Kawhi Leonard’s road to the Clippers’ franchise is at the heart of a lawsuit in LA County Superior Court involving NBA legend Jerry West, a verbal contract and a phone call. Plaintiff Johnny Wilkes claims he helped the Clippers sign Leonard as part of a $2.5 million agreement with West. The Clippers describe the lawsuit as a “shakedown,” but on Monday Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jon Takasugi signaled the case will move forward.
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Wilkes and Leonard’s uncle are best friends, giving Wilkes a direct connection to the NBA star’s inner circle according to the complaint. On June 28, 2019, less than a month before Leonard signed with the Clippers and days before he became a free agent, Wilkes says he and West spoke over the phone about reaching out to Leonard’s camp. At the time, Leonard had a contract with the Toronto Raptors, but Wilkes said he would be able to assist the Clippers in luring Leonard to California.
Just like in basketball, the Clippers argue there’s a difference between an assist and actually scoring the deal. The team says Wilkes merely passed on a phone number to West while Wilkes claims he acted as the go-between for the Clippers and Leonard’s camp.
The lawsuit claims Wilkes, 58, is Robertson’s “best friend,” and that he leveraged that relationship to aid the Clippers’ pursuit of Leonard in the summer of 2019 by providing the team with information while trying to convince Robertson that the then-free agent should sign with the Clippers. Leonard denied that claim to reporters this week, saying “nobody swayed my mind to go somewhere.” In exchange, the lawsuit says, West promised to pay Wilkes $2.5 million. The lawsuit also alleges that the team later promised other inducements, including a travel expense account and house for Robertson. The Clippers issued a statement saying the lawsuit “is replete with inaccuracies and the allegations are baseless,” while West denied any “improper conduct” regarding Leonard’s signing.
Wilkes, the younger brother of former UCLA and NBA player James Wilkes, was teammates with Robertson at Dorsey before they both graduated in 1980. After that, however, they followed different career paths. While Robertson went into banking, Wilkes continued playing in college, spending his freshman year at Colorado before finishing his college career at Cal State Fullerton. He averaged about three points per game over three seasons.
There are several posts on Wilkes’ Instagram that do create the appearance he has been in Leonard’s orbit, including photos taken at the All-Star guard’s 2017 skills camp in Moreno Valley, as well as a firsthand video of Leonard meeting Manny Pacquiao in an MGM Grand Garden Arena dressing room the night of one of the boxer’s fights in July 2019.
The man suing Jerry West and the Clippers for his alleged role in landing Kawhi Leonard says West left him a voicemail message in 2019 acknowledging their relationship and trashing the Lakers in the process. Johnny Wilkes tells TMZ Sports … West left the voicemail for him on July 1, 2019, around 2 PM … “expressing concern that Kawhi would choose the Lakers over the Clippers.” Wilkes says, “In the same message, Jerry thanked me for all my efforts in getting Kawhi to sign with the Clippers.”
TMZ Sports has obtained the voicemail — in which a man who sounds like West says, “Hey there, this is Jerry calling. I really want to thank you a lot for trying to help. I heard this morning that everyone over in the Lakers camp thinks they’re gonna get him.” “I just find it hard to believe that he would want to go to that sh*t show where he would not even be … wouldn’t even get his name in the paper and he wouldn’t be the face of the franchise that’s for sure.”
FYI, West is an executive board member with the Clippers. He’s also considered one of the greatest Lakers players of all time. The voicemail continues … “I will keep you apprised of what’s going on. But, I do want to get together with you privately and would love to take you to dinner and even Sam if he’s around. So I can at least pay my respects to you guys for being so generous and helpful. Take care, talk to you sometime soon. Bye-bye.” We’re told the “Sam” in question is Sam Watson — who Wilkes claims was also involved in the effort to land Kawhi with the Clippers.
Ohm Youngmisuk: Kawhi Leonard says Johnny Wilkes, who is suing Clippers/Jerry West claiming he should’ve been paid $2.5M for landing Kawhi, played no role in his decision: “Not at all. That had nothing to do with me. I’m from LA…people will try to find any way to get money…won’t be the last”
The NBA has launched an investigation into allegations that Clippers executive board member Jerry West agreed to pay someone who could help in getting Kawhi Leonard to sign with the team in 2019, a source told The Athletic’s Sam Amick. TMZ reported Monday that a lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes alleges that West owed him $2.5 million for his role in convincing Leonard to come to the Clippers. Per Amick, the NBA has deemed the lawsuit concerning enough to investigate.
Sam Amick, senior NBA writer: Clippers sources are pushing back hard against these allegations, insisting it’s a farce. However, the fact remains that the league deemed this situation concerning enough to investigate.
Sam Amick: Source: The NBA has launched an investigation into the Jerry West/Clippers allegations surrounding the Kawhi Leonard acquisition that were detailed in a TMZ report earlier this week.
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August 2, 2021 | 7:49 am EDT Update
There is a strong possibility that Howard returns for a third go-around with the Lakers. Howard won a title with the Lakers in 2020, but he bolted to the 76ers last season. Now, there appears to be interest on both sides to have Howard back for his physical and defensive play. Howard, 35, averaged 7.0 points and 8.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes last season in Philadelphia, his 17th in the NBA.
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August 2, 2021 | 1:19 am EDT Update
“It looks like [Kawhi] is expected to re-sign with the Clippers, but sources informed me that he will listen to other teams.” @ChrisBHaynes on Kawhi Leonard’s free agency