Kawhi Leonard Loses “The Klaw” Logo Lawsuit v. Nike

Klaw-pyright Infringement

Despite his wild success over the last year, Kawhi Leonard took a tough “L” recently when he ran into a pick set by Nike last month. Oregon District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman granted Nike’s motion to dismiss the NBA star’s claim that he rightfully owned the “The Klaw” logo. In fact, in the complaint, Leonard’s legal team referred to the popularly-known logo as the “Leonard Logo” instead, in an attempt to establish even more of a link between the design and player. Yet, despite the undeniable connection the “KL” outstretched hand has with Leonard’s likeness, the judge’s ruling indicates that the logo and all adjoining rights to its use indeed belong to Nike. 

Size Matters

The concept of “The Klaw” was allegedly birthed when Leonard was still a second or third year player on the San Antonio Spurs. Coming out of college, Leonard boasted hands measuring 9.8 inches long and 11.3 inches wide. While those figures alone may not mean much, it should be noted that Leonard not only had the longest hands in the 2011 NBA draft, but slides in at no. 9 all-time in biggest “NBA hands” (sandwiched between Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain ⁠— if you’ve ever heard of them). Thus, from his remarkably large hands, “The Klaw” stuck to Leonard as a nickname and a potentially lucrative branding opportunity.

Interestingly,  the nickname’s origin story has been called “a myth amongst the Spurs [2014] roster” as to who first conceived it or when the trend even caught fire. Leonard insists that he invented the logo while still at San Diego State University, though it could not have been created in connection to “The Klaw” moniker. In any event, Leonard’s credit for the initial sketch has not been disputed, but his protection over the foundational design was, for which he is now paying the price.

“Board Man Gets Played”

What makes this case so important is that this issue of intellectual property protection is only becoming more crucial for young athletes, as collegiate stars will be able to brand and profit off their likeness through endorsement agreements starting as soon as next year.

To Leonard’s credit, he had the foresight to begin building his brand in college, and conceptualized the following illustration. However, as a rookie with the San Antonio Spurs, the two-time champion recalls sharing a preliminary sketch of his logo idea with Nike, with whom he signed an endorsement deal. Below is a picture of Leonard’s version against Nike’s official design.

Captura de pantalla 2020-05-19 a las 9.27.16 a. m.

It is here where a few disagreements arise. The first is a matter of uniqueness and though the designs are generally similar in concept, the judge stated that he found Nike’s rendition of the logo to be “new and significantly different from [Leonard’s] design.”

Second, Leonard himself did not deny that the logo was created in connection with the endorsement contract, however argued that Nike’s design was a derivative of his work, disqualifying it from copyright protection. Again, the judge supported Nike’s claim that its version was “obviously distinct.”

However, what may be most telling is Leonard’s admission in a 2014 interview in which he speaks on the logo and his excitement in partnering with Nike. He states, “I came up with the idea of incorporating my initials in this logo. I drew up the rough draft, sent it over and they [Jordan Brand] made it perfect. I give the Jordan Brand team all the credit because I’m no artist at all. They refined it and made it look better than I thought it would ever be, and I’m extremely happy with the final version.”

Love & Basketball…and Intellectual Property

Much like the ugly breakup with the San Antonio Spurs and eventual marriage with the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA star’s relationship with Nike unfolded similarly, with New Balance serving as Leonard’s “rebound,” if you will. Though given an opportunity to resign with Nike, once the contract between the sports apparel giant and the literal giant in Leonard expired in 2018, Leonard opted to take his talents to New Balance, signing an endorsement deal.

Though Nike, as mentioned, retains all rights to “The Klaw” logo, it is theoretically possible that New Balance could buy or license its utility in the future. Given the unlikelihood that Nike would agree to this (barring an absurdly Nike-friendly deal), there are few other options—if any—available to Leonard and New Balance to use the design other than appealing the judgment and receiving a remand.

Of course, because neither New Balance nor Leonard are able to utilize the logo, the pair has had to pivot in their endorsement efforts. While New Balance’s site is still bare bones as far as Kawhi-specific apparel, the Boston-based company unveiled a design earlier this year for Leonard’s first signature shoe. If you check out the logo on the shoe’s tongue, you’ll notice that it’s remarkably different, and more…ordinary than the disputed design owned by Nike, which honestly may align better with Leonard’s well-known, even-keeled personality.

However, if Leonard truly seeks to reclaim his logo through an appeal for his branding, the shot clock is ticking. The shoe will not officially be made available for purchase until the fall, but the odds that the case against Nike is appealed, remanded, and reversed—all before the shoe is released? Well, let’s just say Leonard would have a better chance of hitting “The Shot” again.

NCAA Publishes Proposal For Name, Image, & Likeness Rights

Blurred Lines

The NCAA has shifted its stance on college athlete compensation and is restructuring collegiate sports to allow Division I student-athletes to earn money from endorsements and sponsorship deals as early as 2021. However, while this landmark consideration seems to indicate a step forward for college athlete rights, there are already signs that limitations potentially exist on the NCAA’s ability to ensure that this plan is effectively introduced.

The NCAA Board of Governors met on Monday and Tuesday last week to review recommended rule changes that would allow its athletes to profit off of their names, images and likeness (NIL).

Bubble Watch

Among the proposed rule adjustments, some changes made the cut while other rumored additions were left out. As established, the NCAA would allow collegiate athletes to profit from NIL. However, the recommendations did not include any specific procedures for doing so. What is known however, is that the NCAA hopes to establish a system that does not favor a particular individual, school or conference. In turn, the multi-billion dollar organization is calling on Congress to help standardize this emerging niche in college sports across all states.

Another omission involved the absence of group licensing, which means that the rumors of a return of EA’s popular video game NCAA Football are dead, for now at least. The NCAA stated that group licensing is “unworkable” given that there is no players association-type body to bargain on the players’ behalf. More so, group licensing could even open the door for players to classify themselves as employees of the NCAA, which would deteriorate the “amateurism” shield that has protected the association from employee designations.

Last 4 In, First 4 Out

Below is a quick run down of how athletes can and cannot be paid.


–  Third party endorsements such as promoting a product or service through advertisement

– Social media influencing, i.e., Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook etc.

– Own work products and/or business, i.e., podcasts, Youtube videos, video game streaming, athletic lessons, etc.

– Personal promotion such as autograph signings, meet and greets, etc.


– Use of intellectual property from schools or conferences in endorsements

– Endorsement payments made from schools or conferences

– Facilitation of endorsements from schools or conferences

– Endorsement payments and/or booster payments as compensation for participation in collegiate athletics

“Back in my day…”

NIL rights fly in the face of the organization’s “amateurism” designation. NCAA.org features an entire page on amateurism and the organization requires all participating DI and DII athletes to be amateurism-certified before competing. The concept of amateurism dates all the way back to the NCAA’s 1906 inception. While the institution has done a remarkable job legitimizing and codifying amateurism in professional-grade sport, that foundation may face a potential threat.

Blue-chip high school basketball prospects have somewhat forced the NCAA’s hand. Over the course of the last year, the NCAA has witnessed some top-tier talent go to non-college program alternatives. The projected #1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Lamelo Ball, elected to play overseas in Australia this past season, while the 23rd overall selection in the 2019 draft, Darius Bazley, took on a $1 million internship with New Balance. However, everything truly changed when the NBA G-League launched its professional pathway program at the end of 2018, which provided NBA prospects with a more “conventional” alternative to skill development than the aforementioned options.

The program has seen its popularity take off in recent weeks, welcoming three of the top 20 high school recruits in the country, who would have otherwise played for college programs. Jalen Green (#1) was reportedly considering Auburn and Memphis before announcing his G League decision. Meanwhile, Isaiah Todd (#14) and Daishen Nix (#20) spurned commitments to Michigan and UCLA respectively for the pathway alternative.

Moreover, others are expected to follow and for good reason – the program pays prospects $125,000 (at a minimum, top prospects like Green can make up to $1 million) and offers prospects a full scholarship to Arizona State University, which partnered with the program. However, these only outline the explicit benefits. Prospects who elect for this program (or any NCAA alternative) can already receive endorsement deals, market their own image, amongst other NIL rights, which the NCAA is currently working to introduce next season.

Sudden Death

The NCAA is on the clock and may consider instituting these changes even sooner or run the risk of losing other top high school prospects. Further, other states are already looking to follow the footsteps of California and Florida, which have already passed their own laws permitting NIL rights. The first of those agreements (Florida) goes into effect July of 2021 and will not wait for the NCAA. The consequences of having different systems of NIL compensation in place at different times across all 50 states are certain to be wide-reaching, but at a minimum will create vast disparities in compensation. For example, if Florida is indeed the first to implement its bill, it is reasonable to expect a surge of high school talent to Florida’s Division I schools, which would tip the competitive balance in the NCAA.

There are endless considerations for the NCAA to take into account as it moves forward. It looks as though Congress will have its hands full until 2021 between dealing with the pandemic the fact that it is an election year. For those reasons, the NCAA may largely be on its own in finding an equitable solution to implement NIL rights in all 50 states. As for now however, the ball is in the NCAA’s court.