If there are two things Kawhi Leonard is known for, it’s immense talent and immense hands. The Toronto Raptors star can palm a basketball like it was a big orange, allowing him to pull moves such as the mesmerizing one-handed fake he did against the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA’s eastern conference finals.
Right now, Leonard and the Raptors are facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals, but off the court his hands are at the center of a lawsuit Leonard has filed against Nike, his former business partner, as Matthew Kish of the Portland Business Journal first reported. The suit was filed June 3 in the Southern District of California.
Leonard, who ended his relationship with Nike’s Jordan brand in 2018 to sign with New Balance, alleges that while he was with Nike, the company copyrighted a logo he created without his consent and falsely claimed in its copyright application that it had made the logo. Leonard now wants to use the logo on clothing, shoes, and other products, as well as in connection with sports camps and charity functions. But according to the court documents, “Nike explicitly has objected to such uses.” (Nike, which historically has not commented on pending litigation, had no comment when contacted by Quartz.)
The logo is the “klaw” that appeared on Leonard’s signature line with Nike. The suit (pdf), which calls it the “Leonard logo,” claims Leonard created it and had been refining since at least his college days. It also makes clear that the logo is based on Leonard’s sizable hands, stating, for instance:
In 2011, just after being drafted to the National Basketball Association (the “NBA”), Kawhi Leonard authored a unique logo that included elements that were meaningful and unique to him. 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.”
And adds later:
Leonard is known for his extremely large hands. Throughout his career, spectators have noticed Leonard’s large hands and they are often described as contributing to his success as a player.
And mentions again:
In late December 2011 or January 2012, Leonard refined a logo he had been creating for several years that encompassed his large and powerful hands, his initials and his jersey number (the “Leonard Logo”).
The suit says that after Leonard signed to Nike in 2011, Leonard showed Nike the logo and together they worked to fine-tune it. He gave Nike permission to use the logo, but never transferred over the rights to it. In the years Leonard worked with Nike, Leonard even continued to use it on non-Nike products, such as clothing and merchandise for basketball camps, without Nike intervening. At some point, “[w]ithout Leonard’s knowledge or consent,” Nike filed an application to register the “Kawhi Leonard Logo.” In May 2017 the US copyright office granted Nike’s application.
The suit seeks to have the court recognize Leonard as the “sole author” of the logo, acknowledge that Leonard’s use of the logo doesn’t infringe any Nike rights, and declare that Nike “committed fraud on the Copyright Office in registering the Leonard Logo.” Lastly, it asks the court to put the case in the hands of a jury.