By Brett Martel | The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson, his stepfather and his mother allegedly have failed to pay back $1.8 million of a $2 million loan from a California-based technology company.
In a civil lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, Ankr PBC stated that it made the loan in September 2021 to Williamson and family members while trying to establish a marketing relationship with the Pelicans’ All-Star power forward.
The company — which specializes in blockchain-related technologies used in finance and data storage — states in the lawsuit that it hoped Williamson could serve as an Ankr spokesperson.
The lawsuit also states that the player’s stepfather, Lee Anderson, represented Williamson as his business manager and required up-front payment of $150,000 to negotiate a potential business relationship with his stepson.
“Based on Williamson’s statements to Ankr, Ankr reasonably believed that Anderson possessed the authority to negotiate business arrangements for Williamson,” the lawsuit stated.
Anderson did not responded to a message left Wednesday seeking comment.
The lawsuit states that Ankr also has helped Williamson with community events, and identified a physical trainer and a personal chef for the player.
Williamson’s mother, Sharonda Sampson, is named as a defendant, in part because Ankr wired money into her account after Anderson allegedly told the company his family urgently needed a “bridge loan” to cover investment obligations.
“Anderson represented that the loan was urgently needed, as the family had taken on expensive investments including the purchase of certain real estate in New Orleans and could not meet their obligations due to the temporary suspension of payments from Williamson’s sponsorship deals resulting from an injury,” the lawsuit stated.
Ankr also alleges that Anderson told the company that “his family would suffer financial hardship, and Williamson would not enter into a business relationship with Ankr,” if the loan was not made immediately.
Ankr stated that it agreed to make the loan on condition it be paid back by August 21, 2022, but that Anderson subsequently requested a series of extensions, and that when Ankr finally received a check for $25,000, it bounced.
Last April, Ankr and Anderson entered into a forbearance agreement in which the company agreed not to sue if it received repayment of $500,000 by April 25 and the remainder by July 6, according to the lawsuit.
Ankr recieved $500,000 on time, but about $300,000 of that covered interest, and the remaining $1.8 million has not been repaid, the lawsuit said.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Williamson, who starred in college at Duke, was the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Despite a series of injuries, he has twice been named an All-Star because of how he uses his combination of size, speed, agility and leaping ability to average 25.8 points per game — often highlighted by crowd-pleasing dunks.
Knee, foot and hamstring injuries have limited him to 114 games in his first four seasons, meaning he’s missed 194 regular season games, as well as all nine of his team’s postseason contests during his career.
Still, the Pelicans signed him last summer to a five-year rookie maximum extension worth $193 million plus incentives, and which takes effect in the 2023-24 season.
Williamson and his stepfather also have faced multiple lawsuits by a marketing agent in Florida who has sought $100 million from Williamson. Agent Gina Ford claims Williamson improperly broke an agreement she had to represent him in endorsement deals. But Ford was dealt a major blow when a federal judge in North Carolina ruled that any agreement Ford had to represent Williamson was void. The judge found that Ford was not a licensed agent in North Carolina at the time she met with Williamson and that their contract did not comply with key requirements outlined by the state’s sports agent law, the Uniform Athlete Agents Act.
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