A starter on Duke’s 2010 national championship team purchased nearly $100,000 in custom jewelry that season from a New York firm that caters to professional athletes and is now suing him for failing to pay the balance of what he owes.
Lance Thomas purchased five pieces of diamond jewelry at a cost of $97,800 on Dec. 21, 2009, in the middle of his senior season, according the lawsuit. Documents included with the suit indicate he made a $30,000 down payment and received $67,800 in credit from the firm, the balance that remains unpaid.
Thomas started 39 games at forward during the 2009-2010 season, including the Blue Devils’ 61-59 victory over Butler in the championship game. He wasn’t drafted by an NBA team but played last season for the New Orleans Hornets.
The Associated Press recently obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed in January but hasn’t been publicly disclosed. It was filed in Austin, Texas, because Thomas was playing for the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League at the time.
A Duke spokesman said the university knows about the lawsuit and is looking into it.
“We have been made aware of a lawsuit filed by a jeweler against former men’s basketball player Lance Thomas and we are currently looking into the matter,” said Jon Jackson, the school’s associate athletic director for media relations.
NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the organization also is aware of the matter and is in communication with Duke.
NCAA rules regarding amateurism prohibit athletes from receiving benefits that aren’t available to all students. Speaking generally, Osburn said “the test” for such a violation is whether “the general student body, or someone similarly situated, would be able to get the same benefit or treatment.”
Thomas, 24, is from Scotch Plains, N.J., and played at prep power St. Benedict’s, according to his biography on the Duke website. The site said his mother is a manager at a Ford plant in New Jersey.
John Spencer, an agent who has represented Thomas, said he wasn’t aware of the jewelry purchase. He referred all comment on the lawsuit to an Austin attorney who is representing Thomas in the matter. The attorney didn’t return phone messages from the AP.
Rafaello & Co., which also does business as A+A Diamonds Ltd., promotes itself as a “deluxe” jeweler whose customers include New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and actors Jamie Foxx and Don Cheadle.
Mike Bowers, the firm’s attorney, said Thomas purchased a black diamond necklace, a diamond-encrusted watch, a pair of diamond studs, a diamond cross and a black diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus’ head. According to the purchase order, signed by Thomas, the player agreed to pay a deposit of at least 25 percent of the purchase price and the remainder in 15 days.
Bowers said he was unaware of how Thomas made the required down payment.
Bowers said he’s seen no evidence that anyone other than Thomas was involved in the transaction and he doesn’t know why the Duke player was extended credit for most of the purchase.
“It was a clean, clear-cut transaction between Mr. Thomas and my client, and I don’t see anything that warrants me asking anything beyond that,” Bowers said. “Speaking hypothetically, if he came in on a bicycle with tattered jeans, I doubt seriously he would have been sold jewelry, but I’m not drawing conclusions. The terms here are clear.”
Rafaello & Co. filed a similar lawsuit against Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant last year, claiming he hadn’t paid $240,000 for jewelry he purchased between January and May 2010. The purchases detailed in that suit, which has since been settled, occurred after Bryant announced he was leaving Oklahoma State and was entering the 2010 NFL draft.