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Catawba Business Professor Takes On LeBron James Foundation


What do LeBron James and a business professor at Catawba College have in common? They’re both behind some colorful bracelets with the phrase “I Promise” on them, which led to something of a dispute.      

Bracelets emblazoned with some sentiment or cause are everywhere.  And so four years ago, Catawba College Business Professor Pam Thompson had the idea of putting the words “I promise” on bracelets and selling them to help give her students some real world experience. It was through a student she found out basketball star Lebron James had a similar bracelet.  

“What I really thought was, ‘Yeah, I always knew this was a good idea.’ It was kind of justification,” says Thompson.

But then she learned his foundation was trying to register “I Promise” as a trademark.

The group was promoting it in a similar way.  A video on the foundation’s website explains the idea this way:

“A promise keeper is somebody who sets a goal for themselves and you’re going to strive to achieve your goal, regardless of what faces you.”

But Thompson believed she started using the phrase first.  So she wrote the registering attorney what she calls a “nice, little, Southern, polite letter.”

 “Hey, I’ve got something similar and can we talk about this?’” recalls Thompson. 

That letter went unanswered.  

So then Thompson hired a trademark lawyer.  She says a couple weeks ago she reached an amicable agreement with the LeBron James Family Foundation.  She says the terms are confidential.  The foundation didn’t return a call for comment, but it continues to advertise the bracelets on its website.   

Thompson sells a couple thousand of her bracelets each year for about $3 a pop.  The business is just breaking even.  She had wanted a celebrity to wear her bracelets to raise their profile.  But this isn’t exactly what she had in mind.  Still, she says, the publicity around this agreement has been good for business.

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.