If you thought the headlines orbiting the Suns couldn’t get crazier, get ready for momentary presidential candidate and Donald Trump-bashing lawyer Michael Avenatti’s name to join Jimmer Fredette and goat poop in the 2018-19 Suns Hall of Fame.
The morning after Avenatti was arrested for extortion and bank fraud, he made public one of the claims he had against Nike that ultimately got him arrested: that Nike paid Deandre Ayton’s mother in an effort to get him to Arizona.
According to Avenatti, one of his clients is a coach caught up in the FBI investigation into how money moves in college basketball. That client told Avenatti about Nike’s involvement in recruiting Ayton to Arizona, which is a Nike school. Avenatti also named Bol Bol, a likely lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Bol attended Oregon, which is also a Nike school.
ESPN then consequently reported that client is Gary Franklin, who coached the California Supremes, Ayton’s AAU team. De’Anthony Melton also played for the team and sat out the 2017-18 college basketball season as rumors surfaced regarding Melton’s recruitment at USC. If ESPN’s reporting is correct, Franklin may have been involved in both situations for the two current Suns.
Avenatti was reportedly attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike based on his apparent vendetta against the company, which he claims has not been cooperating with the FBI in their NCAA investigation.
Last summer, just before Ayton and Arizona were set to play Oregon at home in a decisive Pac-12 matchup, ESPN reported the FBI wiretapped conversations between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Adidas runner Christian Dawkins, who is now cooperating with the FBI. Arizona assistant Emmanuel Richardson has been charged with six felonies for his involvement in various criminal activities regarding recruitment at Arizona.
Miller still works at Arizona but led the Wildcats to a 17-15 record this year and his 2019 recruits are already being asked about the potential Miller is fired as more turmoil builds around the basketball program amid a down season.
Ayton signed a shoe deal with Puma before his rookie season, likely (and understandably) in part to distance himself from Nike and this controversy.