Sign up for Celtics updates🏀
Get breaking news and analysis delivered to your inbox during basketball season.
Ja Morant is among the brightest young stars in the NBA, with a new signature Nike shoe, a top-selling jersey and a team, the Memphis Grizzlies, poised for a deep postseason run. But in a string of incidents dating from last summer, Morant and people close to him have been accused of threatening and even violent behavior, according to previously unreported police records obtained by The Washington Post.
Last summer, in an encounter that has not been previously reported, the head of security at a Memphis mall told police that Morant “threatened” him during an altercation in the parking lot, leaving him alarmed enough that he filed a police report. A member of Morant’s group shoved the director in the head, he told police. No arrests were made, records show.
Four days later, Morant repeatedly punched a teenage boy in the head during a pickup basketball game at Morant’s house, the boy told police. Morant and his friend struck the 17-year-old so hard they knocked him to the ground and left him with a “large knot” on the side of his head, according to a police report narrative written by deputies who said they observed the boy’s injuries.
The teenager told detectives from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office that, after the fight, Morant went into his house and re-emerged with a gun visible in the waistband of his pants and his hand on the weapon, according to police interviews obtained by The Post, which have not previously been reported.
In an interview with police, Morant said he acted in self-defense. “I swung first,” he told detectives, but he believed the boy had been the aggressor because he threw a ball at Morant’s head and then stepped toward him, pulling up his pants. “The ball was to me the first hit,” Morant told police.
During the interview, detectives mentioned the boy’s allegation that Morant flashed a gun but did not ask Morant whether it was true.
Morant told police that as the boy left, he shouted, “I’m gonna come back and light this place up like fireworks.” Weeks after the incident, according to records obtained by The Post, Morant filed a police report about the boy’s comment, saying the teenager had threatened his family.
Prosecutors reviewed the case but declined to file charges, the Shelby County District Attorney said in a statement. The office “decided that there was not enough evidence to proceed with a case,” a spokesperson said.
Neither incident was made public at the time. Morant, 23, began this season strong, starting in the recent All-Star Game and leading the Grizzlies to the second-best record in the Western Conference. But he was drawn into public controversy in recent weeks when the NBA investigated an allegation that someone in Morant’s vehicle pointed the laser sight of a gun toward members of the Indiana Pacers organization.
In a statement, Morant’s agent, Jim Tanner, characterized the allegations as “unsubstantiated rumors and gossip are being put out by people motivated to tear Ja down and tarnish his reputation for their own financial gain.” The boy and his mother filed a lawsuit against Morant over the incident, his family attorney confirmed. The existence of the suit, which is under seal, was reported earlier this year by TMZ.
“Any and every allegation involving a firearm has been fully investigated and could not be corroborated. This includes the NBA investigation last month, in which they found no evidence,” Tanner said. The incident with the teenage boy, Tanner said, “was purely self-defense. Again, after this was fully investigated by law enforcement, they came to the decision not to charge Ja with any crime.”
The Grizzlies declined to comment. An NBA spokesperson said the league “takes allegations of inappropriate conduct very seriously.” Teams are required to report “incidents involving players and law enforcement,” the spokesperson said, but he would not say whether the Grizzlies had reported either of the July 2022 incidents, or whether the NBA had investigated.
The league’s investigation of the allegation involving the Pacers “did not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon,” the spokesperson said.
Morant is known for highflying dunks, a thirst for trash talk and a tightknit relationship with his father, Tee, who sits courtside at many games. His family has become so much a part of Morant’s brand that Tee Morant narrated the commercial launching his son’s latest major brand deal, with Powerade.
Ja Morant was one of the stars of last year’s playoffs before the Grizzlies lost a heated series with the eventual-champion Golden State Warriors. Two months after the loss to Golden State, Morant’s mother was at a Finish Line shoe store at a Memphis mall when she got in a dispute with a store employee, according to a Memphis Police report obtained by The Post. She called Morant, who arrived shortly after with a group of as many as nine other people.
Confronted by the director of mall security, Morant and his friends refused the security guard’s demands to leave the mall parking lot. Police arrived and a “verbal confrontation” escalated, the report says, until someone in the group allegedly pushed the security director in the head.
“As the group was leaving the premises . . . Ja Morant said, ‘Let me find out what time he gets off,’ ” police wrote in the report.
The guard wanted to file a report, police wrote, “because he felt threatened by the statement from Ja Morant” and had been assaulted by the person who had pushed him. The “disturbing parties left the scene,” and no arrests were made.
The Grizzlies, NBA and Morant’s agent did not respond to questions about the incident. The security guard declined to comment.
Less than a week later, Morant, as he often did, hosted an evening pickup basketball game at his family home, a sprawling brick mansion on the edge of Memphis. His parents and sister were there, as was Mike Miller, the former NBA player.
Among the players on the gated court was a talented local high-schooler who, he would later tell police, considered Morant a mentor. Though the police records identify the boy, The Post is not naming him to protect the privacy of a juvenile.
He had been invited to the games before, the 17-year-old said in the police interview, but he still found himself entranced by Morant: “He was doing some amazing things, and I was just impressed,” the teenager said to police. “I’m playing against an all-star, you know?”
The teenager drew the task of guarding one of the world’s most electric scorers. When Morant threw the ball hard at the boy’s chest as he attempted to check it in, the boy threw it back just as hard. The ball “slipped through [Morant’s] hands,” the teenager said, and it hit Morant’s chin.
The teenager told police Morant then put his chin on the boy’s shoulder and asked his friend, “Do I do it to him?” The friend responded, “Yeah, do it.”
Morant then punched the boy in his jaw, the boy told police, and without warning, the friend struck him on the other side. “I fell to the ground, trying to cover my face, so I wouldn’t get hit in the face,” the boy told police. “I got, started getting hit, punched in my head, everything else.”
“Ja hit me like 12 to 13 times,” the boy said, adding that the friend struck him four or five times. When police asked the boy how hard the punches landed, he compared them to an MMA bout.
After the men were pulled off him, the boy told police, Morant went inside and the boy got up to leave. As the boy was going to his car, he said, Morant “came outside with his gun.” It was tucked into his pants, the boy said, and though he didn’t pull it out, the boy said he saw Morant put his hand on it.
“His dad was yelling at him, like: ‘No, no, no. Go back. Go back in the house,'” the boy told police.
In the interview with Morant, transcripts show, police brought up the boy’s allegation that Morant had emerged from the house “brandishing” the gun but did not directly ask him if it occurred. Neither Morant nor his attorneys denied the claim at the time, the records show. Miller, Morant’s father and several other people said to be there that day did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The day of the altercation, the boy’s mother filed a police report and had him checked out by paramedics. She took him to the hospital the next day, she told police, after he had trouble sleeping that night.
Police talked to Morant in early September, two weeks after they recorded a statement from the boy, the records show. Morant said the boy had been the aggressor because he threw the ball at Morant’s head, trying to hit him with it, then took a step toward Morant and pulled his pants up, which Morant took as a sign that the boy was “wanting to fight.”
“Like all right, now I have to protect myself, so,” Morant explained to police. When a detective asked him whether the boy had swung at him, Morant said, “I swung first,” then added, “The ball was the first swing to me.”
Morant’s attorneys produced sworn affidavits from witnesses who, in similar language, alleged that the boy had thrown the ball at Morant and “did not apologize” after it struck him, and that he “squared up” in Morant’s direction. The witnesses all said that Morant had struck the boy first. None of them mentioned a gun.
According to the police report, when detectives tried to interview the witnesses themselves, they either didn’t show up or otherwise weren’t available.
Nearly two weeks after the altercation, on Aug. 8, Morant and his family filed a police report about the boy allegedly saying he would “come back and light this place up like fireworks.” In that police report, Morant and several family members told police they believed the boy would return and shoot them, “putting [Ja] Morant and his family in fear.”
The teenager and his mother sued Morant and his longtime friend, Davonte Pack, in September, according to Rebecca Adelman, the family’s attorney in the case. The lawsuit, which is ongoing, was immediately sealed, concealing it from the public eye. The suit was first reported by TMZ in January. Adelman declined to make the teenager available for an interview.
In an interview with police, a transcript shows, one of Morant’s attorneys, who did not respond to a request for comment from The Post, said the boy’s mother had demanded millions of dollars from Morant after the incident. “The first thing we got was a 20 million dollar demand. This is a shake down,” he said. The boy’s mother has a history of filing lawsuits that have eventually been dismissed, court records show, including a discrimination lawsuit against the city’s fire department and a lawsuit against her children’s school district after she said they were bullied on a school bus.
The police report does not name Morant’s “best friend,” who the boy said had punched him on the other side of the jaw. But a person familiar with the lawsuit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it was under seal, said the friend was Pack, a childhood friend of Morant’s who is also named in the family’s lawsuit. Pack could not be reached for comment.
Pack had been a staple at Grizzlies games, frequently sitting courtside alongside Morant’s father. After Morant found himself in the middle of an argument during a game against the Pacers in January, Pack stood and walked onto the court himself.
Pack shouted expletives at Pacers players, the Athletic reported, until an official intervened and Pack was escorted off the floor. Later that night, the Athletic reported, the altercation continued outside the arena, where members of Morant’s entourage confronted members of the Pacers near the team’s bus. After Morant got into an SUV, a red laser was trained at members of the team from inside the car, the Athletic reported, prompting a member of the Pacers’ security team to say, “That’s 100 percent a gun.”
The NBA investigated, including by reviewing security footage, and said it “could not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon.”
Get breaking news and analysis delivered to your inbox during basketball season.
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.
This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com