LeBron James & Nick Saban: Barbershop Beef

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LeBron James is a very powerful man. So is Nick Saban. They’re publicly beefing, and the sports world is salivating.
On April 3, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that UNINTERRUPTED–the athlete-focused media platform developed by LeBron and his business partner Maverick Carter–has slapped Saban and the University of Alabama with an intellectual property claim. UNINTERRUPTED charges that James and Carter’s original creation, “The Shop”, has been co-opted by Alabama. Alabama Football has developed a very similar production, down to the title, logo, and trajectory of the show.


Alabama’s “Shop Talk” premiered on March 28th. Saban, Atlanta Falcons receiver and Alabama alum Julio Jones, and other former Alabama players Eddie Jackson and Ryan Anderson are filmed in Alabama’s very own on-campus barbershop (an interesting use of NCAA-related revenue), reflecting on time spent together in Tuscaloosa, and how much the athletic facilities have changed over time. Saban gets emotional, describing his pride in the success of his players and expressing gratitude that they like to come back to Alabama every now and then.


UNINTERRUPTED premiered “The Shop” on June 9, 2017, just after Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Fittingly, the half-hour installment centered on LeBron and Golden State’s Draymond Green, who were facing off in a third consecutive Finals against one another. “The Shop” had been filmed during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans months earlier; it featured guest appearances by Carter, NBA legend Charles Oakley, LeBron’s childhood friends Rich Paul and Randy Mims, mogul Steve Stoute, rapper 2 Chainz, and sports marketing executive Paul Rivera. The men sound off on everything from Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s public trashing of LeBron in 2010, to the meaning of the national anthem, to whether NFL players should even be considered among the greatest athletes of all time. The men drink red wine, smoke cigars, get haircuts, and engage in fascinating discussion. It’s endearing, funny, and raw.


At face value, it’s pretty obvious that the Alabama production is a cheap knockoff of UNINTERRUPTED’s. Whether or not Saban intended to rip off LeBron remains unclear, but the visual evidence is there. Saban has vehemently denied even knowing about “The Shop”, insisting during his media availability on April 3, “I’m sorry that anybody could be offended by something that we were just having fun with”. Meanwhile, after a victory over the Toronto Raptors that same night, LeBron maintained to reporters that his case is valid. James “built UNINTERRUPTED for a reason: for us athletes to have a platform to be able to speak about whatever we wanna talk about”. LeBron has been steadfast in his commitment to centering athletes’ voices in an attempt to challenge media representations that may be misleading. While LeBron respects Saban as a coach, he makes clear, “I’d be damned if I’d allow someone to … try to do the same thing we’re doing and just think it’s okay”.


Unfortunately for UNINTERRUPTED, the company doesn’t specifically have a valid copyright infringement case. McMenamin reports that there is no copyright or trademark associated with “The Shop” by any of LeBron’s businesses. UNINTERRUPTED, when approached by ESPN, declined to comment on the next legal steps they will be taking. Representatives from Alabama and from UNINTERRUPTED have conversed, and allegedly “expressed an interest in working together”. This is obviously inconsistent with Saban’s comments.
“The Shop”/UNINTERRUPTED
After accusing LeBron of being offended by “Shop Talk”, Saban told the press that the Crimson Tide would continue to produce episodes. LeBron let Saban know that he won’t be relenting–“the lawyers will figure it out”. LeBron doesn’t seem too worried. Besides, he’s channeling his energy into breaking a new record every night in his 15th NBA season, and dragging his teammates to another championship run.


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