Knicks suing Raptors over ex-employee illegally procuring, disclosing proprietary information

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General view of Knicks MSG court

General view of Knicks MSG court / USA TODAY

The Knicks have sued the Toronto Raptors and several members of their organization, including a former Knicks employee, for taking proprietary information, SNY has learned.

A statement from an MSG spokesperson added that the lawsuit was filed after the ex-employee “illegally took thousands of proprietary files with him to his new position” with the Raptors.

“These files include confidential information such as play frequency reports, a prep book for the 2022-23 season, video scouting files and materials and more,” according to the statement. “Given the clear violation of our employment agreement, criminal and civil law, we were left no choice but to take this action.”

According to a source, the Knicks reached out to the Raptors and NBA about the issue before filing the lawsuit.

“MLSE and the Toronto Raptors received a letter from MSG on Thursday of last week bringing this complaint to our attention. MLSE responded promptly, making clear our intention to conduct an internal investigation and to fully cooperate,” MLSE and the Raptors said in a statement. “MLSE has not been advised that a lawsuit was being filed or has been filed following its correspondence with MSG. The company strongly denies any involvement in the matters alleged. MLSE and the Toronto Raptors will reserve further comment until this matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”

The lawsuit names Ikechukwu Azotam as the former Knicks employee who “illegally procured and disclosed proprietary information” to members of the Raptors, including new head coach Darko Rajakovic and other members of the coaching staff.

The suit alleges that Azotam signed an agreement as a Knicks employee with a “confidentiality clause requiring him to maintain the secrecy of all confidential or proprietary Knicks information.”

Per the lawsuit, Azotam, who worked for the Knicks as an assistant video coordinator and then as a director of video/analytics/player development assistant from 2020-23, was recruited to work for the Raptors in or around June of this year. With Rajakovic serving as a first time head coach, the lawsuit claims the Raptors “conspired to use Azotam’s position as a current Knicks insider to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff.”

Azotam informed the Knicks of an offer to work for the Raptors in July, at which time he began “secretly forwarding proprietary information from his Knicks email account to his personal Gmail account, which he then shared with the Raptors Defendants. These materials included scouting reports, play frequency reports, a prep book, and a link to third-party licensed software,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit specifically alleges that Azotam shared his Knicks-owned Synergy account with the Raptors, which gave Toronto access to the Knicks’ edited game films reflect the knowledge, expertise, labor and skills of the Knicks’ scouting apparatus, and thus give the Knicks a competitive advantage over its competitors and are not known or readily ascertainable to anyone outside of the Knicks.

It also states that members of the Raptors instructed Azotam to access proprietary scouting clips of Raptors players via Synergy.

Per the suit, Azotam allegedly sent the defendants proprietary information from the Knicks on the Pacers, Nuggets and Mavericks that included play frequency reports, “specific player tendencies and scouting, strategy analyses with offensive/defensive notes, play breakdowns (and) opposition play research.”

Azotam also allegedly sent Toronto the Knicks’ prep book for the 2022-23 season, which included confidential information related to the club’s “process for planning its season and the template and organizational structure that the Knicks used to plan and assign scouting responsibilities.”

The suit alleges that Atozam used his Knicks team email and personal email to send the information.

According to the suit, the Knicks’ security team identified the theft. Its records show that the stolen files were accessed over 2,000 times by the Raptors.

“The Defendants’ actions have caused and will continue to cause damage to the Knicks and, unless restrained, will further damage the Knicks, the nature and extent of which may not be able to be proven with certainty,” the suit reads.

The Knicks, who are seeking damages from the suit, allege that Rajaković needed the information to prepare for his first season as an NBA head coach.

“As a first time NBA head coach, Defendant Rajaković would be expected to bring his own organizational structure and coaching method. Apparently, given his non-traditional path to his head coaching job, Defendant Rajaković did not have his own, so he chose to exploit the Knicks’ methods,” the suit reads.