On a wall in San Diego State's JAM Center basketball practice facility, bigger than the banner listing championships and tournament appearances, larger than the scoreboard, is a giant hand logo.
If you squint and look closely, the fingers are arrayed to spell out KL2.
The KL is for Kawhi Leonard, SDSU's most famous basketball alum. The 2 is his NBA jersey number.
SDSU added the logo to the JAM Center last August, a few months after the Nike-sponsored school announced it was the only West Coast basketball program to wear Jordan Brand, the Nike division that produces Air Jordan sneakers and apparel with Michael Jordan's jumpman logo.
And a few months before Leonard's contract with Jordan Brand expired and he opted to sign with New Balance.
Now Leonard and Nike are fighting over control of the "Klaw" hand logo. On Monday, Leonard filed a civil lawsuit in a San Diego federal court demanding the shoe giant rescind its copyright to the logo that it filed "unbeknownst to Leonard and without his consent."
Nike so far has declined comment, saying it doesn't speak about pending litigation.
"Yes!!!" JD Pollock, SDSU basketball's director of player development, tweeted with a link to a news story about the lawsuit. "Give the man his logo!"
The nine-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court chronicles the history of the logo, saying Leonard began developing it while at SDSU and modified it once he turned pro after his sophomore season.
"Leonard is known for his extremely large hands," the lawsuit says. "Since at least his college years, Leonard contemplated and conceived of ideas for a personal logo which would be unique to him and reflect something meaningful relating to his own image."
Leonard signed an endorsement contract with Jordan Brand in October 2011, shortly before his rookie NBA season with the San Antonio Spurs. In 2014, the lawsuit says, Leonard and Nike engaged in back-and-forth discussions about modifications to the logo design and ultimately settled on the current version.
In August 2015, in an interview with the Union-Tribune, Leonard spoke proudly about the new logo and its development.
"I wanted to make something that's a part of me," Leonard said then. "I'm not a good drawer at all. So I just traced my hand and then figured out how the KL could go in there. Then I sent it off to Jordan Brand and they made it more professional. But I tried to do as much of it by myself. What's more original than something you created?"
The lawsuit claims Leonard never transferred its rights to Nike and subsequently used it on non-Nike apparel "without dispute or challenge from Nike," whether it was T-shirts at his annual basketball camp in his hometown of Moreno Valley or sweatshirts with the "Klaw" logo he regularly wears during the NBA season.
In May 2017, Nike registered the logo with U.S. Copyright Office and listed itself under "authorship" on the application.
"Nike," the lawsuit says, "never notified Leonard of its intention to attempt to copyright the Leonard Logo nor did it notify Leonard when the copyright was awarded."
The dispute heated up late last year, after Leonard rejected what reportedly was a four-year, $22 million offer to stay with Jordan Brand, considerably less than other front-line NBA stars get. Kevin Durant's 10-year deal with Nike is said to be worth as much as $300 million. James Harden's 13-year deal with Adidas is for $200 million, according to various media outlets.
In November, Leonard signed a multiyear deal with New Balance, which had been largely dormant in basketball for more than a decade and wanted the Toronto Raptors star as the face of its re-entry into the market.
Attorneys for Leonard and Nike traded letters last winter, each claiming exclusive rights to the hand logo. On Monday, Leonard sued – presumably for use on New Balance products.
"Leonard intends in the near future to use the Leonard logo on apparel and footwear that he is actively developing and intends to bring to market," the lawsuit says. "Use of the Leonard logo is vital to Leonard's ability to continue to grow his brand and expand both his commercial reach and influence with charities with which he is involved."
Legal expects say a key element of the case will be the wording in Leonard's contract with Nike and Jordan Brand, which is not yet part of court documents. But the timing of its filing, intentional or not, comes when Leonard's public profile might be at its peak – leading the Raptors to the NBA Finals and tied 1-1 against defending champion Golden State.
"Even if Nike were legally in the right," Marc Edelman, a professor at Baruch College in New York who specializes in trademark cases, told CNBC, "the mere fact that a brand that relies so heavily on elite commercial athletes would attempt to prevent one of its former partner athletes from marketing his own license will make it far more difficult for Nike to sign endorsement deals with athletes in the future.
"The NBA is a small, close knit league and picking a battle of this nature against one of the elite athletes seems like a fool-hearted move."
One twist to the dispute is that the Los Angeles Clippers, according to the New York Times, have looked into buying the logo's rights from Nike and then transferring them completely to Leonard as another enticement for him to sign with the club this summer. The Clippers are considered the biggest threat to Toronto's efforts to keep Leonard, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on June 30.