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A Lawsuit Alleges That NBA Player Zion Williamson Has Violated NCAA Rules

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This was supposed to be the year that Zion Williamson could show his stuff on a national stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Gets it back. Zion for four - for four. Welcome to the NBA.

(APPLAUSE)

CHANG: The NBA's No. 1 draft pick in 2019 had headed to the New Orleans Pelicans after his freshman year at Duke. Well, the NBA season has been shut down for weeks, and now a lawsuit alleges that Williamson's mother and stepfather violated NCAA rules. Dana O'Neil is a senior writer with The Athletic, and she joins us now to explain. Welcome.

DANA O'NEIL: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: OK. So who is suing whom here, and what exactly is this lawsuit alleging?

O'NEIL: It is almost easier to say who isn't suing whom at this point because...

CHANG: (Laughter) Oh, no. OK.

O'NEIL: ...It's really cutting both ways. So there are two lawsuits and they are related. The simple one is that Gina Ford, an ex-marketing agent, is suing Zion Williamson for breach of contract. She says she signed Zion to represent him, and he basically broke it when he joined CAA, a much bigger agency out of Los Angeles. He is counter-suing, saying that she violated a very hard-to-understand North Carolina law that basically says you have to disclose that you are signing a student-athlete and it might make him ineligible if he should sign this contract. So those are the two basic lawsuits; Zion v. Gina Ford, Gina Ford v. Zion, and lost in the middle of a lot of allegations, if you will.

CHANG: OK. So how are Williamson's mother and stepfather being implicated in these allegations?

O'NEIL: Right. So Gina Ford is basically saying that Zion's lawsuit is garbage (laughter), for lack of a better phrase.

CHANG: (Laughter).

O'NEIL: She's trying to argue that she did not violate a North Carolina agent law by not saying that he could ruin his eligibility because he was never eligible in the first place. And she's alleging that among other things, that Zion Williamson's parents both got paid, both had - sort of are implying that they had a house in Durham, N.C., that was somehow paid for, perhaps, that violated NCAA rules, that they were basically getting money while he was in high school and in his one year at Duke, which would therefore make him ineligible to even play at Duke in the first place.

CHANG: If these lawsuits never got filed, I'm curious, do you think this story would have ever come to light?

O'NEIL: No, you don't. I mean, there's always smoke, especially around players of Zion Williamson's, you know, magnitude. I mean, there's just - there's always rumors. There's always an assumption that kids are getting paid under the table. The fact that this is an agent suing an ex-player is really, I think, fascinating because she's obviously putting her career in jeopardy. I mean, I don't know, if I'm an athlete, do I want this woman representing me down the road...

CHANG: Right.

O'NEIL: ...If she now is suing and alleging ineligibility? So yeah, I think that adds a whole other layer to this.

CHANG: Well, as we have said, I mean, there was lots of fanfare around Williamson during his one year at Duke and his NBA debut. So what's on the line for him as this case moves forward? Could his career be in complete jeopardy now?

O'NEIL: Well, I mean, I think at the professional level he'll be fine. I mean, the language and the attitude toward paying athletes has changed so dramatically in the last few years that people don't really get as up in arms. The people that could suffer the most really is Duke. They could vacate, you know, wins, Mike Krzyzewski could get dinged, they could lose all sorts of things and be subject that NCAA violations, which has never happened with Duke.

CHANG: Clearly a lot more to follow. That is Dana O'Neil of The Athletic. Thank you very much.

O'NEIL: Thank you. Anytime. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.