Photo: Gregory Shamus (Getty)

Kawhi Leonard has sued Nike, the apparel company with whom he recently ended an endorsement contract, over control of the “Klaw” logo used to identify his branded merchandise. Kawhi says he provided the logo to Nike, and that Nike’s claim to ownership of the logo is based upon an underhanded move to go to the United States Copyright Office and claim “authorship” and “rights and permissions” behind his back.

The lawsuit says that the “Klaw” logo marketed by Nike when they had Kawhi under contract was the product of Kawhi’s imagination, and was refined by Kawhi mostly without Nike’s participation, before he ever signed with the brand. It should not surprise you to learn that Kawhi’s process for creating his personal logo was dedicated and very, very serious, because he is a machine perfectly calibrated for maximum success:

The lawsuit says Kawhi, who signed with Nike in 2012, “for the most part rejected” Nike’s proposals for modifying the logo he’d created prior to their business arrangement, but in June 2014 accepted one of Nike’s modified workups of his design and granted Nike permission to slap the logo on Kawhi merch, “during the term of the Nike Agreement.” This situation apparently worked well enough for everyone, and everyone evidently understood its terms well enough, until sometime in late 2016 or early 2017, when the lawsuit says Nike went behind Kawhi’s back to seize control over his creation.

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The lawsuit says prior to Nike grabbing control of the logo, they’d understood and respected Kawhi’s ownership of the logo well enough to even decline to act when third parties used the logo “without authorization.” But Nike’s quiet registering of the logo in 2017 eventually came to Kawhi’s attention late in 2018, after Kawhi left Nike to sign with New Balance in November. Apparently Nike executive John Matterazzo sent Kawhi’s people a cease and desist letter the following month, asserting Nike’s ownership of the logo and demanding that it not be used on non-Nike merchandise.

You will remember, this is the logo that the Los Angeles Clippers reportedly looked into buying away from Nike as part of their anticipated courtship of Leonard this summer. The organization was apparently interested in passing along Nike’s ownership share of the logo to Kawhi as a condition of Kawhi jumping to the Clippers in free agency. Marc Stein reported then that Nike, meanwhile, “is intent on rebuffing all approaches and retaining its rights to that logo for as long as it can.”

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Kawhi badly wants and feels justifiably entitled to something he says he created out of his own imagination and with which he personally identifies; Nike is loath to grant a competitor the known and market-proven logo of one of most rapidly ascending athletes in American professional sports. The lawsuit accuses Nike of defrauding the Copyright Office and asserts that Nike has no rights to the logo. You can read the whole thing below.