Why Giannis Went After a Washington Spice Company – And Lost

It’s part of a sweeping legal strategy to protect his valuable brand and “Greek Freak” trademark.

“The Greek Freak” is more than just an endearing nickname for Giannis Antetokounmpo. For the superstar, it’s also a highly prized – and trademarked – brand. And the legal team of the Bucks’ franchise cornerstone is vigorously defending that brand. 

Antetokounmpo filed his first trademark for “Greek Freak” in May 2014, near the end of the then 19-year-old’s first professional season. That trademark, registered in February 2018, covers the use of the name on backpacks and clothing items. Since then, he’s also applied for trademarks for “Greek Fr34k” (incorporating his jersey number) to be used with various goods and services and “Greek Freak” in entertainment services. 


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Lawyers representing Antetokounmpo have filed at least 50 lawsuits against businesses and individuals they believe are infringing on his trademarks. Many of the suits have involved businesses selling merchandise online, says John Fredrickson, founding shareholder of Milwaukee intellectual property law firm Boyle Fredrickson. Some of them allege illicit use of images of Antetokounmpo or his No. 34 to sell products. Most of the suits were resolved within two or three months, and none involved any substantive litigation, says Fredrickson, who reviewed the cases at the request of Milwaukee Magazine.  

Trademarks aren’t worth anything unless you defend them, explains Peter Stomma, president of Boyle Fredrickson. An infringement requires a likelihood of consumer confusion – a perception that Antetokounmpo is involved with a Greek Freak yogurt when he is not, for example – and a determination as to who was first in using the mark. The usual step before litigation is a cease-and-desist letter, and Fredrickson roughly estimates that Anteto-kounmpo’s lawyers may have sent as many as 300 of them to businesses they believe were infringing before filing the suits.  

“Greek Freak” is derived from a combination of Antetokounmpo’s home country and his freakish athleticism. “I would guess that’s a pretty rare name,” says Fredrickson. “Before Giannis, ‘Greek Freak’ wouldn’t really mean anything to anybody.” 

Atlanta-based law firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders, which has handled some of Antetokounmpo’s recent trademark cases, didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

In at least one instance, Antetokounmpo’s legal team didn’t win out. In 2019, his lawyers reportedly sent a cease-and-desist letter to Spiceology Inc., a Spokane, Washington, business founded in 2013. Among the company’s wares is a popular savory Mediterranean blend called “Greek Freak.” Spiceology ignored the letter, arguing that it began using the rhyming name before it became tied to Antetokounmpo. Spiceology still markets and sells the blend of herbs, dried onion, sun-dried tomato, a touch of chili pepper and orange peel powder under the Greek Freak name.   

“That’s the risk of this scorched-earth policy of suing everybody in sight,” Stomma says. “The spice company could argue that they were first and have been established in using the Greek Freak name. If you think there’s a likelihood of confusion and Giannis’ attorneys agree, then he could be sued for trademark infringement. Now, all of a sudden, Giannis can’t use the trademark in the state of Washington. That’s opening Pandora’s box.” 



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s April issue.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.