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Black Fives Inc. seeks reconciliation with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

August 11, 2011 | 10:16 pm

Kareem Abdul-JabbarBlack Fives Inc., owners of trademarked logos commemorating vintage African American basketball teams, asked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in an article published on the company's website if the two parties could reconcile 15 days after withdrawing a federal lawsuit accusing the Laker star's film company of trademark infringement in connection with his recent documentary, "On the Shoulders of Giants."

Owner Claude Johnson also published an e-mail sent to Abdul-Jabbar and his business manager, Deborah Morales, apologizing for "overreacting" in articles he wrote detailing the lawsuit, asked for a meeting to discuss future projects and offered to provide both Abdul-Jabbar and Morales a pair of Harlem Rens sneakers from Nike or Converse. 

"Finally, will you forgive me?" Johnson wrote. "Will you please consider meeting with me to explore some ways of teaming up?  Ours is a teeny tiny operation compared to the vast presence, fame and backing you have, but sometimes a 'big thing' can benefit from a little spark to make it even bigger and better."

Morales declined to comment when asked for a response to Jones' apology and e-mail. But Morales wrote in an e-mail that Jones' apology came "less than 48 hours" after being given a "legal letter letting him know we would defend our reputations and that we would challenge his statements as well as his trademarks unless he issued a public apology." 

Johnson confirmed in a phone interview that he received the letter, but said he hasn't talked to his lawyer, Kimberly N. Reddick, about it and only glanced at the document enough to see Morales was "threatening libel" on behalf of Abdul-Jabbar's film company, Union Productions. Despite withdrawing the lawsuit without prejudice and issuing an apology, Jones said he stands by most of his accusations that prompted the company to file a federal lawsuit in New York Southern District Court on May 31, 2011. 

Among the allegations: It stated that the company didn't grant Abdul-Jabbar's film company use of a copyrighted photograph of John Isaacs posing in 2003 wearing Black Fives Inc.'s New York Rens gear, that Abdul-Jabbar and his film company never requested permission to use images, that Black Fives sent a "cease and desist" letter in 2008 asking the film company to stop using the trademark, and that efforts to reach a compensation agreement were ignored. Morales has maintained that Union Productions made sure "everything was cleared legally and properly."

As for the reason he initially filed the lawsuit, Johnson argued "for legal obligations I had to say something or else the world sees you’re not protecting your trademarks, copyrights and [intellectual property] rights." But with worries over legal fees that he estimated might cost anywhere between $200,000-$300,000, Johnson said the fight wasn't worth it.  

"There’s no point in pursuing expensive legal action, which may or may not result in anything else than that I’m right," Johnson said. "Just to prove that I'm right is not worth it to go that expense.  That option is still open, but I’m not interested in pursuing that right now." 


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar faces trademark infringement lawsuit over documentary

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's "On the Shoulders of Giants" celebrates the Harlem Rens

--Mark Medina

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