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NBA star’s lawyers warned Spokane company to rename ‘Greek Freak’ spice blend

Dec. 31, 2019 Updated Tue., Dec. 31, 2019 at 7:55 p.m.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) grabs a rebound away from Chicago Bulls forward Daniel Gafford (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game on Monday in Chicago. In early August, Antetokounmpo’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Spiceology Inc., a Spokane company founded in 2013 that sells herbs and spices, including a savory Mediterranean blend called “Greek Freak.” (Matt Marton / AP)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) grabs a rebound away from Chicago Bulls forward Daniel Gafford (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game on Monday in Chicago. In early August, Antetokounmpo’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Spiceology Inc., a Spokane company founded in 2013 that sells herbs and spices, including a savory Mediterranean blend called “Greek Freak.” (Matt Marton / AP)

Lawyers for NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo have fought vigorously to defend his trademarked nickname – the “Greek Freak” – and last summer they nearly brought that fight to Spokane.

Antetokounmpo, who was born in Athens, is the league’s reigning MVP. Standing 6 feet, 11 inches tall, the 25-year-old led the Milwaukee Bucks to their 30th win of the season in Monday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.

In early August, his lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Spiceology Inc., a Spokane company founded in 2013 that sells herbs and spices, including a savory Mediterranean blend called “Greek Freak.”

But the company defended itself, saying it had started using the name first.

“We had been using ‘Greek Freak’ before Giannis came into the league and started using ‘Greek Freak’ himself,” Spiceology CEO Chip Overstreet said Tuesday. “So we feel very confident that we will have the rights to continue to use the name ‘Greek Freak’ in the future and have not altered our marketing of the product in any way.”

Spiceology confirmed it received the cease-and-desist letter when contacted by The Spokesman-Review. The company declined to share a copy of the letter but said it arrived in early August from the New York law firm Pardalis & Nohavicka, which has represented Antetokounmpo in two trademark-infringement lawsuits.

Overstreet said Spiceology’s lawyers sent a response later that month.

“We gave them proof of when we started using the mark,” he said. “And we even offered … if there was any interest in doing some collaboration around marketing, we would be certainly interested in having discussions with Giannis’ agents.”

Spiceology didn’t hear from Antetokounmpo’s lawyers after that, Overstreet said. He noted the company has never mentioned the player or the NBA in its marketing materials.

“There are plenty of bad actors out there that are definitely trying to capitalize on his name and his likeness,” Overstreet said. “And so, we just got caught up in the middle of that.”

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Antetokounmpo filed to trademark “Greek Freak” in May 2014, toward the end of his first season in the NBA. The trademark was registered in February 2018. He also holds a trademark for “Greek Fr34k,” which includes his jersey number.

An attorney listed on the trademark filings referred questions to Antetokounmpo’s publicist, who didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday. Taso Pardalis, an attorney with the New York firm, asked for questions to be sent via email but did not offer a response.

Antetokounmpo is playing under a four-year, $100 million contract that runs through the 2020-21 season. He also makes $9 million a year from Nike, not including profits from his first signature sneaker, which was released in 2019, according to Forbes.

The cease-and-desist letter to Spiceology arrived around the same time as Antetokounmpo’s lawyers filed two trademark-infringement lawsuits. In July, they sued an artist in Pennsylvania who was selling T-shirts featuring an illustration of the player. And in August, they sued a company registered in Florida, accusing it of selling bootlegged Antetokounmpo merchandise.

Both suits sought monetary damages, and both ended in confidential settlements.

Although the warning to Spiceology seems to have blown over, it was still a nuisance that cost the company time and attorney fees, Overstreet said.

“This is just more work that you weren’t planning on having to spend time on, in responding to it,” he said.

As for “Greek Freak” the spice blend, Overstreet said it’s extremely versatile. He recommended sprinkling it on chicken, roasted vegetables, mac and cheese, even a bagel with cream cheese.

“ ‘Greek Freak’ was one of our first blends, and it’s one of our most popular blends,” he said. “People love it.”

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