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Thursday, February 1, 2024


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C.A. Won’t Restore $2.5 Million Suit Against Clippers, West

Man Claims He Was Promised Fee in Exchange for Convincing Kawhi Leonard to Sign With Basketball Club


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A man who claims that former basketball player and coach Jerry West, while a consultant to LA Clippers LLC, promised to pay him $2.5 million to recruit Kawhi Leonard as a player, has failed to persuade Div. One of the Court of Appeal for this district to reinstate his breach-of-contract/fraud action against West and the Clippers.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jon R. Takasugi had demolished the action through the sustaining of demurrers without leave to amend and summary adjudication. A key ruling was:

“Defendants’ evidence supports a reasonable inference that no oral contract was formed because neither side of the transaction extended a promise that was sufficiently definite, and there was no assent on material points of the agreement.” 

Plaintiff/appellant Johnny Wilkes contended that he and Dennis Robertson, Leonard’s uncle, had been players on the boys basketball team at Dorsey High School in 1980 and had maintained a close friendship in the ensuing years. He maintained that West contacted him and sought his services in getting Leonard to sign with the Clippers once his contract with the Toronto Raptors expired.

Wilkes’s Declaration

In a declaration, he said:

“On June 28, 2019, West and I had a telephone discussion where West asked for my assistance in getting Kawhi Leonard to sign with the Clippers. I agreed to assist West and the Clippers provided that certain renumerations be paid upon Kawhi Leonard’s signing with the Clippers. Most notably, I told West I would only assist if it is agreed that I would be paid $2,500,000 for my services.”

He added that in that conversation, West said that Steve Ballmer, owner of the Clippers, “and the Clippers would take care of me and agreed to the terms to pay me $2,500,000.00 in exchange for my services in effectuating Kawhi Leonard’s signing with the Clippers.”

Various communications ensued, according to Wilkes, including his advising Robertson on July 4, in accordance with West’s instruction, that he would be provided with a house in Southern California and “a travel expense account” if his nephew would come aboard and that Ballmer would launch a $1 million marketing campaign on behalf of Leonard.

On July 7, 2019, Leonard did sign a contract to play for the Clippers. According to Wilkes, on July 23, he met with West and Sam Watson, a boxing promoter who had introduced Wilkes and West to each other, and West “reconfirmed that Ballmer, and the Clippers would pay the agreed upon moneys and honor the agreement.”

Rothschild’s Opinion

No payment was made and Wilkes sued. Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild wrote theunpublished opinion, filed Tuesday, affirming the judgment for the defendants.

West can’t be held liable for breach of contract, she declared, because he never promised to make the payment out of his own funds, and the Clippers LLC isn’t liable because the terms of a contract were not set with the requisite definiteness.

She wrote:

“[E]ven if Wilkes’s testimony is sufficient to establish a triable issue as to the price term of the contract—$2.5 million—the undisputed evidence establishes the absence of mutual assent as to a contract obligating West personally. West is therefore entitled to summary adjudication of the breach of contract cause of action.

“Wilkes never spoke with Ballmer or any other authorized representative of the Clippers, and the parties dispute whether West had actual or ostensible authority to bind the Clippers to a contract. Even if we assume arguendo that West had such authority, the alleged contract is fatally uncertain as to what performance was due on Wilkes’s part.”

Breach of Covenant

A cause of action alleging a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing was duplicative of the contract action and may be disregarded as mere surplusage, Rothschild said, adding that, in any event, “it fails for thesame reasons that Wilkes’s breach of contract cause of action fails: The terms regarding Wilkes’s obligations are too uncertain to support the formation of a contract.”

Addressing a cause of action based on estoppel, she wrote:

“Here, the alleged promise to pay Wilkes $2.5 million—if it was made at all—was a conditional promise to pay Wilkes if Wilkes performed some service for the Clippers. In the absence of any certainty as to what the Clippers would be paying for, the alleged promise to pay $2.5 million was not sufficiently ‘clear and unambiguous’ to support an estoppel.”

Wilkes argued that West defrauded him by concealing his lack of authority to bind the Clippers contractually. Rothschild responded:

“He does not allege a confidential relationship between himself and West, he fails to identify any specific representations West made to mislead Wilkes, he alleges no facts of active concealment, and does not aver that West’s relationship with the Clippers was not discoverable. He has thus failed to state a cause of action for fraud by concealment.”

The case is Wilkes v. LA Clippers, LLC, B324394.

Attorneys on appeal were Kenechi R. Agu of the Torrance firm of KRA Legal, PC, for Wilkes, and Duane R. Lyons and Dylan C. Bonfigli* of the downtown Los Angeles firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan for West and the Clippers.


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