Another lawsuit involving Ice Cube’s start-up three-on-three basketball league the BIG3 is the latest issue for the league to try and overcome. What was supposed to be a fun, innovative league that would allow former players to keep their careers alive has turned into a series of lawsuits.
Former Chief Creative Officer Kainoa Henry filed his complaint on Monday, June 12, in a California Superior Court. Henry alleges that he was forced to resign from his position at the BIG3 after co-founder Jeffrey Kwatinetz, who is involved in a 1.2 billion dollar lawsuit of his own, created a hostile working environment. The complaint alleges that Kwatinetz and Ice Cube breached their contract with Henry, tortuously interfered with Henry’s deals and discharged and retaliated against Henry.
The suit is extremely interesting, as there are political implications. Henry alleges that part of the hostile environment was created by Kwatinetz’s affinity and admiration for President Donald Trump’s former political advisor Steve Bannon as well as Kwatinetz’s belief that his two Qatari investors were involved in a geopolitical power scheme.
Kwatinetz’s alleged behavior was categorized as erratic and shocking. Henry alleges that Kwatinetz used racist rhetoric in the office and made comments like “all Arabs are terroists.” Henry also alleges that Kwatinetz repeatedly mentioned how great Bannon was and how close the two were. Kwatinetz supposedly told Henry that two of the BIG3’s Qatari investors were involved in an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and that the investors were tied to Jared Kushner.
Additionally, Henry no longer wanted to be in the middle of the toxic relationship between Kwatinetz and BIG3 investors Ayman Sabi and Ahmed Al-Rumaihi. Through their company Sport Trinity, they invested 11.5 million into the league and pledged another 9 million. However, the relationship between Kwatinetz, Ice Cube and the two investors quickly soured, with Henry in no man’s land. Henry was originally told by Kwatinetz to make the two investors comfortable and do whatever they needed. Shortly after, Kwatinetz wanted Henry to proclaim his allegiance to him by lying about the two investors. Herny attempted to broker peace as he had become close with the two investors. Nevertheless, Kwatinetz and Al-Rumaihi got into a shouting match at former BIG3 and NBA player Rasual Butler’s funeral. Kwatinetz claims that Al-Rumaihi threatened him and his family’s life. Henry’s complaint says, “After Kwatinetz asked Henry to lie and support Kwatinetz’s accusation of criminal threats against his family’s life, Henry was left with no choice but to resign.”
Kwatinetz accuses Henry of accepting similar bribes to what former BIG3 commissioner and retired NBA veteran Robert Mason Jr. allegedly took from Sabi and Al-Rumaihi. Mason stepped down after being accused of this alleged corruption. Mason said that Kwatinetz fostered a racist environment and that he no longer wanted to work under him. Kwatinetz believes Henry received a Bentley and private airfare from both men. The complaint states, “Kwatinetz informed Henry that an independent investigator would be contacting him, and he wanted Henry to lie and tell the investigator that the investors were corrupt and that they had corrupted Roger Mason, the original Big3 commissioner.” Henry refused and subsequently resigned.
Incredibly, Kwatinetz allegedly accused both of the investors of being connected to terrorism and attempting to get close to Steve Bannon in order to influence American politics. Kwatinetz claims that on a January 2018 hike in Los Angeles with Al-Rumaihi, Al-Rumaihi allegedly requested a meeting with Bannon to tell Bannon that Qatar would back him financially in return for political support. Kwatinetz believed that the investor’s investment was a front to gain geopolitical influence for their home country. Henry’s new complaint states, “Kwatinetz claimed that his sources in the ‘intelligence community’ notified him that Al-Rumaihi and Sahi were under federal investigation for supporting terrorism, consistently referred to the investors as ‘Qatari operatives,’ and stated that Sports Trinity was an agent for the Qatari government interested in infiltrating American businesses and strong-arming them, completely ignoring Sabi is an American citizen.”
The BIG3 then took out a full-page ad in the New York Times telling Donald Trump to tell the Emir of Qatar “not to threaten the BIG3 and American athletes”. Both Al-Rumaihi and Sahi felt the newspaper ad was a “Bannon inspired anti-Qatar message”.
Henry has worked in the entertainment industry since 2004 and had previously worked with Kwatinetz at his management company The Firm. Henry claims he cultivated major sponsorships for the BIG3 and most importantly, was in charge of maintaining a stable and positive relationship with BIG3 star Allen Iverson. In his complaint, Henry talks about the familial relationship he established with Iverson while tasked with directing and producing a documentary that focused on Iverson’s return to basketball. After his resignation, he was forced to cease work on the film. Henry wanted to continue working on the film, but was told by Ice Cube that this was not an option. Henry alleges Kwatinetz has tried to ruin Henry’s relationship with both Ice Cube and Iverson. Henry will be seeking only 2 million in damages for the breach of contract and wrongful discharge claims, which is peanuts compared to the 1.2 billion dollar suit by Kwatinetz and the league against the investors.
Kwatinetz’s lawyer Mark Geragos, has categorized Henry’s claims as “pathetic, and juvenile.” It will be interesting to see what other salacious details come out of the two BIG3 suits