Fired Louisville Basketball Coach Rick Pitino Sues Adidas

By Rebecca Davis O'Brien Features Dow Jones Newswires

Former University of Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino on Tuesday sued Adidas AG, alleging that the sportswear company tarnished the storied coach's reputation by implicating him in an alleged conspiracy to funnel bribes to a Louisville recruit.

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The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kentucky, came a day after Louisville formally fired Mr. Pitino and three weeks after the Louisville program was entangled in a wide-ranging criminal probe into alleged corruption in Division I college basketball. The lawsuit's allegations mark a dramatic collapse of relations between Adidas and Mr. Pitino, the coach of one of the most prominent basketball programs in the country.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Adidas said Mr. Pitino's lawsuit "is clearly a reaction to his termination yesterday and is without merit."

Lawyers for Mr. Pitino didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Federal prosecutors in New York last month charged 10 people in alleged schemes to bribe coaches and players' families to draw top recruits to certain schools, agents and financial advisers.

Although nobody from the Louisville basketball program was charged, the criminal complaints outlined an alleged scheme in which an Adidas executive worked with others in the summer of 2017 to funnel money to a top Louisville recruit, with encouragement from Mr. Pitino and his coaching staff. Prosecutors say Mr. Pitino wanted the recruit to attend Louisville, while Adidas in turn hoped to secure the player's loyalty to the company.

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Prosecutors say phone records show the Adidas executive and Mr. Pitino spoke on the phone several times before the recruit announced his decision to enroll at Louisville, in June 2017.

In a taped July 2017 meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room, the director of an Adidas-funded amateur basketball team and a sports agent described asking Mr. Pitino to call the Adidas executive, to make sure Adidas would make payments to another prize recruit's family.

Louisville in August signed a 10-year, $160 million outfitting and sponsorship deal with Adidas, which the company described as its richest with any college athletic department.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Pitino's lawyers allege that Adidas knew or should have known that its alleged "outrageous and unlawful conspiracy" would make it appear that Mr. Pitino supported their practices. The lawsuit says Mr. Pitino has never "authorized, tolerated, participated or otherwise condoned giving improper benefits to recruits or players, or to their families."

Mr. Pitino's reputation "hinged on him running a clean, proper, and strictly compliant men's basketball program," particularly in the wake of NCAA sanctions stemming from an assistant coach's provision of escorts to players and recruits, the lawsuit says. Adidas knew, or recklessly avoided knowing, that his standing would be "severely damaged by a new scandal," Mr. Pitino's lawyers allege.

Mr. Pitino is seeking financial damages, citing "extreme and outrageous conduct" causing emotional distress.

--Sara Germano contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 17, 2017 21:00 ET (01:00 GMT)