Professional basketball star LeBron James and his digital media company have unfairly profited from using a slogan trademarked almost two years ago by a Maryland nonprofit, a lawsuit filed this week alleges.
James's company, Uninterrupted, is one of four organizations being sued for trademark infringement by a lawyer representing Game Plan, a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment. The suit seeks at least $33 million in damages because Uninterrupted uses the phrase "I am more than an athlete," which is trademarked by Game Plan.
The complaint also names ESPN, Nike and video game company Take-Two Interactive as defendants.
"Uninterrupted, with the help of the most recognizable athlete in the world and the most prominent athletic clothing company and sports media content producer, generated revenue using a word mark that is nearly identical to Game Plan's mark," the nonprofit stated in its complaint.
Game Plan said it has been selling t-shirts with their slogan since officials first filed for a trademark in December 2016. The trademark was approved in June 2018.
Attorneys for Uninterrupted dismissed Game Plan's claims. "The complaint filed by Game Plan today is meritless and contains numerous factual inaccuracies. Uninterrupted owns prior rights in and to the More Than An Athlete trademark," they said in a statement.
Spokesmen for ESPN, Nike and Take-Two declined to comment to CBS MoneyWatch.
The suit claims Game Plan CEO Sam Sesay and a group of Washington, D.C.-area students attended a basketball game in October 2017 between the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers, the team which James played for at the time. James didn't play in that game but was in attendance, the complaint alleges.
Game Plan students took a picture wearing their t-shirts with John Wall, a Wizards player, before the game, according to a photo included in the lawsuit. The suit stops short of accusing James of stealing the phrase, but declares that Game Plan students "were courtside in close proximity to both the Washington Wizards' players and the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers' players while the players were preparing for the game."
A few months later, James was in image on Instagram with a sign that read, "I am more than an athlete."with Fox News personality Laura Ingraham in which she said professional basketball players should refrain from commenting on politics and just "shut up and dribble." In response, James posted an
"This media conflict or dispute with news personality Laura Ingraham gave LeBron James and Uninterrupted the opportunity to use ... I am more than an athlete in connection to LeBron James being more than a basketball player," the Game Plan suit alleged. "Uninterrupted then used I am more than an athlete to sell merchandise and as part of their media content production services."
Uninterrupted in August 2018 signed a deal with Nike to print t-shirts that read "I am more than an athlete," and ESPN aired footage that exposed U.S. viewers to the phrase, the nonprofit said in court documents. Take-Two's popular video game "NBA 2K" features scenes in which the phrase is shown in neon wording on a wall.