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Md. youth nonprofit sues LeBron James’ company over trademark

A Bowie-based youth sports nonprofit is suing the media company owned by NBA star LeBron James for allegedly infringing on its trademarked “More Than An Athlete” slogan.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on Tuesday, claims Game Plan Inc. — which helps youth athletes successfully transition to college and find employment — trademarked the phrase “I am more than an athlete” in 2018 (after filing in 2016) and used it on shirts with the Game Plan logo.

Game Plan participants wore the shirts to a Washington Wizards game in 2017 when the Wizards played James’ team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, according to the complaint.

In February 2018, James took to Instagram with the message “I am more than an athlete” in response to Fox News personality Laura Ingraham’s comment that James should “shut up and dribble” instead of “talking politics,” according to the complaint. James’ post was a picture of the phrase on a neon sign in the offices of Uninterrupted Inc., a media company owned by James.

Uninterrupted subsequently used the phrase on merchandise and as part of its media content services, according to the lawsuit, and continued to do so after Game Plan sent a cease and desist letter. The phrase was used in media for ESPN, in the NBA 2K video game and on Nike apparel.

Those companies are named as co-defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages for trademark infringement.

Uninterrupted denied the allegations in a statement Thursday, calling the complaint “meritless” with “numerous factual inaccuracies.”

Attorney Ryan L. Jones said Thursday that the case is nuanced and could turn on technicalities.

“Pun intended, it’s not a slam dunk,” he said.

But Jones, a Washington solo practitioner, said he believes that right now many of the technicalities work in his client’s favor. Game Plan registered the trademark first and has opposed Uninterrupted’s attempts to register its own mark, he said. Uninterrupted has made statements to the media that it used the trademark first.

“We wanted to come to a resolution and they have taken an aggressive position against resolution,” Jones said of attorneys for Uninterrupted. “Because of that it leaves very little options. We might lost the mark.”

Jones added that he does not consider James “the bad guy” in the situation.

“As it turned out, it’s been difficult to see the headlines coming after a guy we highly appreciate,” he said.

The case is Game Plan Inc. v. Uninterrupted LLC et al., 1:20-cv-00455.

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