“After a basketball league founded by the rapper-actor and Jeff Kwatinetz ran into rough seas, the pair filed a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against two lead investors, who now assert that the whole thing is a Bannon-orchestrated “anti-Qatari smear campaign.”,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Background: This is then.
Rapper/actor Ice Cube and a business partner, a “Hollywood executive,” Jeff Kwatinetz co-founded the idea of “BIG3,” a half-court basketball league. Kwatinetz, a Harvard graduate-turned talent manager is the owner of the The Firm, Prospect Park and Overbrook Entertainment production companies.
The “3” in BIG3 refers to the fact that each team fields three players, not five. Games are played on a half-court, with two- and three-point shots, but also a four-point zone; the first team to reach 60 points wins. NBA legends including Allen Iverson, Julius Erving and Gary Payton coach and play on teams like the Killer 3’s and Ball Hogs, each with a roster of former pros, which means a potentially large built-in fan base. The first season kicked off in June 2017 with four games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, each attended by 15,000.The Hollywood Reporter
After the first game debuted, BIG3’s president, NBA player Roger Mason Jr., introduced Kwatinetz to two men, Ayman Sabi, “a Palestinian-American raised in North Carolina” and his “business partner” Ahmed al-Rumaihi, “a former Qatari diplomat, who until March 2017 ran Qatar Investments, an arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, which controls hundreds of billions of dollars,” to discuss becoming investors in BIG3.
Through a company called Sport Trinity the two men agreed to invest a total of about $21.5 million, of which $9 million would be paid out later for sponsorship for a 15 percent share in exchange. By November of 2017, only $7.5 million had been paid out by Sport Trinity, and “before too long, the dispute moved into arbitration.”
Kwatinetz alleged Sport Trinity failed to “fulfill their contractual obligations” and the investors alleged there was “never any basic corporate structure” and that Kwatinetz “misled them about the league’s finances.” Kwatinez admitted in court filings, saying, “his accountant “fucked up a lot of stuff” and “cost us $5 million from Qatar,”” according to THR.
The case worsens and multiple executive members leave the BIG3 firm “and are backing the investor’s version of events,” after Kwatinetz names himself as CEO last fall, making it so “everything bottlenecked to him” so that “none of the executives had any power or range to do anything,” according to Kai Henry, Kwatinetz long-time friend and former chief marketing officer.
“Which is when,” Sabi and al-Rumaihi say, “things got weird.”
Kwatinetz and Bannon had been friends and colleagues for years. Bannon was a partner at The Firm, the talent management company Kwatinetz ran until 2008. In May, commenting for an unrelated THR story, Kwatinetz described Bannon as “ridiculously smart.” According to Henry, Kwatinetz shared this glowing appraisal with others at BIG3 throughout 2017, even after Bannon’s dismissal from the Trump administration in August. “He talked about Bannon daily,” says Henry. “He would bring up his name in multiple meetings and brag about their relationship.” He says Kwatinetz often dined with Bannon and the staff of Breitbart.com, calling them “some of the smartest guys I know.”
As the BIG3 dispute metastasized, Bannon, 64, was maneuvering on the fringes of the political world but remained focused on his core isolationist message. He became a vocal critic of Qatar, which has been the subject of an international blockade by its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for its financial support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza. Since his ouster from the White House, he had landed lucrative consulting gigs with Qatar’s adversaries. In October, during a conference about the Middle East, Bannon said the Qatar blockade was “the single most important thing happening in the world.”The Hollywood Reporter
BIG3’s president Roger Mason is gone, involved in his own arbitration dispute with Kwatinetz. Mason alleged Kwatinetz “called some of the players in his own league “rich n—-ers,” which Kwatinetz, through his lawyer Mark Geragos, “strongly denies.” Kai Henry “soon quits in disgust,” alleging Kwatinetz told him “all Arabs were terrorists,” writing in his resignation letter “I became very uncomfortable when you [Kwatinetz] began using rhetoric that weaponizes the heritage of the Trinity investors in order to damage their character.”
Al-Rumaihi and Kwatinetz get into a “minor physical altercation” with “shoving and finger-pointing,” Kwatinetz alleges al-Rumaihi threatened his life.
“In April, BIG3, Kwatinetz and Ice Cube (under his legal name, O’Shea Jackson) filed a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against Sabi and al-Rumaihi,” also naming as defendants, “Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al Thani, the CEO of the Qatar Investment Authority, and Faisal al-Hamadi, QIZ’s head of asset management.”
A department of the nation state Qatar, “the chief investment instrument of the Qatari government” is now in a legal dispute with an American basketball team.
And then, things got more weird. (Hold this thought.)
In May, Kwatinetz filed an affidavit in federal court in which he laid out another startling claim. He alleges that during a hike in January, in the final weeks before the arbitration began, al-Rumaihi had asked for Kwatinetz’s help getting access to Bannon. According to Kwatinetz, al-Rumaihi said Qatar was offering to “underwrite all of Bannon’s political efforts in return for his support.” Kwatinetz wrote that he was “offended” by the request and turned al-Rumaihi down. Kwatinetz went on to say that al-Rumaihi laughed at this and said, “Do you think Michael Flynn turned down our money?”
Al-Rumaihi, for his part, recollects the hike, on a steep trail in Topanga Canyon, but says no such conversation ever occurred. In fact, al-Rumaihi says that it was Kwatinetz who offered to introduce him to Bannon, saying the connection would be a “game changer” for the Qatari. “He refused to address his failed promises and mismanagement and he also repeated a recommendation he had made many times that we get Steve Bannon on the ‘payroll’ to assist Qatar,” al-Rumaihi said. Henry says he doubts Kwatinetz’s version of events. “The only time Ahmed talked about Bannon to me was in response to Jeff mentioning Bannon,” he says.
Al-Rumaihi and Sabi believe that the defamation lawsuit is a gambit to smear the country. “It’s a pure Bannon strategy,” says al-Rumaihi. “You know, make me a stand-in for Qatar and then conduct an anti-Qatar smear campaign to try to put pressure on Sport Trinity in an effort to extort us. This is a concocted geopolitical play to divert the focus from their mismanagement.” (Bannon didn’t respond to a request for comment.)The Hollywood Reporter
Ice Cube, in what appears to Henry, al-Rumaihi, Sabi, “an many others … as an abrupt about-face for Cube,” sends a message to Donald Trump in a New York Times ad “to tell the emir of Qatar “not to threaten the BIG3 and American athletes,”” calling his behaviors “out of the playbook of the alt-right,” going from “fighting for justice to hanging out with Steve Bannon.” Henry alleged he took it further, saying, “Ice Cube’s been saying, “Don’t talk to the players, don’t tell anyone about why you left.”
And then, things got really, really weird. Really.
Bet you did not see that one coming.
This is now. And then, things got ……. totally weird.
On Wednesday, the Hollywood Reporter headline reads: Qatari Investor in Ice Cube’s BIG3 Claims Diplomatic Immunity Upon New Ambassadorship
Associated Press: Qatari man in basketball lawsuit gets diplomatic immunity
For your further reading enjoyment after those cliff hangers, see the May 13 Daily Mail post: Stormy’s lawyer tweets Trump Tower images of Michael Cohen and Mike Flynn from 2016 and asks why they met Qatari investor who according to a court claim once boasted Flynn ‘took our money’
The businessman, who currently lives in Los Angeles, also retained a DC lobbying group for $2.5m on behalf of the Qatari government, US government documents show.
Ashcroft Law Firm LLC, run by former US Attorney General John Ashcroft, declared in June last year that they had a contract with the Qatari government, represented by al Rumaihi.Daily Mail
Bet you did not see that one coming.