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Denise Whiting, meet Pat Riley

Most of us basketball fans know Pat Riley as the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. Think Armani suits, hair gel, “Showtime” and a decidedly less elegant brand of hoops once he moved east. He’s also the current Heat team president, the man responsible for luring LeBron James and his talents to South Beach.

The guy’s also won five NBA titles and is in the sport’s Hall of Fame, so even an avowed Boston Celtics fan like me pays him his proper respects.

What does this have to do with Denise Whiting and “Hon,” the local term of endearment she’s trademarked to the consternation of many around town? Well, Riley’s also behind a corporate entity known as Riles & Co. Inc. that first trademarked the phrase “three-peat” back in 1989 and continues to hold the trademark today. It’s active for shirts, jackets and hats, meaning anyone selling memorabilia with the phrase needs to kick some coin to Riles & Co.

Its attorney, David R. Shaub of Los Angeles-based Shaub & Williams LLP, will no doubt see to that. Shaub’s bio describes him as an experienced intellectual property and business litigator and has a sub-speciality in patent and transnational litigation, having litigated over 1,000 cases and tried over 100.”

Riley’s move set off similar derision in sports circles back in the late 1980s.

His Lakers team was coming off back-to-back titles and was going for a third straight in 1989. The Detroit Pistons, however, won the championship that season, sweeping the Lakers in four straight games.

Many considered Riley’s trademark an appropriation of a common phrase that he had no hand in creating, and the mark has been challenged through the years on similar grounds. Legally locking it down was either the act of a very shrewd businessman or more proof of Riley’s somewhat slippery reputation (at least among us Celtics fans).

Whiting’s been lambasted since the Baltimore Messenger and then the Baltimore Sun published stories last week on the “Hon” trademark. One Facebook friend of mine said in an update over the weekend that “she has now reached ‘Angelos’ on the Baltimore hate scale.”

Now that’s being a little hard on the well-known attorney and owner of the Baltimore Orioles. But the outrage has come across loud and clear.

“Are you kidding? You can’t do that,” Mike Evitts, spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, told the Sun. “That’s like trademarking the word ‘sweetheart.’ ”

Evitts had me — well, right up to the part where he described “Hon” as “a state of being,” a civic treasure of some sort that’s ultimately “un-ownable.” Nostalgia and capitalism usually don’t mix. If they did, the Colts would still be playing football here and Black & Decker wouldn’t be a Connecticut-based Fortune 500 company.

Trademarks exist to protect commerce, which patent attorneys around town have been pointing out since the story hit the streets. Pat Riley smartly recognized that 20 years ago. He saw a branding opportunity and he moved to protect it.

Of course, I’d probably feel differently if my beloved Boston Celtics win three straight titles.