Miami Heat President Pat Riley might have more than an emotional interest in his team’s pursuit of a third straight National Basketball Association championship. He may have a financial stake, too.
Riley’s Riles & Co. owns the trademarks “Three Peat” and “3 Peat,” the phrase commonly used to describe a sports team that’s won back-to-back-to-back titles.
Any entity, including NBA licensees, wanting to use the term for a commercial purpose would have to obtain either permission or pay a royalty to Riley, whose 1994 trademark filings include bumper stickers, posters, collector plates and mugs. A 2010 filing added hats, jackets and shirts, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website.
The LeBron James-led Heat “is doing something with regards to it,” John Aldrich, who along with Riley’s company is listed as the trademark’s owner, said when asked whether the franchise or the NBA might utilize the mark. He declined to discuss specifics. “I’m not in a position to comment on it,” said Aldrich, a partner in the Albany, New York, office of Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC.
Heat merchandise is the most popular in the NBA. Not only did James have the best-selling jersey at the league’s online store this season, but the Heat were the top-selling NBA team on Fanatics.com, the largest online retailer of officially licensed team merchandise. Miami is also first in team sales during the playoffs, Fanatics said.
Heat spokesman Tim Donovan in an e-mail said it would be premature for team owner Micky Arison, the billionaire chairman of Carnival Corp., the largest cruise operator, or Riley, second to New York Knicks President Phil Jackson in career postseason coaching wins, to discuss possible uses of the trademark.
“That’s a question that will only be answered if we’re lucky enough to win this year,” he said.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass declined to comment on the league’s potential interest in using the trademark. Riley has in the past had a licensing agreement with the league.
Pamela Deese, a partner at the Washington law firm Arent Fox, said a royalty in a short-term team championship matter would probably be 10-12 percent of sales instead of a flat fee. Riley would be wise to charge a fee for the trademark, she said, because it would allow him to prove damages in case someone infringes on the trademark.
“It’s good to have an established price,” said Deese, whose clients include Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin.
James has won four Most Valuable Player awards, including the past two. He and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant are widely considered the frontrunners for this season’s award.
The Heat finished the regular season with 54 wins, top in the Southeast division and second to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference. Miami can sweep its first-round playoff series against the Bobcats 4-0 with a win tonight in Charlotte.
Riley’s initial trademark application was made in 1988, after the team he coached at the time, the Los Angeles Lakers, had won two straight championships. The phrase was registered in August 1989, two months after the Detroit Pistons swept the Lakers in the NBA Finals, preventing Los Angeles from becoming the first team to win three consecutive titles since the Boston Celtics during the mid-1960s. That trademarked was canceled in 2012.
His subsequent trademark applications coincided with the dominance of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, who won three straight titles from 1991-93, and another three straight from 1996-98. The term “Three-Peat” was used on T-shirts and hats during the Bulls’ dynasty.
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