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Nike nixes tribute shoe plan after Iverson protest

November 20, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nike is pulling back on plans for a shoe that sneakily honors Allen Iverson after the former NBA superstar questioned whether the company could use his old number and team colors while he’s endorsed by rival Reebok.

Iverson says Nike used his identity, likeness and persona without permission for a sneaker out of the company’s Zoom Flight ’96 collection.

The ambiguously titled sneaker has the No. 3 — Iverson’s number — on each back heel and the red, white and blue colors of the Philadelphia 76ers. Neither Iverson nor the Sixers are named on the sneakers or on the branding for the shoes, which were expected to be released this year or in early 2015.

Iverson’s lawyer sent a letter to Nike this week objecting to the shoe.

Nike spokesman KeJuan Wilkins said in a statement on Thursday that the version of the shoe Iverson protested won’t hit stores.

“Nike has made a business decision to not move forward with the shoe in the red/blue and white/purple colorways,” Wilkins said in an email. “However, two colorways inspired by the original 1996 colorways will still be available for purchase.”

Iverson, who retired last season, has had a shoe contract with Reebok since Philadelphia made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft. Iverson’s signature shoe, “The Answer,” was Reebok’s flagship sneaker and runaway top seller during his prime seasons in the late 1990s, early 2000s. And Reebok is getting ready to release a new Iverson version of its iconic “Pump” sneaker.

A letter faxed this week by Iverson’s attorney, Derek Challenger, to Nike demands the company remove the sneaker from any retail inventories or website advertisements and cease any future sales of the product.

“There’s no other No. 3 that played for the 76ers that came out of the 1996 draft,” Challenger said. “For Nike to use his status to sell shoes, and not get his permission, to not compensate him, is bad business.”

Challenger said on Thursday after learning Nike was pulling the shoe that Iverson should be compensated for shoes that have already been sold, and would still object if the No. 3 is on the heel of the sneaker.

Lucas Ehrbar, editor of the website Nikeblog.com, said the sneaker released under the Nike Sportswear banner was already released in Asia.

Even in retirement, Iverson still has worldwide appeal to sneakerheads. The Nike tribute sneakers can be found on eBay — under a search for Iverson — for $109 to $129 a pair.

Athletes have had mixed results fighting use of their likeness that didn’t directly involve their name. College basketball star Ed O’Bannon and others including NBA great Bill Russell settled a class-action lawsuit against EA Sports for $40 million for its use of their likenesses in their college basketball video games. But former NFL running back Jim Brown lost a similar lawsuit against the same company in a decision that was upheld in a federal appeals court.

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