn’t intend to cut a plea deal but rather seek dismissal of the charges. Kurucs’s attorney, Alex Spiro, tells Sports Illustrated that the allegations against his client are bogus and stem from a bad breakup in the relationship.
"The former couple flew away together arm in arm in the days that followed the alleged incident,” Spiro insists. “Only after an unfortunate breakup did these claims appear—claims that the misdemeanor hearing today revealed were backed by no photographs or objective medical facts.”
Spiro, a partner at the global law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and a former Manhattan prosecutor, has successfully litigated on behalf of other pro athletes. They include such current and retired NBA players as Thabo Sefolosha, Ben Gordon, DeMarcus Cousins and Charles Oakley.
As detailed by Boyer and Rayman, Judge Gina Abadi released Kurucs without the need for him to post bail. He is ordered to stay away from the complainant.
NBA implications for Kurucs
While the focus of Kurucs’ attention will be on defeating the criminal charges, he will also be mindful of how the development impacts his NBA career.
Kurucs averaged 8.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game as a rookie for the Nets last season. He is expected to play a larger role for Kenny Atkinson’s squad in ’19-’20. The Nets drafted Kurucs in the second round, 40th overall, in the 2018 NBA Draft, and promptly signed him to a three-year, $5.1 million contract. Kurucs has played professionally since he was 16 years old, including stints with FC Barcelona and the Latvian club VEF Rīga. It does not appear he has previously run afoul of the law or generated any public controversy.
The Nets released a statement expressing that the team takes the allegations seriously and will conduct fact-finding. The Nets pledge to share information with the NBA, which will conduct its own investigation.
Like with the recent accusation and subsequent criminal charge against Los Angeles Lakers center DeMarcus Cousins, the situation involving Kurucs does not require immediate action by either the team or the league. NBA training camps don’t begin until Sept. 28 and the Nets' first regular season game won’t be played until they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Oct. 23 season opener. This window of time gives the Nets and NBA an opportunity to interview Kurucs and attempt to interview the complainant (who is not under any obligation to speak with Nets or league investigators).
If the criminal matter is unresolved in the near future, particularly by the start of the regular season, the NBA could invoke its joint policy with the National Basketball Players’ association on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The policy broadly defines domestic violence to include “any actual or attempted violent act that is committed by one party in an intimate or family relationship against another party in that relationship.” The policy empowers commissioner Adam Silver to place a player who is accused of domestic violence on administrative leave pending a league investigation. Such leave is akin to a paid suspension, with continued to access to employer-provided health care and accrual of pension benefits.
One procedural benefit of the joint policy is that it allows the league to separate a player who is accused of wrongdoing from his team without racing to reach a conclusion about the underlying accusation. While a professional sports league such as the NBA possesses substantial investigatory resources and can draw on the expertise of domestic violence experts, its ability to conduct fact-finding in a criminal matter is dwarfed by the fact-finding ability enjoyed by police and prosecutors. Unlike law enforcement, a pro league can’t subpoena records, require that witnesses speak under oath or apply pressure on witnesses in the form of threatened charges. A pro league’s powers are limited to contractual rights over players and the willingness of others to voluntarily provide information.
Here, the NBA will likely wait to see how the criminal case develops over the next couple of months. League officials will examine available facts and testimony. They will also assess possible reputational harm if Kurucs is allowed to play while accused of a domestic violence act. If the league ultimately concludes that Kurucs violated the policy, he could be fined or suspended without pay. In 2019, the league suspended center Willie Reed for six games under the joint policy. Reed was accused of attacking his wife after she told him that she wanted a divorce. The suspension was imposed after Reed had resolved his criminal matter by entering into a pretrial intervention program.
Immigration implications for Kurucs
Kurucs must also contend with the potential immigration ramifications of the charges. Sports Illustrated has confirmed that Kurucs is playing in the NBA on a work visa. He is thus neither a U.S. citizen nor a permanent resident (green card).
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security enjoys substantial discretion to seek the deportation of non-citizens who are convicted of violent crimes. Likewise, the agency can ensure that once the person leaves the U.S., he or she is deemed inadmissible to re-enter.
Fortunately for Kurucs, he faces misdemeanor charges—and not felony charges. While Homeland Security preserves discretion in deciding which matters warrant deportation or admissibility actions, Kurucs probably won’t face immigration consequences due to the lower classification of the charges as misdemeanors.
Still, the charges could pose a complication for Kurucs when the Nets travel to Toronto on Dec. 14 to play the Raptors. Canada reserves the right to deny entry to a person who has been arrested for a crime in the U.S. The Nets, however, have plenty of time to retain immigration attorneys in Canada. Skilled legal representation would increase the odds that Canada allows Kurucs to enter.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law