The Ball family finds themselves back in the legal world against a familiar face. Alan Foster, a former business partner and advisee to the Ball family and their brand, Big Baller Brand LLC (hereinafter “BBB LLC”) has filed suit against Charlotte Hornets star and youngest Ball brother, LaMelo Ball for trademark infringement.
Back in March of 2019, Lonzo Ball filed a suit against Foster alleging that Foster “Conspired to embezzle millions of dollars and then divert those funds for his personal use, including to acquire assets in Ethiopia.” Lonzo requested damages in excess of $2 million and this case is still pending in Los Angeles. While waiting for the outcome of this case, Foster decided to file his own suit against LaMelo and the Ball family.
Below is a summary of the facts and requested relief from Foster. It is important to note this summary comes based off of the complaint for damages from Foster and should not be taken as legal or factual conclusions.
In 2016, LaVar Ball, the Ball family father, asked Foster for his business guidance regarding his sons’ careers in basketball. LaVar and Foster agreed that marketing the “Ball” name was a unique and highly profitable opportunity. LaVar agreed that, in exchange for Foster providing loans to start the business and his business consulting, LaVar would grant Foster at least a 33% ownership in the new businesses and that Foster would hold officer and director positions in these companies. This was documented in the Proposed Terms-Ball Sports Group, Inc. (hereinafter the “BSG Agreement”). The Ball Sports Group would be constructed of a professional basketball sports agency, a media company, a merchandising company, and additional Ball Family Companies. The BSG Bylaws were created and shares were split up with 670,000 going to LaVar and Tina Ball, and 330,000 going to Foster.
In 2017, LaMelo, LaVar, and Tina agreed that Foster should create a brand for LaMelo similar to the Zo2 brand created of Lonzo. Foster created the name and design for LaMelo’s brand, MB1, and told LaVar this brand would be owned and operated by BBB. They registered three trademarks related to MB1 including footwear, apparel, and sportswear. On August 22, 2017, BBB released the MB1 signature shoe for LaMelo to wear and sell.
The complaint alleges that LaVar conspired with his family members to remove Foster after repeated confrontations about loans and shares by creating Big Baller Brand Inc. (hereinafter “BBB Inc.”) separate from BBB LLC, and not include Foster in the creation. BBB LLC was dissolved and LaVar transferred the BBB LLC trademarks to BBB Inc.
Now that the Ball family had ownership over the MB1 trademark, they sought to find a partner to create products. With LaMelo’s sudden rise to stardom, PUMA jumped on the opportunity in 2020 after LaMelo was drafted 3rd overall in the NBA draft and signed him to a $100 million shoe deal. Puma released the Puma MB1 LO and MB1 BCA shoes, which Foster alleges violates the MB1 trademark originally filed by Foster due to the likelihood of consumer confusion.
Foster is suing LaMelo and PUMA for trademark infringement alleging damages of over $200 million each. Foster is also filing a variety charges against LaVar, LaMelo, and PUMA including illegal conversion of property, unjust enrichment, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and unfair business practices. Seeing as how the original Lonzo v. Foster lawsuit is still pending, I do not see this getting resolved any time soon. The response from the Ball family and PUMA should shed more light on the facts of the case. However, what is clear is the animosity between the Ball family and Alan Foster has spanned half of a decade and at the moment, has no end in sight.
Evan Mattel is a 3L at Hofstra Law, President of the Sports and Entertainment Law Society, and Founder of Hofstra Law’s NIL Program. He can be found at @Evan_Mattel21 on Twitter or on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/evan-mattel-93a871182/.