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'Hopefully This Serves As A Lesson To Athletes': Sports Attorney Weighs In On Kawhi Leonard's Nike Logo Lawsuit

Brett Hershman

As if going up against the Golden State Warriors was not enough, Kawhi Leonard is going up against another proverbial giant, his former endorser Nike Inc (NYSE: NKE).

The Toronto Raptors superstar filed a lawsuit against the athletic apparel giant in Southern California this week in an attempt to reclaim the "Klaw" logo Leonard said he created during his time at San Diego State.

"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," the lawsuit said, according to ESPN

"Leonard traced his notably large hand, and, inside the hand, drew stylized versions of his initials 'KL' and the number that he had worn for much of his career, '2.' The drawing Leonard authored was an extension and continuation of drawings he had been creating since early in his college career."

Heitner: Nike Agreement Is Key 

Leonard notably left his endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand in favor of New Balance, as the privately held American footwear brand decided to delve into basketball footwear and sign Leonard as their marquee star.

Sports attorney Darren Heitner, who regularly represents professional athletes who are registering their own trademarks, including the Raptors' Fred Van Vleet, said the lawsuit has merit — but both sides of the story have yet to be heard. 

“I don’t think that the lawsuit is frivolous, but the complaint is a one-sided view of the situation at hand, and fails to include an important piece of evidence — the prior agreement between Kawhi and Nike,” Heitner told Benzinga.

“I believe that the terms within that agreement will prove very important in weighing the specific facts of the case. Kawhi may wish to provide New Balance with the right to use the IP at issue, and he likely wants clear ownership to do what he wants with it in other ways as well."

Regardless of what ultimately happens with the logo, New Balance has scored a big win with Leonard in an increasingly competitive battle for endorsers in the basketball footwear market that has seen Puma and Converse re-enter the category.

A Spotlight On Endorsement Deals 

With the most anticipated sneaker endorser in several years on the verge of signing a massive contract, the scuffle between Nike and Leonard is food for thought before Zion Williamson signs a deal.

“Hopefully this serves as a lesson to athletes and celebrities about the importance of proactively protecting intellectual property and clearly designating rights in contracts, particularly with shoe and apparel companies,” Heitner said. 

The Toronto Raptors take on the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 at 9 p.m. Monday, June 10.

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Photo by Chensiyuan via Wikimedia

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