Who Would Steal The Business Secrets Of The New York Knicks?
3:11 PM EDT on August 22, 2023
It is not in our purview to determine whether or not the New York Knicks' lawsuit against the Toronto Raptors is merit-based or even merit-adjacent, nor if the team’s claims that a former employee "illegally procured and then disclosed proprietary information" to the Raptors are valid and provable in court. That's what the lawyers are there for—that, and to make everyone else in the bar finish their drinks, settle their tabs, and head to the door as quickly as possible before actual greetings break out.
But we do have a question that, were we adjudicating this cat-and-dog case, we would want answered before we invested our attention span—who in their right mind steals from the Knicks?
Well, if the claim is to be believed, the answer is a former team employee named Ikechukwu Azotam, who worked for the Knicks from 2020 to 2023. The suit alleges that he was recruited by the Raptors to come work for them, and later sent the Raptors thousands of confidential files including play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files, opposition research and more. The Knicks accused Azotam, who worked in the team's video analytics department before telling the team he was taking a job with the Raptors, of violating a confidentiality clause in an employment agreement; it also alleges that members of the Raptors knew of and directed Azotam's work. The suit names new Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković, player development coach Noah Lewis, and 10 "unknown" Raptors employees as defendants.
Basically, the Knicks claim that Azotam accessed the Knicks' Synergy Sports subscription to send 3,358 video files, which were in turn accessed at least 2,000 times by Raptors staffers. There is no indication of what the videos contained or how the Raptors would use said information, but one could see how overzealous midlevel nerds might think there was gold to be panned here, even though the Raptors surely have their own subscriptions to Synergy Sports or whatever the Canadian equivalent of it might be. In short, we can see both sides and not have our credulity unduly dented.
But we'd still want an answer to the question, "Who steals from the Knicks?"
Maybe this is just a crime of opportunity, in that nobody who worked for, say, the Heat was taking a job with the Raptors, and so there was no chance to steal from Pat Riley. Maybe this is just standard bluster from the Knicks, who remain the property of the notoriously underachieving and rampantly litigious goofball Jimmy Dolan. Maybe the stuff than Azotam sent to the Canada was readily available on TSN or any number of websites run by amateur sociophobes who live in a ball-don't-lie world. For all the big numbers and ominous legal prose, it is all honestly pretty vague, and the stakes are hard to make out.
But if we may return to the central idea here—it's the Knicks.
That is, it’s an organization that has not established itself as a cutting-edge operation since maybe the Red Holzman Era in the early '70s—the team's last championship was 1973, when there were only 17 teams in the NBA—and in fact has been more risible than reputationally viable since being acquired by Charlie Dolan in 1994 and turned over to his surly failson five years later. The Knicks' record during Jimmy's tenure is worse than any other NBA team in that span (1999-today) except Charlotte, so we're not exactly talking about a historic archaeological find here.
Even if you wanted to limit the alleged damage done to the Knicks to the season just completed, their 47 wins stands out as both a clear outlier in their recent history and still well behind the league's elites. The Knicks were not credited with reinventing the game in the way the Golden State Warriors were a decade ago, or of having a distinct and hard-to-replicate philosophy like Miami or San Antonio, or a history of scouting finds like Oklahoma City, or even having clever, progressive ownership like Mark Davis and the Las Vegas Aces. They’re just the Knicks, and so not exactly the cheat sheet from which anyone would crib. Even if they were, they are no more valid a source of potentially useful inside information than, say, Sacramento, just to name a team that improved by 18 games in the last year.
True, there is no legal basis for "Why would you steal from those guys?" as a defense, but it's still worth asking. Bill Veeck, the old baseball owner and operator, used the phrase "Never steal anything you will not be proud of having stolen" as a guiding principle in one of his necessary books, and that standard seems truer now than ever since America transitioned from capitalism to kleptocracy. What do the Knicks have that warrants stealing, other than Jalen Brunson and the number of Tom Thibodeau's barber? If this goes to court, that's the winning argument for the Raptors, and it works no matter what the venue. “It's the KNICKS, Your Honor. And if that doesn't rest my case, I'll give back my law degree and become a barista." Unless the argument is delivered in a foreign language, the jury will be back with a verdict before even being empaneled. Even when maintaining the stance of the victim, the Knicks can’t help but come off as the perps, simply by being the Knicks.
Now that's what we call "the merits of the case." It may not be the law of the land, but there's no legitimate rebuttal to it as methodology.