DALLAS — Moments before the home team was introduced on Monday night, Kristaps Porzingis made his usual walk behind the scorer’s table to take a seat on the Dallas Mavericks’ bench at American Airlines Center.
Wearing a three-piece olive suit and a maroon tie, Porzingis saluted a friendly face in the crowd and proceeded to what has become his customary vantage point. It was Porzingis’s 13th home game as a spectator since Dallas acquired him from the Knicks on Feb. 1, as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury he sustained in February 2018.
Porzingis, in other words, projected normalcy in his first public appearance since it emerged that he is under investigation by law enforcement authorities in New York City over an accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman there.
As the Mavericks reveled in an unforeseen 16 points and 14 rebounds from the reserve center Salah Mejri, Porzingis was right in the heart of multiple bench celebrations. Coach Rick Carlisle had given Porzingis the option of taking personal time away from the team to escape the glare of the spotlight, but Porzingis declined. He wants to keep practicing, Carlisle said, and uphold his rooting routine through the final five games of the Mavericks’ third successive season of missing the playoffs.
These, of course, are not normal times for the Mavericks — not when Porzingis, whom they acquired just 60 days ago to serve as a cornerstone for the franchise alongside the electric Slovene rookie Luka Doncic, is facing such grave allegations.
Porzingis’s lawyer, Roland G. Riopelle, “unequivocally” denied the accusation and revealed that he formally referred the accuser to the F.B.I. in December for what he termed her “extortionate demands.”
The New York Police Department and the Manhattan district attorney’s office have confirmed an investigation is underway, but representatives have declined to comment further. The woman filed a complaint on Thursday that accused Porzingis of sexually assaulting her in his Manhattan apartment on Feb. 7, 2018 — mere hours after he sustained the debilitating knee injury.
The woman did not respond to several phone calls requesting comment.
For the Mavericks — one season removed from a sexual harassment scandal that led to multiple firings and an overhaul of the franchise’s business and human resources departments — the case has invited fresh scrutiny of a trade for a marquee player who is the subject of a serious criminal complaint.
Complicating matters for the Mavericks is their assertion that they cannot comment on the investigation. Before Monday’s unexpected victory over the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers, the Mavericks’ owner, Mark Cuban, reiterated to a group of reporters that the team was told by federal authorities not to comment about the case. The F.B.I. declined to comment.
“I’ve got nothing to say — n-o-t-h-i-n-g,” Cuban said, spelling out the word and repeating a stance he has maintained since the allegations against Porzingis were first revealed Saturday night. “When I said federal authorities said for us not to comment, they were being serious.”
Cuban and other Mavericks officials have referred all Porzingis-related questions to the N.B.A. The league office, however, has not responded to requests for further elaboration from The New York Times beyond its brief initial statement, from the N.B.A. spokesman Mike Bass, that “we are aware of the situation.”
Riopelle said he had provided the district attorney’s office with materials that show the woman attempted to extort Porzingis.
“We are confident that after the district attorney reviews these materials, they will recognize that the complaint in this case is completely meritless,” Riopelle said.
Porzingis’s camp has received public backing from Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association and a former trial lawyer.
“We have been aware of these allegations for some time, have evaluated the accuser’s claims and, based on what is presently before us, stand with Kristaps,” Roberts said in a statement.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that before the trade, the Knicks made the Mavericks aware of a potential “extortion issue” with Porzingis. One person briefed on the trade call between the teams and who was not authorized to discuss it publicly expressed the belief on Monday that the N.B.A. would not have allowed the trade to go through if the case against Porzingis appeared to be strong.
It appears that the N.B.A. is letting that investigation play out or awaiting further developments before deciding on any action against Porzingis — although the league, under the terms of its joint policy with the players’ association on matters of sexual assault, can place players on administrative leave in these situations if it sees fit.
Dallas had aggressively pursued the trade for Porzingis, a 7-foot-3 forward from Latvia, with an open determination to sign him to a new five-year maximum contract worth an estimated $158 million in July. Cuban declined to answer on Monday night when a reporter asked if the Mavericks remained eager to sign Porzingis to such a lucrative contract.
Not much with the Mavericks is clear at the moment, although Carlisle insisted to the news media before the Philadelphia game that “basketballwise, it’s business as usual,” no matter what is swirling around Porzingis. Dallas then went out and took advantage of the sidelined Joel Embiid (knee) and Jimmy Butler (back) to follow up Sunday afternoon’s win at Oklahoma City — despite Doncic’s injury absence — with a 122-102 rout of the 76ers.
“Did we look distracted?” Carlisle said.
Marc Stein reported from Dallas, and Kevin Draper from New York. Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting from Washington.
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