Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard filed a lawsuit against Nike on Monday in an effort to regain control over a logo that he says he created at the beginning of his NBA career.
Leonard filed the lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of California, doing so on the same day that he flew to the state ahead of Wednesday’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
Leonard: Nike Claimed Logo Without His Consent
The lawsuit concerns the “Klaw” logo, which Leonard wants to use for his own purposes. However, Leonard says, Nike has objected to this use, claiming that it has the copyright registration for the logo.
“In 2011, just after being drafted to the National Basketball Association, Kawhi Leonard authored a unique logo that included elements that were meaningful and unique to him,” reads the lawsuit. “Several years later, as part of an endorsement deal with Nike, Leonard allowed Nike to use on certain merchandise the logo he created while Leonard continued to use the logo on non-Nike goods. Unbeknownst to Leonard and without his consent, Nike filed an application for copyright registration of his logo and falsely represented in the application that Nike had authored the logo.”
According to Leonard’s claims, the logo was initially created by tracing his famously large hands. Inside, he placed stylized versions of both his initials and the number 2, which he had worn throughout most of his career.
Leonard had an endorsement deal with Nike beginning in October 2011, though his relationship with the company ended in September 2018. He now has an endorsement with rival shoe company New Balance.
Logo Modified During Kawhi’s Time With Nike
The outcome of the lawsuit may come down to questions over modifications to the logo made by Nike in 2014. It is the modified logo that Nike claims that it has the rights to and which it filed the copyright application for.
According to analysis by commercial litigation and intellectual property lawyer David Clark of GenericFairUse.com, the case may be settled on the question of whether the modified logo is considered a “work made for hire” under copyright law. At the moment, however, that question may be impossible to answer.
“A full discussion of whether this is a ‘work made for hire’ requires an analysis of the ‘employment’ relationship (if any) between Kawhi Leonard and Nike,” Clark wrote. “It also will require an analysis of the specific contractual language between Kawhi and Nike, which unfortunately is not public record just yet.”
Nike has not responded to Leonard’s claims at this time. In a statement to USA Today Sports, the company said that “we do not comment on pending litigation.”
In the meantime, Leonard will try to lead the Raptors to their first NBA title. Toronto is currently tied 1-1 in the NBA Finals with the Warriors, with Game 3 scheduled for Wednesday night. Golden State is favored by five points in Game 3, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and is a -290 favorite to win the series.