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Kawhi Leonard sues Nike over use of personal logo

Kawhi Leonard shows off the 'Klaw' logo in January. (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) (Ronald Cortes /Getty Images)

As the NBA Finals continue, Kawhi Leonard suddenly isn’t just battling the Golden State Warriors. The Toronto Raptors forward is also taking on Nike. Leonard has filed a lawsuit against the sports-apparel giant, claiming it fraudulently obtained the rights to his personal logo.

That logo — widely referred to as the “Klaw” or “Claw,” but also “KL2” — has adorned Leonard’s signature shoes and other merchandise from his partnership with Jordan Brand, a Nike subsidiary. But the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year signed with New Balance in November 2018, and his lawsuit indicates that Nike has blocked him from using his logo on his new gear.

At the heart of Leonard’s lawsuit, filed Monday in the United States District Court for Southern California (via Portland Business Journal), is Leonard’s contention that he came up with the original design for the logo “just after being drafted” by the San Antonio Spurs in 2011.

“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 lawsuit states. “The drawing Leonard authored was an extension and continuation of drawings he had been creating since early in his college career.”

He signed with Nike later in 2011 and, per the lawsuit, eventually allowed the company “to use on certain merchandise the logo he created while Leonard continued to use the logo on non-Nike goods.”

The court filing alleges that without informing Leonard, Nike filed a copyright application for the logo, which was granted in May 2017. Nike is alleged to have made “false representations” in its application that it “authored the logo.”

A spokesman for Nike told The Washington Post that the company does not comment on pending litigation.

In 2014, when Nike introduced his logo, Leonard told the sneaker culture website Nice Kicks, “I came up with the idea of incorporating my initials in this logo.” He said that he “drew up the rough draft" and Jordan Brand “made it perfect.”

“I give the Jordan Brand team all the credit, because I’m no artist at all,” Leonard added at the time. “They refined it and made it look better than I thought it would ever be, and I’m extremely happy with the final version.”

Now the 27-year-old wants to use the logo on clothing, footwear and other items, according to the lawsuit.

“But Nike explicitly has objected to such uses,” it states.

Leonard, who was traded from the Spurs to the Raptors last summer, is set to become a coveted free agent later this month, and the Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams expected to pursue the Southern California native.

The New York Times reported last week that the 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 could then, at least theoretically, offer control of the logo to Leonard as a lure to sign with them, though such an arrangement would likely prompt questions from the NBA about possible salary-cap violations.

In the meantime, Leonard is trying to help bring the Raptors the first NBA championship in their 24-year history. The Finals are tied 1-1, with Game 3 on Wednesday in Oakland.

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