By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Phoenix Suns fans who were puzzled by the inconsistent play of Kevin Johnson during the playoff series against Seattle should consider this:
Days before the series began, an attorney for a 17-year-old Phoenix girl delivered a letter to Johnson. It demanded $750,000 before 5 p.m. on April 28.
If Johnson failed to cut a check, the attorney warned, a lawsuit would be filed promptly.
"Despite your current, very positive image and persona," civil attorney Kent Turley wrote, "[the girl's] experience with you will cause us to use the theme in any litigation that you were in fact a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Turley described the prospective case against the 31-year-old Johnson in graphic detail. It involved, in his words, "sexual assault and battery" against his client, whom we'll call Kim Adams.
The alleged sexual contacts, Turley wrote, had occurred in the summer of '95, when Kim was 16 and Johnson was 29. He quoted Kim Adams extensively in his demand letter, including this account:
"He [Johnson] said I could sleep in his room or the guesthouse and I chose the guesthouse. . . . We got into the bed and he took all of my clothes off and all of his but his shirt. He was on top of me touching me all over--my breasts, butt, in between my legs, and stomach. Then he took off his shirt. I didn't really know what to do--I was very confused because I thought we were friends, but I didn't know what else to do than to go along with it. . . . He told me to pinky-promise not to say anything and when I asked why, he said I knew why."
In an understatement, Turley concluded that public disclosure of the alleged revelations would be scandalous. The comment was an attorney's attempt to maneuver--some would say strong-arm--Johnson into agreeing to a rapid and secret disposition to the case.
Neither Turley nor Kim Adams claims Johnson and the girl had sexual intercourse; she claims Johnson fondled her genitals on several occasions. If it was done without her consent, such acts could be considered felonies and can call for a prison term upon conviction.
Last January, however, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office reviewed a Phoenix police investigation of the girl's claims and declined to prosecute Johnson, saying the case did not meet the agency's threshold of "reasonable likelihood of conviction."
Could Kent Turley possibly be referring to Kevin Johnson?
This wasn't Magic Johnson, who is said to have bedded more than 2,000 women en route to contracting the virus that causes AIDS.
This was the beloved "KJ," who would rather go to church than to a casino. He is said to curse about as often as it snows in Phoenix.
This was Kevin Johnson, a renaissance man who has been the antithesis of the stereotypical self-centered modern professional athlete.
This was KJ, whose efforts on behalf of children have earned him awards as one of America's "most caring" people. This was KJ, the all-star against whom the fans' biggest complaints were that he was injury-prone and was too nice a guy.
New Times' repeated requests to interview Johnson were not fulfilled. Fred Hiestand of Sacramento, California, one of Johnson's attorneys, says he is advising Johnson not to talk about the allegations.
Hiestand says the only person at fault in this case is Kim Adams, whom he characterized as mentally unstable and a liar. He rigorously denies any wrongdoing by his client, and says Johnson will never agree to settle any civil claim the girl might make.
But Hiestand concedes that "discussions" with Kim Adams' lawyer have occurred. (Kent Turley extended the April 28 deadline, and said on Monday afternoon that he was scheduled to meet that day with Johnson's attorneys.)
"Kevin doesn't deny that he knows this girl and that he tried to help this girl," Hiestand tells New Times. "I suppose after dealing with hundreds of kids, you're going to run into someone who's going to bite the hand . . . [But] there's no truth to the stuff she's saying . . .
"He has no repressed side. He's no Jekyll-and-Hyde guy."
Adds Hiestand: "He probably never should have dealt directly to help this girl at all. . . . He didn't know that this girl was loony."
Hiestand insists Kim was swayed by a zealous therapist into making exaggerated and spurious claims after, in the girl's twisted mind, Johnson rejected her.
Like the Phoenix police and Maricopa County Attorney's Office investigations that preceded it, a New Times query into Kim Adams' allegations elicited no definitive proof that Kevin Johnson committed a crime.
The most damning evidence against Johnson--indeed, the only evidence against him other than Kim Adams' statements--came from Johnson himself. In July 1996, the Phoenix police sex-crimes unit secretly taped a phone call placed by Kim to Johnson.
Johnson made no overt admissions of sexual wrongdoing in the so-called "confrontation call." A transcript of that call indicates Johnson was wary from the start.
Even then, despite numerous signals that his relationship with Kim had soured, Johnson corroborated parts of her story--including that they'd been alone in bedrooms and that when he hugged her he had been too physically intimate.
Though his attorneys concur that some of Johnson's comments during the confrontation call sound suspicious, they claim he didn't strenuously deny her claims because he was being gentle with a troubled teenage girl.