Zion Williamson asked under oath if his parents received gifts for him to attend Duke
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Zion Williamson asked under oath if his parents received gifts for him to attend Duke

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The legal battle between Zion Williamson and his former agent in a Florida court now includes allegations he received impermissible benefits prior to his one season playing basketball at Duke.

According to court documents filed Wednesday in Miami, Gina Ford of Prime Sports Marketing claims, without presenting evidence, that Williamson and his parents "demanded and received gifts, money and/or other benefits from persons on behalf of Duke University (directly and/or indirectly) to influence you to attend Duke University to play basketball."

Ford's claims are included in several requests for admission, a discovery tool in civil cases used to establish facts under oath. Williamson has 30 days to respond.

Ford's request also includes allegations that the Williamsons were paid by Nike and Adidas before he enrolled at Duke, and that, between Jan. 1, 2014 and April 14, 2019, he, his family or someone representing him received benefits from an agent in violation of NCAA rules.

Ford signed Williamson to a marketing deal on April 20, 2019, after he had declared for the NBA Draft. He was selected No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans two months later.

When Williamson backed out of the agreement with Prime Sports in May to signing with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Ford claimed he owed her $100 million for breaking the contract. The court documents show her claims that she had lined up marketing deals with PUMA, General Mills (Wheaties), Beats by Dre and Chase Bank, among other companies.

Williamson sued Ford in federal court in Greensboro, claiming the contract was void because Ford violated North Carolina's Uniform Athlete Agent Act numerous ways, mainly because she is not a registered agent in the state.

Ford countersued Williamson and CAA in a Florida court.

Duke issued a statement in response to the situation.

"As soon as Duke was made aware of any allegation that might have affected Zion Williamson's eligibility, we conducted a thorough and objective investigation which was directed by individuals outside the athletics department," Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations / Chief Communications Officer, said in the statement. "We found no evidence to support any allegation. Zion thrived as both a student and an athlete at Duke, and always conducted himself with integrity and purpose."

In that same Florida court, in a separate lawsuit, a Louisiana man who claims he's close to Williamson and his family seeks payment from Ford and Prime Sports because he helped broker the deal to land Williamson during his time at Duke.

Cedriquze Johnson of Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, says Prime Sports owes him 5% of the proceeds it receives for its deals with Williamson.

In his lawsuit, Johnson claims to be a former college basketball player with "significant contacts in the basketball industry who established a friendship with Williamson and his family" when Williamson was a high school junior at Spartanburg Day School in South Carolina.

Johnson said he attended Williamson's high school and summer-league games as well as games during his Duke career.

He said he met Ford in November 2018, the same month Williamson's regular-season Duke career began. They discussed how to facilitate a relationship with Williamson and his family while adhering to NCAA rules.

Ford initially agreed to pay Johnson 8% commission before the two sides settled on 5% in January 2019.

That's the same month, Johnson said in the court documents, Ford and Johnson met with Williamson's mother, Sharonda Sampson, and his step-father, Lee Anderson, about possibly representing Williamson once he turned professional.

The examination of Williamson's status following his Duke career came after Michael Avenatti claimed Duke and Nike paid Williamson to play for the Blue Devils. Avenatti made those claims before and after he was charged with attempting to extort Nike. He was found guilty in a New York federal court on that charge last February.

Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at www.newsobserver.com

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