At issue is Lauren’s high-top sneaker line, the Gervin Mid. In 1973, when Gervin starred for the ABA’s Virginia Squires, he was one of the first athletes to wear a Nike signature shoe called the Blazer.
In 2022, Ralph Lauren introduced the Gervin Mid as part of their 1970s-era retro line. The company’s lawyers said a French designer coincidentally called the shoe the Gervin because he liked the way it sounded. (Gervin is not a French name, it comes from Northern Ireland.) Nevertheless, Lauren changed the shoe’s name to the Ralph Lauren Mid, but shoes are still being sold under the original name.
The ’77 Blazer Vintage, inspired by Gervin’s original shoe, is still a Nike sneaker.
Gervin filed the complaint in the Southern District of New York earlier this week, alleging that the company neither asked for permission nor compensated him for his name and likeness.
“I have worked hard throughout my career to build my name and reputation, and I will not allow any company to exploit it without my permission,” Gervin, an NBA Hall of Fame player who was a star in the ’70s and ’80s for the San Antonio Spurs, said in a statement. “I am taking legal action to protect my rights and ensure that consumers are not misled.”
In the digital landscape name and likeness rights are becoming increasingly lucrative. Athletes as young as high school age are now signing six-figure deals given their extensive social media presence. A 12-time NBA All-Star who played 14 seasons in the NBA and the ABA and was named to the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team, Gervin, 70, still has cachet given his iconic career and nickname.
“NIL for college and amateur sports has become a billion-dollar market overnight,” Fox Ellis Sports Richard Lufkin wrote in an email to Sports Business Journal. “We believe the NIL Collectives are still significantly undervalued. The GG fight against RL will prove the true value of NIL is based on digital identity and data, which all athletes can leverage moving forward.”
Gervin was a coach in the Big 3’s 3-on-3 League last season and has remained an active presence around the sport, along with his philanthropic efforts. He was named an ambassador for the I Own Me campaign, a startup company backed by Fox Ellis Sports and iPrivata helping athletes and others take control of their digital assets.
“We must protect those whose privacy and identity rights become exploited in today’s increasingly data, digital, online, and technology-driven world,” Michael Clohisy, attorney for Gervin, said. “George Gervin is suing Ralph Lauren to regain and control the commercial use of his name and likeness, as well as protect the next generation of athletes.”
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