Updated: Jul 21, 2022
In July of 2021, Overtime Elite announced that it signed Francis “LeBron” Lopez, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from the Philippines, to play in its inaugural season. “We’re delighted to have Lebron join the OTE family as we expand our international reach, bringing in top talent from across the globe,” said Brandon Williams, OTE EVP, head of basketball operations. “Francis is a young man who has impressed us with both the combination of pure passion for the game and self-improvement, physical athleticism, work ethic, as well as many leadership intangibles. He’s the kind of player we want and expect to thrive at OTE.”
Lopez is represented by SDS Sports Agency. SDS is a full-service management agency for athletes, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, who filed a Form-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to classify Lopez as an O1A internationally recognized athlete. In its complaint, SDS claims that multiple government parties, including Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Ur Mendoza Jaddou, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, improperly denied the I-29. With that, SDS now seeks judicial review of that denial via this lawsuit. This complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
Pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, a United States employer may sponsor a qualified foreign national who, inter alia, has “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.” The Code of Federal Regulations has defined “extraordinary ability” as a “level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of their field of endeavor.” In addition to establishing “extraordinary ability” as defined above, a petitioner must also demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim and recognition for achievements in the field of expertise.
In its complaint, SDS writes the following in attempting to establish the "extraordinary ability" in athletics requirement: "Mr. Lopez, at only 18 years old, has already achieved more in his chosen profession than most people do in a lifetime. Just a month after Mr. Lopez’s 18th birthday, he had the distinguished honor of becoming one of the youngest players to ever play for the Philippines Men’s Senior Team in an official International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) tournament, which is known as the highest level of international basketball competition outside of the Olympics."
"Prior to competing in FIBA, he was named among the 2020 SLAM Philippines Rising Stars, which is a list of top high school basketball players in the country. In addition to the two honors, Mr. Lopez has received the following, non-exhaustive list of individual awards: 2020 NCAA Mythical 5, 2019 Batang Gilas U16 4-Star Prospect, 2018 BBI UI7 Mythical 5, and the 2018 MILCU U17 Most Valuable Player. Mr. Lopez’s exceptional achievements are why Overtime Elite Pro League (“OTE”) offered Mr. Lopez a professional contract."
Lopez is a highly intriguing prospect and I hope to see SDS succeed in this action.
Jason Morrin is a third-year law student at Hofstra Law School in New York. He is the President of Hofstra’s Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Additionally, he is a Law Clerk at Geragos & Geragos. He can be found on Twitter @Jason_Morrin.