With NBA Draft approaching, Zion Williamson suing his former marketing agency

Former Duke basketball player Zion Williamson filed suit against Miami marketing company Prime Sports in a North Carolina federal court Thursday, saying the company should terminate the agreement Williamson signed with it because the contract was in violation of the state’s agent laws.

The lawsuit’s filing was first reported by ESPN.

According to the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of N.C., Williamson signed a marketing deal with Prime Sports president Gina Ford on April 20. That agreement, to pursue branding and endorsement opportunities on Williamson’s behalf, included a clause saying it could not be terminated for five years.

Williamson, expected to be the No. 1 pick in this month’s NBA Draft, has since signed with CAA Sports for representation in NBA contract negotiations and marketing.

Prime Sports claims Williamson owes $100 million for breaking their agreement.

But Williamson’s attorneys say the agreement with Prime Sports is null and void because it wasn’t in accordance with N.C.’s Uniform Athlete-Agent Act.

They say neither Prime Sports nor Ford were registered agents in North Carolina or with the National Basketball Players Association, the union that represents NBA players.

The state’s agents laws also require any agreement to include language stating the athlete is forfeiting his college eligibility by signing the agreement and that the athlete has 14 days to cancel the agreement.

A copy of Williamson’s agreement with Prime Sports shows neither of those things are included.

“Prime Sports Marketing’s actions towards Mr. Williamson blatantly violated the North Carolina statute specifically designed to protect student athletes,” Jeffrey S. Klein, one of Williamson’s attorneys, said in the statement. “Mr. Williamson properly exercised his rights under the law to void his business dealings with Prime Sports Marketing. Prime Sports Marketing’s continued threats against Mr. Williamson made necessary the filing of this lawsuit.”

The suit states that Prime Sports began contacting Williamson during the first half of this year and that company employees traveled to Durham on four separate occasions to meet with Williamson and his family.

Williamson declared for the NBA Draft on April 15 and signed the agreement with Prime Sports five days later.

On May 30, CAA Sports announced it had signed Williamson.

On May 31, Williamson’s family informed Prime Sports he was voiding the agreement.

On June 2, Williamson’s attorneys followed up with a letter to Prime Sports reiterating their desire to nullify the agreement because it was not valid under the state’s agent laws.

On June 4, Prime Sports responded, through its attorneys, saying they believed the agreement valid but that Williamson could pay a $100 million fee to break it. In a letter, Prime Sports said it had already presented Williamson with “several multi-million dollar endorsements/opportunities.”

The 6-7, 285-pound Williamson played one season at Duke, averaging 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. He was named ACC’s player of the year, a national player of the year and was a consensus all-American after leading Duke to a 32-6 record and the ACC championship.

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.