The woman accusing Luke Walton of a 2014 sexual assault said Tuesday that she was terrified the NBA coach was going to rape her and that it took her so long to publicize the allegations because she was scared.
Kelli Tennant — a former host on Spectrum SportsNet LA, the Lakers‘ regional sports network — spoke with media during a news conference Tuesday in Los Angeles after a civil lawsuit alleging that Walton sexually assaulted her was accepted by the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Tennant alleges that Walton, then an assistant with the Golden State Warriors who was in Los Angeles on a road trip, sexually assaulted her in a Santa Monica, California, hotel room, which her attorney says happened in 2014.
“This type of behavior cannot be condoned, and no woman should ever be made to feel like a victim,” Tennant said Tuesday.
Tennant had a working relationship with Walton stemming from his time as a guest analyst on Spectrum. In the lawsuit, she alleges that she met with him at the Casa Del Mar Hotel to drop off a copy of her book, “a guide for student-athletes making the transition into a world after sports,” for which he wrote the foreword.
Tennant alleges that Walton invited her up to his room, where he pinned her to the bed and forcibly kissed and groped her.
“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down, with all his weight,” she said of Walton, who was named head coach of the Sacramento Kings earlier this month. “He kissed my neck and my face and my chest. And as I kept asking him to please stop and to get off, he laughed at me.
“I thought he was going to rape me. I was finally able to get up after what felt like forever. And I immediately jumped up to leave the room, and he came around and grabbed me from behind and again held my arms down so I could not move. And started kissing my neck again. I kept begging him to please let go and to please stop. And he continued to laugh in my ear. He finally let me go, and I got out of the room.”
Tennant said she did not go to the police or talk with officials at Spectrum at the time because she was only 25 and was scared.
“When someone assaults you and you think you’re going to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing,” she said. “And I have spent years now dealing with this, trying to forget about it, hoping that I could push it to the side and bury it and hoping that time would heal. And that was not the case. And I feel like over this time, I was able to muster up the courage and have enough conversations with [my attorney Garo Mardirossian] where I felt comfortable to talk about this.”
In the lawsuit, Tennant also alleges that Walton “forced an aggressive hug” and made a lewd remark about her outfit at a charity event the two attended in May 2017.
News of the lawsuit first surfaced Monday night in a story by TMZ that later was confirmed by ESPN.
Walton, 39, was hired to be the Lakers’ head coach in 2016, after his run as a Golden State assistant. Walton and the Lakers mutually parted ways on April 12, and he was then hired by the Kings shortly after.
Walton’s attorney, Mark Baute, called the allegations “baseless” and said Tennant was “an opportunist.”
“These claims are false and Luke’s innocence will be proven in court,” Baute said in a statement Wednesday. “[Tuesday’s] press conference was a poorly staged attempt to portray the accuser as a viable spokesperson for an important movement. Her lawyers want to create a public circus to distract from their complete lack of evidence to support their outrageous claims. We will not try this case in the media or pay them a dime.”
Mardirossian initially said during Tuesday’s news conference that they were not interested in filing a criminal complaint.
“If you go to the police a few years later, it’s very difficult to put together a case where you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. That standard of care is much higher,” he said. “So police departments are not very likely to get involved in a case this old at this time.”
But pressed on the matter, Mardirossian said they’re not “closing the door on [going to the police] right now.”
“Maybe we’ll be contacted by a police department that watches or listens or hears about this and wants to investigate this,” he said. “We know the NBA is going to investigate this. So we’ll see where this takes us.”
NBA spokesman Mike Bass said earlier Tuesday that the league is speaking with the Kings and is “in the process of gathering more information.” The Kings also said they are gathering additional information.
The Lakers said they were never told of the allegations when Walton was their coach and had no additional comment because he now works for another team.
The Warriors said they were “aware of the alleged incident” and gathering additional information. Warriors guard Stephen Curry didn’t offer much more when asked about his former coach Tuesday.
“I know the team had a comment on it,” Curry said. “That’s pretty much all we can say right now.”