LOS ANGELES — The former local sports reporter suing ex-Lakers coach Luke Walton for allegedly sexually assaulting her said Tuesday she waited five years to go public mainly out of fear and in the hope that time would heal her pain.
“I was scared,” Kelli Tennant told reporters at a news conference with her attorney, Garo Mardirossian. “When someone assaults you and you think you’re going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing. And I have spent years now dealing with this, trying to forget about it, hoping that I could push it to the side and bury it, and hoping that time would heal. And that was not the case.”
Tennant submitted her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit Monday, but Mardirossian said it was not officially filed by the court until Tuesday. Tennant claims Walton assaulted her in a hotel room at the Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, where he was staying while working as an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors in 2014.
Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, issued a statement Monday 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 said Tuesday Walton’s alleged behavior “cannot be condoned, and no woman should ever be made to feel like a victim.”
“My message to any woman who has been in this situation is, one, that I’m so sorry and you should never be put in this situation to begin with,” she said. “But I always believe that if sharing my story helps one woman feel heard, or a little more safe or like she can say something as well, then it’s always worth it.
“And this is a very important conversation for me to have for myself, and if gives permission or a gateway for someone else to come forward, and to know that they have a safe place to do so, then that’s what matters to me,” she said.
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.”
The Lakers announced on April 12 they and Walton “have mutually agreed to part ways” after he posted a 98-148 record in three seasons as coach. He was hired as the Sacramento Kings coach two days later.
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.
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.