JR Smith v. the NBA: The Legalities of Brand Tattoos

Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard, J.R. Smith stated on his Instagram feed that the National Basketball Association (NBA) informed him that he would be fined for each game if he does not cover his recently acquired tattoo featuring the logo of popular New York- based streetwear brand, Supreme.

Article XXXVII of the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Player's Association (NBPA) states:

Other than as may be incorporated into his Uniform and the manufacturer’s identification incorporated into his Sneakers, a player may not, during any NBA game, display any commercial, promotional, or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification, including but not limited to on his body, in his hair, or otherwise.

Now, while this may be frustrating for J.R. Smith, the rule protects him and the NBA. The National Basketball Association generates money through strategic partnerships with their sponsors, some of whom are Supreme's competitors. These partnerships are critical to the NBA's business operations and therefore, the onus is on the league to protect their business relationships by ensuring that competing brands do not compromise an existing partner's rights.

Per the most recent collective bargaining agreement, NBA players earn a share of the revenue in the league's merchandising deals and therefore, the enforcement of partners' rights may extend to the players themselves. Would it be fair for brands to gain free visibility in the absence of a deal?

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