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Former Celtic Great Bill Russell Suing EA Sports and NCAA

Bill Russell, the former Boston Celtic and owner of 11(!) championship rings, is the latest athlete to sue the NCAA and EA Sports for using his likeness in a sports game without compensation.  Russell’s likeness was used in NCAA Basketball ’09, as his University of California at San Francisco college team was part of the game’s Tournament of Legends mode.  

Russell also did not appreciate EA and the NCAA using historical footage of him to promote the game.  Russell’s lawsuit will be joined to an existing one by former UCLA player Ed O’Bannon who is suing for the same reasons.  EA already addressed the O’Bannon case, explaining that their usage of the likeness of famous players is protected by the First Amendment.  EA argues that since the games they make contain a significant amount of original creative content, their work is more than a depiction of a single athlete.


Almost a month ago to the day EA used similar reasoning to convince a judge to throw out the likeness case against them by former Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart.  While Russell and O’Bannon’s cases seem logical, the actuality is that they lie in a signifcantly gray area that is unlikely to sway a judge to rule against the precedent set by the Hart case.  While Russell won a lot of important basketball games, it doesn’t look promising that he’ll win his day in court.

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