US & Canada

Sacramento Kings coach accused of sexually assaulting reporter

NBA coach Luke Walton Image copyright Getty/Allen Berezovsky
Image caption Luke Walton is accused of sexual assault during his time as assistant coach at the Golden State Warriors

A US sports journalist is suing a National Basketball Association (NBA) coach for allegedly sexually assaulting her in 2014.

Kelli Tennant alleges Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton forced himself on her in a California hotel room.

"He kissed my neck and face and chest. And as I asked him to please stop and get off, he laughed at me." she said.

In a statement, Mr Walton's lawyer said the lawsuit amounted to "baseless" claims by an "opportunist".

According to the legal action obtained by US media, Ms Tennant met Mr Walton in his suite at the Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica to give him a copy of her 2014 book.

Mr Walton had written the foreword to the publication, The Transition: Every Athlete's Guide to Life After Sports.

The two had reportedly had a working relationship, stemming from Mr Walton's time as a guest on Spectrum SportsNet, a US regional cable sports channel where Ms Tennant used to work.

She also knew Mr Walton's wife, according to US media.

Image copyright Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Image caption Kelli Tennant (centre) and her attorneys

The legal action says Ms Tennant had viewed Mr Walton as a "trusted mentor and colleague", according to the Los Angeles Times.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Ms Tennant said Mr Walton held her arms down "with all of his weight".

Ms Tennant added that she was 25 at the time of the alleged assault and had been in her job for less than a year.

"I was scared and I felt coming forward would jeopardise every aspect of my life," she said.

Image copyright Instagram, courtesy of Kelli Tennant
Image caption A photo from Ms Tennant's Instagram page, which has been flooded with comments following the suit

The lawsuit reportedly states that upon Ms Tennant's arrival at the hotel, Mr Walton invited her to his room, ostensibly so they would not be seen by Golden State Warriors players, another California NBA team for which he was formerly assistant coach.

Once inside the suite, the legal action says that Mr Walton "pinned Ms Tennant on the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body", before groping her chest and groin, according to US media who have reviewed the court documents.

"She was afraid she was about to be raped," the legal action reportedly says.

In a statement to the BBC, Mr Walton's lawyer, Mark Baute, categorically denied the allegations.

"These claims are false and Luke's innocence will be proven in court," Mr Baute wrote in an email.

"We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime."

Image copyright Getty/Jeff Golden
Image caption Kelli Tennant worked as a broadcaster on Spectrum SportsNet at the time of the alleged incident

Ms Tennant told reporters on Tuesday she was "scared", and that Mr Walton repeatedly made her feel "incredibly uncomfortable" and "unsafe".

"When someone assaults you and you think you're going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing," she said, explaining why it took her so long to speak out about the alleged assault.

"I have spent years now dealing with this. Trying to forget about it. Hoping I could push it to the side and bury it, and hoping that time would heal. That was not the case."

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Media captionWhy it can take sexual assault allegations years to come out

Mr Walton was hired this month by the Sacramento Kings, after leaving the Los Angeles Lakers, where he had been head coach since 2016.

Mr Walton had previously played 10 seasons for the Lakers, before beginning his NBA coaching career with the Golden State Warriors in 2014.

All three teams responded to the allegations.

The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors said they were aware of the report and had no further comment.

The Los Angeles Lakers statement said the alleged incident took place before he became their head coach.

"At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers," it said.

"If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA."

Since news of the lawsuit broke, Ms Tennant, a former volleyball player for the University of Southern California, had her Instagram page flooded with comments, many of them abusive.

ESPN reports the NBA has launched an investigation of its own into the alleged event.

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