Charlotte Hornets star LaMelo Ball and his parents, LaVar and Tina Ball, are being sued for more than $200 million by Big Baller Brand co-founder Alan Foster, who accuses them of trademark infringement, fraud, unfair business practices and more.
In a separate case, Foster is also suing LaMelo Ball's older brother, Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball, for malicious prosecution, intentional interference with contractual relations and unjust enrichment. He is seeking more than $600,000 in legal costs in addition to damages, which could amount to millions more.
The two lawsuits, filed less than two months apart, are unrelated in a legal sense but both reflect the deterioration of a once-close relationship between Foster and the Ball family, which is from Chino Hills.
Last week, Foster filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles on Monday that named LaVar, Tina and LaMelo Ball among the co-defendants. The filing describes "a very coordinated effort on behalf of the Defendants to do one thing — prevent Alan from having any interest in the family companies of the Ball Family and the money they generate."
Other co-defendants in that case include the apparel company Puma, which has a shoe deal with LaMelo Ball; LaMelo Ball's MB1 Enterprises LLC; and LaVar Ball's Big Baller Brand Inc. A total of 12 causes of action are being brought against some or all of the defendants.
The lawsuit states Foster likely has suffered damages in excess of $200 million. Foster's attorney, Raymond Brenneman, told The Times on Friday that the dollar figure represented an "estimate of all the merchandise by Puma and Big Baller Brand that utilized trademarks owned by Alan Foster."
Puma told The Times via email it has no comment on the lawsuit. Attempts to reach the other defendants were unsuccessful.
Foster became close with the Ball family — which also includes middle son LiAngelo Ball, who is not named as a co-defendant in either lawsuit — more than a decade ago.
According to Monday's filing, Foster helped LaVar and Tina Ball start several of the family's companies and still owns a 33% interest in all of them, including the assets of the now-dissolved company, Big Baller Brand LLC. Those assets include trademarks involving LaMelo Ball, the Big Baller Brand and Lonzo Ball, the lawsuit states.
LaVar Ball started the separate Big Baller Brand Inc. in 2019, according to the lawsuit, and trademark registrations were later transferred from Big Baller Brand LLC to the new company without Foster's consent.
"The malicious intentions are not here difficult to discern," the lawsuit states, calling the move "an attempt to deprive Alan of his rightful 33% share of these extremely valuable trademarks so that the huge profits could be claimed entirely by the Ball family alone."
The lawsuit includes causes of action for breach of written contract and breach of fiduciary duty against LaVar and Tina Ball, and fraudulent registration of trademark and unfair business practices against LaVar Ball and Big Baller Brand Inc.
Also in the filing, Foster claims he helped a young LaMelo Ball develop his brand, including the creation of the MB1 name and design and the registration of related trademarks for Big Baller Brand LLC. The company launched LaMelo Ball's signature shoe, also called the MB1, in 2017.
LaMelo Ball started MB1 Enterprises in late 2020, the lawsuit states, and later filed for trademark protection for branding that is "confusingly similar" to the earlier branding Foster helped develop and register.
Also confusing to consumers, according to the lawsuit, is the name of Ball's first signature shoe from Puma, the MB.01 — "a name that is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the LaMelo 'MB1' signature shoe that Alan and BBB LLC earlier created, marketed, sold, and protected via the LaMelo Trademarks."
"When pronouncing the name of LaMelo’s signature sneaker, the common vernacular dictates that 'MB1' and 'MB.01' are both simply pronounced as 'M-B-1,'" the court documents read. "Nobody casually pronounces 'MB.01' as 'M-B-dot-oh-1'. Thus, the LaMelo signature sneakers marketed and sold by PUMA are commonly referred to in the marketplace as 'MB1's."
Foster's court filing includes images of the Puma shoes being referred to as "MB1" on multiple websites selling the footwear and in an online article.
"LaMelo and MB1 Enterprises, with willful, deliberate, and malicious intent, engaged in the promotion, participation, and advertisement of the Infringing Trademarks to drive sales towards PUMA’s footwear and apparel products, with whom LaMelo and MB1 Enterprises had lucrative licensing or endorsement contracts, all for their greedy financial gain," the lawsuit reads. "In carrying out these deliberate acts, LaMelo was fully aware of the existence of the LaMelo Trademarks — he helped design them!"
Foster is suing Ball, MB1 Enterprises and Puma for federal and common law trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair business practices, fraud and concealment of facts and conversion (LaVar Ball is also included on the last cause of action). All the defendants are being sued for unjust enrichment and constructive trust.
Much of Foster's lawsuit against Lonzo Ball, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Sept. 11, involves a lawsuit Ball and Big Baller Brand LLC filed against Foster in 2019 for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion and accounting against. That case is still active.
In his lawsuit against Ball, Foster claims he "suffered financial loss, loss of business relations, loss of reputation, and emotional distress" as a result of false claims the former UCLA star made against him in the previous lawsuit and in the media.
In addition, the lawsuit states, "Lonzo continues to profit from the BSG and BBB brands that Alan helped build, yet Alan has been excluded from the business and deprived of his one-third share of profits and assets.
"As a result of his efforts to secure trademarks, increase social media engagement, develop business partnerships, and establish profitable marketing strategies, Plaintiff enhanced the value of BSG and its related entities in amount to be proved at trial, but estimated to exceed $10,000,000 (ten million dollars)," the lawsuit states. "It would be inequitable for Lonzo to retain those benefits without fairly compensating Alan for the value he provided, given that Lonzo then used his status to damage Alan's interests."
Foster is seeking an undetermined amount in damages in addition to more than $600,000 in legal costs and attorneys' fees from the 2019 lawsuit. Attempts by The Times to reach Foster's attorney for this case, James Koch, as well as Ball and his representatives were unsuccessful.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.