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Judge denies Zion Williamson's request to block improper-benefits inquiry

A Florida judge has denied NBA rookie Zion Williamson’s attempt to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed a lawsuit last summer in a Miami Dade County, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. That came after Williamson had filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions in filings last month that included whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. They sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process, while Williamson’s attorneys had argued the questions were “nothing more than a fishing expedition” and sought a stay to stop it.

Larry A. Strauss, an attorney on the legal team representing Ford and Prime Sports, said in an email Tuesday to The Associated Press that circuit judge David C. Miller denied the stay request, meaning the discovery process is set to continue.

Attorneys for last year’s No. 1 overall NBA draft pick had argued the questions were designed to “harass,” damage Williamson’s reputation and attract media coverage to “improperly gain settlement leverage” in a recent court filing. They had sought the stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

Jeremy Watkins, a spokesman for Williamson attorney Jeffrey Klein, did not immediately return a call Tuesday from the AP.

The questions in filings by Ford’s attorneys offered no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family. They referenced Williamson’s mother and step-father as well as apparel companies Nike — which outfits the Blue Devils team — and Adidas.

The filings also inquire about any improper benefits received from an agent between January 2014 and his April 2019 announcement that he would go pro, as well as asking about a house where his mother and stepfather resided while he played at Duke.

Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld declined to comment Tuesday since the school isn’t a party to either lawsuit. He again referred to a January statement that the school had reviewed Williamson’s eligibility previously and found no concerns.