WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- An antitrust lawsuit against Dwyane Wade should be dismissed because the Miami Heat star has the right to control licensing of his name and image, Wade's attorneys told a federal judge Thursday.
But lawyers for Wade's ex-partners in a failed restaurant venture contended that the NBA star violated antitrust laws by walking away, and they want $90 million in damages from Wade. They argue that when Wade withdrew permission to license his name, he illegally squelched competition for valuable personalized items such as signed basketballs, T-shirts and hats.
Wade's attorneys told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra that a celebrity has never been accused in a U.S. court of wrongly monopolizing his own memorabilia market. Wade's decision to terminate his deal with partners in the D. Wade's Place chain was within his rights to license his own image as he sees fit, attorney Robert Turken said.
"If you have a right to give a license, you have a right not to give a license. If you have a right not to give a license, you have a right to take it away," Turken said.
Marra said he would rule on the request to dismiss the case "as soon as possible" but didn't specify when.
Bruce Fein, attorney for the former partners, said Wade's decision to abandon the project triggered the antitrust violation because it removed a competitor in the memorabilia business. D. Wade's Place was envisioned as a national chain of upscale sports restaurants that would sell Wade items at its locations and on the Internet. Only two Florida locations opened and they quickly closed.
Wade's contract gave the venture rights to use his name and likeness forever, Fein said.
Wade ranks fifth in the NBA with a scoring average of 27 points per game, and he has lucrative deals with Nike's Jordan Brand, T-Mobile and Gatorade.
"There are no substitutes for Dwyane Wade personalized memorabilia," Fein said. "He is a unique market -- a single brand. Once he gave the license, my clients invested millions of dollars. All that money was stranded."
Turken predicted if Wade's former partners prevailed, dozens of lawsuits would crop up around the country accusing famous people of trying to monopolize their names and images when they withdraw permission for their use.
"You would open the door to an antitrust violation explosion," Turken told the judge.
Wade, who turns 28 on Sunday, did not attend the hearing. Wade did take part in meetings last year aimed at reaching a settlement, but the talks hit an impasse.
Wade's former partners have accused him in separate lawsuits of reneging on the D. Wade's Place contract and walking away from a deal to license his name to for charter schools. The schools for at-risk children are up and running without Wade's involvement.