Intellectual property is the backbone of any business, as we are often preaching, and there are few bigger businesses in the world of sports these days than the athletes themselves. Far from the days when baseball players sold cars in the off-season, athletes are now brands unto themselves, complete with all of the trappings of any other big business. And part of that business is the branding — the names and sayings and logos that athletes can use to sell their merchandise, their social media presence, and themselves, in essence. And athletes are increasingly willing to zealously guard those aspects of their brand from misuse, even on the part of one of the few entities that might remain bigger than the players themselves.
Fresh off of taking the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA Finals appearance, Kawhi Leonard has filed a lawsuit against Nike in an attempt to regain control over a logo he created. In the lawsuit, Leonard claims that he created the "Klaw" logo during his rookie season of 2011-2012, and was later Nike on apparel and merchandise as part of an endorsement deal with the company's Jordan brand. The lawsuit alleges that Nike filed for a copyright on the logo without Leonard's knowledge; that has led to the current impasse, wherein Nike is allegedly blocking Leonard from using the logo himself.
In the intervening period, Leonard's endorsement deal with Nike has expired, and Leonard has since signed a new deal with New Balance. But attempts by both New Balance and Leonard himself to use the logo for merchandise and events has been stymied by Nike and its assertion of ownership of the logo and demands that Leonard stop using said logo.
The lawsuit attempt to lay out the case for Leonard's authorship in an effort to wrest back control of the "Klaw" logo from Nike. The suit comes at a time when Leonard's profile and stature has never been greater with fans of the League, and during a period when NBA players are looking to capitalize on their star power to maximize the control they have over their careers and earnings. It might seem a curious move from Leonard in particular, known among NBA fans as a quiet and enigmatic superstar who shuns the spotlight. But any athlete or any entrepreneur is going to look to protect their brand and their creations, regardless of how they might feel about the media. And if it helps draw attention away from his weird college trash talk, perhaps all the better for Leonard.