A Duke-led investigation into whether former Blue Devils star Zion Williamson received improper benefits from Nike turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer reported Friday.
Lawyer Michael Avenatti had alleged that Nike paid Williamson and other players to attend schools with which the shoe company had a relationship.
“As soon as Duke was made aware of any allegation that might have affected Zion Williamson’s eligibility, we conducted a thorough and objective investigation which was directed by individuals outside the athletics department,” Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld wrote in a statement given to the News & Observer. “We found no evidence to support any allegation. Zion thrived as both a student and an athlete at Duke, and always conducted himself with integrity and purpose.”
Avenatti responded to the newspaper that Duke’s investigators never contacted him.
“I was never asked a single question,” he wrote in a statement given to the News & Observer. “I was never asked what information or documents that I was aware of. Who the hell conducted this investigation? Inspector Clouseau? The documents and the hard evidence do not lie. Zion Williamson was paid to attend Duke. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has made and facilitated payments to players for years. And when the truth comes out — and eventually it will — Coach K and Duke’s reputation will be forever and rightfully tarnished.
“And if what I am saying is untrue, I challenge Coach K and Duke University to file a defamation lawsuit against me tomorrow and we can let the chips fall where they may.”
Avenatti, 48, was charged by federal prosecutors in March of attempting to extort $25 million from Nike. He faces numerous additional charges of fraud and embezzlement, many unrelated to sports.
Williamson, 19, spent just one season at Duke, and he was honored as the consensus national player of the year. He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 steals for a Blue Devils team that lost in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight to Michigan State.
The New Orleans Pelicans made Williamson the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft on June 20.
In July, Williamson agreed to a reported five-year, $75 million shoe deal with Jordan Brand, a Nike subsidiary.