Kawhi Leonard against Golden State.

Toronto Raptors’ forward Kawhi Leonard has been getting lots of attention for his on-court play in the NBA Finals, but he’s now making some big off-court headlines in the legal world as well. Matthew Kish of the Portland Business Journal wrote Monday that Leonard is suing Nike over the rights to the “Klaw” logo that appeared on his Nike merchandise (his old Nike contract expired in September 2018, and he’s now endorsing New Balance). Here’s more from Kish’s story:

Toronto Raptors star basketball player Kawhi Leonard has filed a federal lawsuit against Nike. He claims he designed the logo that appeared on his Nike apparel and the sportswear company, unbeknownst to him, “falsely” claimed it created the logo in a copyright registration.

…The lawsuit was filed Monday in United States District Court in Southern California. 

…In the nine-page lawsuit, Leonard claims the logo is an extension of drawings he started making early in his college career and he gave Nike permission to use the logo “on certain merchandise” when he had an endorsement deal with Nike. Leonard claims Nike filed an application for copyright registration for the logo without his consent.

This isn’t the first move on this front. As The Score’s Jonathan Soveta noted Monday, Nike previously tried in December to tell Leonard not to use this logo on other merchandise:

Here’s another look at the logo in question, on some Nike/Jordan Brand shirts (via SneakerFits):

Kawhi Leonard's Nike Klaw shirts.

And this also comes after a report from Marc Stein of The New York Times last Wednesday that the Los Angeles Clippers were looking into buying Nike’s interest in the Klaw logo to help entice Leonard to sign with them in free agency:

The Los Angeles Clippers are said to have quietly looked into the feasibility of purchasing the portion of the rights to Leonard’s “Klaw” logo that is still owned by Nike. The Clippers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but such an acquisition would theoretically enable them to bestow full control of the logo upon Leonard as part of their anticipated free-agency pitch meeting with the Toronto superstar.

As Stein goes on to note there, there are plenty of questions about the actual feasibility of that plan, from if the NBA would consider a team presenting Leonard with control of that logo in addition to his contract to be a salary-cap violation (probably!) to if Nike would sell it (probably not; a Nike official told Stein they want to keep it to keep it from appearing on New Balance merchandise). But those discussions are interesting for showing just how important this logo and control of it appears to be, and Leonard now filing a lawsuit over it emphasizes that importance even more.

Of course, there’s no indication of how this is going to wind up yet, and any judicial result may likely depend on just how Leonard’s contract with Nike was structured. If Leonard’s claim that he created the logo in question and only gave Nike limited permissions to use it (which he says didn’t include filing for copyright on it) is upheld, then he might be able to regain control of this and use it on merchandise with his new sponsors. But Nike has a whole lot of lawyers to defend their contracts and copyrights, so it’s far from certain that they’ll lose. An out-of-court settlement is also possible, but Stein’s comments that Nike is determined to hang on to this make that seem a bit unlikely. We’ll see how this winds up, but it’s certainly an interesting dimension to add to the discussion around Leonard.

[The Portland Business Journal]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.