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Adidas Lawsuit Exposes Sordid Saga in College Basketball

In the fall of 2017, the FBI arrested 10 individuals—including an Adidas executive and multiple Adidas-affiliated consultants and advisors—on various corruption and fraud charges after an investigation into college basketball corruption. Three-and-half years later, that saga continues to drag on, with new information still emerging.

Recent filings from the multi-year legal fight between Brian Bowen II and Adidas suggest the family of Zion Williamson, the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft and a power forward with the New Orleans Pelicans, received improper financial benefits from a then-employee of Adidas.

Bowen, a player identified with the scheme outlined by the FBI four years ago, originally filed a lawsuit in November 2018 against Adidas America; four of the individuals originally charged in 2017 for wire fraud and other crimes; Thomas Gassnola, a former paid outside consultant to Adidas charged with conspiracy to commit wife fraud in March 2018; and Christopher Rivers, a now-former senior player relations manager for Adidas’ basketball division.

Officials at the University of Louisville suspended Bowen soon after media reports identified him as one of the student athletes in the FBI’s investigative report. According to the Bureau’s investigation, Adidas employees, consultants and others conspired to pay Bowen’s father $100,000 to ensure the high school basketball star signed with the Louisville Cardinals.

At the time, Bowen’s lawyer claimed his client was unaware of the bribe, which allegedly went to his father, Brian Bowen Sr. The FBI cleared the younger Bowen that November, but weeks later the University of Louisville announced Bowen would not play or practice for the team. He transferred to the University of South Carolina for the spring semester, but was unable to play there immediately because of NCAA transfer regulations.

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Brian Bowen II has been engaged in a multi-year legal battle with Adidas
Brian Bowen II participates in the NBA draft basketball combine in May 2018. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Images

After entering and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Bowen ended up at the Sydney Kings in Australia for the 2018-2019 season. The Indiana Pacers signed the basketball player in July 2019, but waived him last month.

In Bowen’s November 2018 lawsuit, he alleged he suffered damages as a result of Adidas and the other defendants’ “acts of racketeering activity,” including, among other things, his suspension from the University of Louisville men’s basketball team and “loss of eligibility to develop basketball skills at the highest level of amateur competition as a Division I athlete.”

More recent court documents in Bowen and Adidas’ legal battle have named NBA star Zion Williamson. Specifically, Bowen and his lawyers have asked Adidas to “describe all payments made by Adidas personnel to the family of Zion Williamson prior to April 2019.”

In its response, Adidas said it “is aware of the following documents suggesting that certain fund transfers to Mr. Williamson or his family may have occurred.” The company continues to list several “potential transfers” from its former employee Christopher Rivers to Lee Anderson, Williamson’s stepfather, that together totaled more than $5,000 and lasted from November 2016 to September 2017. Williamson committed to Duke University in January 2018.

Adidas further notes two other “potential transfers,” a $3,000 monthly payment to “the Williamson family” from Rivers “for an unspecified period of time” and a one-time $1,000 payment to the family from Rivers.

Adidas said it does not know the specific purpose of the transfers.

Bowen’s lawyers are currently pushing to subpoena the Bank of America and Bank of the West for all bank account statements from an 11-year period for bank accounts held by Rivers and In Your Eye Sports, an Oregon-incorporated company that lists Rivers as its president. The former Adidas employee characterizes the information Bowen is seeking as “wholly irrelevant” and “overly broad both in subject matter and date scope.”