LeBron James and Drake are among the defendants in a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by the former head of the NBA Players Association Billy Hunter over the rights to an upcoming historical documentary on an all-Black Canadian hockey league.
Hunter alleges in the lawsuit filed over the weekend in a New York state court that he has the rights to “Black Ice,” the doc scheduled to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday. Hunter seeks “no less than $10,000,000, plus interest,” according to the civil complaint obtained by Front Office Sports.
Hunter isn’t seeking an injunction to halt the release and distribution of “Black Ice,” but rather a cut of the doc’s revenues.
“We look forward to pursuing this claim in order to recover the damages that Mr. Hunter is entitled to,” Larry Hutcher, Hunter’s attorney, said in an email to FOS.
The New York Post was the first outlet to report the lawsuit.
The list of defendants is star-studded and deep.
- James’ longtime friend/business partner, Maverick Carter, and the duo’s SpringHill Company and Uninterrupted Canada.
- Brothers George and Darril Fosty, who accepted more than $260,000 for the movie rights to their book, “Black Ice: The Lost History of The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925,” and their publishing company, Stryker Indigo.
- Dreamcrew Entertainment along with Drake and Future, the two rappers who founded the production company.
- Producers Vinay Virmani and Scott Moore along with their First Take Entertainment film production company.
At the heart of the lawsuit is a disagreement over the rights Hunter obtained as part of a deal with the Fosty brothers that was originally made in March 2019.
“The agreement granted to Hunter an option to purchase the worldwide and exclusive license to develop and produce, among other things, any ‘motion picture, television series’ or ‘other audiovisual adaptation,'” the lawsuit states.
The book — and the documentary that arose out of it — details the segregated Colored Hockey League that began play in Nova Scotia in 1895 through its final season in 1930. The documentary comes as North American hockey at all levels still has unresolved race and diversity issues.
Hunter paid $10,000 for the two-year rights, and in October 2020 Virmani and Moore sought to buy out Hunter.
“On that Zoom call, Hunter unequivocally stated that this was a passion project of his, and he had no interest in selling his exclusive option or any portion of his rights,” the lawsuit stated.
Hunter extended that two-year agreement with the authors for a third year through March 2022.
Hunter then exercised another option under the original agreement and paid $250,000 to “own the exclusive, worldwide rights to any audiovisual adaptations” of the book.
After hearing rumors and seeing news reports about “Black Ice” in August, and the scheduled debut, Hunter reached out to the authors.
George Fosty told Hunter “in sum and substance, that [“Black Ice”] did not violate the agreement since it was a ‘documentary’ which is purportedly outside the scope of the agreement,” according to the lawsuit.
“That self-serving interpretation of the Agreement is not only clearly wrong, but the mere assertion was made in bad faith as the agreement absolutely covers the exclusive, worldwide right ‘to develop and produce,’ among other things, any ‘motion picture’ or all ‘audiovisual adaptations’ of the property, including documentaries,” the lawsuit states.
This isn’t the first time James has been involved in a lawsuit by Hunter. Hunter blamed James, among others, for having a role in his 2013 ouster after 17 years as the head of the NBPA.
James was subpoenaed in that lawsuit, which sought $10 million in damages. Hunter and the NBPA settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount in 2017.