A former sports reporter who accused former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton of sexual assault has spoken publicly about her allegations, telling reporters on Tuesday: "I thought he was going to rape me."
Kelli Tennant filed the suit against Walton, who recently was hired as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Monday evening in Los Angeles County Superior Court. At a news conference Tuesday, she detailed the alleged assault by Walton at a Santa Monica hotel room in the fall of 2014, when he was an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors.
Tennant, a former USC volleyball player who had become a reporter for Spectrum SportsNet Los Angeles, had stopped by the hotel to give Walton a copy of her book "The Transition," for which he had written the forward. She said that Walton met her in the lobby and took her up to his room because, as she put it: "The players on his team [the Warriors] were in the lobby, and he could not be around them. He didn't want to be seen in the lobby with the players."
Once in his hotel room, Tennant said, Walton "got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down with all of his weight while 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." She added that she could feel Walton rubbing her with his erect penis "and he continued to laugh at all my pleas to get off and stop."
Tennant claimed that after she was able to get up from the bed, Walton "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's attorney, Garo Mardirossian, told reporters that she confided in her immediate family and other people after the alleged incident, but did not tell anyone at SportsNet and never filed charges.
"Our interest is not to have Mr. Walton put in jail or be investigated by the police, necessarily," Mardirossian said. "Our interest was for Kelli to feel better about herself, to come out and talk about what happened to her, and that’s what she’s asked us to do, and that’s why we went ahead with this complaint."
When questioned by reporters, however, Mardirossian said he had not closed the door on pressing criminal charges against Walton.
Walton's attorney, Mark Baute, called the allegations "baseless," saying in a statement that Tennant "is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom."
"I was scared," Tennant said when asked why she did not come forward sooner. "When someone assaults you and you think you’re to be raped, coming forward is a scary thing ... I was scared for my job, my safety and what my livelihood would be like."
Walton, a son of Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, won two championships with the Lakers during an 11-year NBA career. Tennant said the two became close when he worked as a studio analyst on Lakers telecasts at SportsNet LA and described him as "a mentor and a friend and someone I looked up to."
After Walton was named head coach of the Lakers in 2016, Tennant was promoted to a full-time Lakers reporter for the network and had to interact with him repeatedly at practice, as well as before and after games. She claimed that "every time I showed up to practice or games, he [Walton] would be sure to hug me and kiss me on my cheek ... with many people around, and I couldn’t do anything. I pretended to be completely normal this entire time and I felt like I had nowhere to turn."
The Warriors and Lakers said they both first heard of the allegations after TMZ reported the lawsuit Monday night and had no further comment. The Kings said they were aware of the report and gathering information but had no other comment.
Walton was fired as Lakers coach earlier this month after compiling a record of 98-148 over three seasons, missing the playoffs each season.
"This type of behavior cannot be condoned and no woman should ever be made to feel like a victim," said Tennant, who added that she hoped Walton "learns a lesson and knows that he can never do this again."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.