Former UCLA basketball player Reeves Nelson filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Time Inc., the parent company of Sports Illustrated, claiming an article published by the magazine in February defamed Nelson and painted him in a false light. The lawsuit also extends to S.I. reporter George Dohrmann, who authored the investigative piece.
Nelson is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and an additional $10 million in punitive damages (note: even if Nelson wins this case, expect those figures to be pared down significantly). The lawsuit also accuses the author of “intentional infliction of emotional distress,” alleging Dohrmann drafted the story with the express intent of taking down a major college basketball program.
The Sports Illustrated piece, titled “Not the UCLA Way,” alleges numerous offenses committed by players apart of the UCLA men’s basketball program during the tenure of head coach Ben Howland. In so doing, the article portrays Nelson, the main culprit, as both a bully and antagonist. The embattled Bruin, according to the report, intentionally harassed and even injured teammates. Dohrmann accuses Nelson of urinating on the bed and clothes of ex-teammate Tyler Honeycutt on New Year’s Eve 2009. The reporter also claims Nelson sought out fights with teammates during practice drills and intra-squad scrimmages.
Nelson’s grievance categorically denies each allegation. It includes signed statements from 18 current or former UCLA players corroborating Nelson’s side of the story. Nelson maintains he never urinated on the bed or clothes of Honeycutt on that New Year’s Eve. He disputes ever having stepped on the chest of Tyler Trapani in practice, as the S.I. story alleges. Nelson also denies giving Drew Gordon, a former teammate and two-year standout at New Mexico, a black eye during a scuffle at Gordon’s apartment.
In December, Coach Howland dismissed Nelson from the team after the junior forward received his second disciplinary suspension of the season. Nelson was first suspended for missing both a team meeting and team flight. Howland tagged Nelson with a second suspension for insubordinate conduct.
Nelson received first-team All-Pac-12 honors as just a sophomore. After leaving Westwood, Nelson began playing professionally in Lithuania. He was released after just five weeks and is now gearing up for the NBA Draft in June.
Although his NBA prospects are not especially promising, Nelson may still end up the biggest bread winner of the 2012 Draft Class if he can win this case.