LOS ANGELES – An investigation by the National Basketball Association and Sacramento Kings found “there was not a sufficient basis to support” allegations that now-Kings head coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted a reporter in Santa Monica five years ago, the team and league announced Friday.
The allegations against the former Los Angeles Lakers coach arose in April, when former local sports reporter Kelli Tennant filed a lawsuit accusing Walton of assaulting her in a hotel room at the Casa Del Mar, where he was staying while working as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors in 2014.
In a joint statement released Friday, NBA and Kings officials said Tennant “elected not to participate in the investigation,” which included interviews with more than 20 people, including Walton.
“Based on this and the available evidence, the investigators determined that there was not a sufficient basis to support the allegations made against Coach Walton,” according to the team and league.
“… The investigators made repeated attempts to interview Ms. Tennant, but, through her counsel, she declined the opportunity to participate. The investigation is considered closed unless new evidence becomes available.”
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Tennant’s attorney, Garo Mardirossian.
Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, issued a statement in April denying the allegations.
“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations,” Baute said. “The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”
Tennant worked for the Spectrum SportsNet networks, working on baseball, basketball and soccer telecasts and studio shows for five years through 2017. She was a broadcaster on Amazon Prime’s coverage of the Association of Volleyball Professionals beach volleyball tour in 2018.
Tennant now hosts a podcast she describes as “advocating for women to help them heal, grow and elevate their lives.”
Tennant claims in her lawsuit that Walton, whom she considered a mentor and friend, assaulted her at the hotel when she delivered him a copy of her book, for which he had written the foreword.
“Suddenly and out of nowhere, defendant Walton pinned Ms. Tennant on the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body,” the lawsuit contends. “Defendant Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. Terrified, Ms. Tennant immediately yelled `Stop it,’ and tried to free herself. Defendant Walton did not stop.”
Tennant claims in the court papers that Walton groped her breasts and groin area, and that he “laughed at her pleas to stop.”
Eventually, Walton relented and released Tennant, and when he ultimately allowed her to leave his room, he “made the disturbing statement: `Good to see you,”‘ the court papers state.
Walton coached the Lakers for three seasons, but he and team announced in April they “have mutually agreed to part ways.” He posted a 98-148 record during his tenure. He was hired as the Kings coach two days after his split from the Lakers.
The 6-foot-8-inch Walton played for the Lakers from 2003 through 2012 and was a member of their 2009 and 2010 championship teams. He is a son of Basketball Hall of Fame member Bill Walton.