Rentmeester filed a lawsuit against Nike 30 years later, accusing the brand in January 2015 of copying his original image of Jordan in order to create the Jumpman logo. The complaint, filed in Oregon district court, traced how Nike allegedly borrowed Rentmeester’s image of the flying Jordan from Life and created its own version that in turn birthed the famous logo of Jordan’s silhouette that’s adorned billions of dollars worth of sneakers.
Nike took interest in the photo of Jordan from the Life Olympic issue early on, according to Rentmeester’s lawsuit. Peter Moore, Nike’s creative director who was instrumental in the Air Jordan deal, facilitated a payment to Rentmeester of $150 in order to grant Nike limited use of two transparencies of the photo in August 1984. Nike was allowed, per the invoice, to use the images “for slide presentation only, no layouts or any other duplication.”
After obtaining the transparencies from the photographer, Nike made a similar image, replacing Jordan’s New Balances with sneakers from his signature line and replacing the Chapel Hill backdrop with Chicago’s skyline. Jordan has nearly the same pose in the Rentmeester original and the Nike version, his left arm extended and legs scissored out.
Rentmeester reached out to Nike when the brand used its Jordan image in promotional materials around the launch of the Air Jordan line circa 1985. “Nike initially refused to speak with Mr. Rentmeester regarding the issue,” the 2015 lawsuit says, “and only responded to his repeated requests when Mr. Rentmeester threatened litigation.” The brand paid Rentmeester $15,000 in March 1985 for a limited license to use its version of the Jordan image for two years.
Rentmeester’s lawsuit contended that Nike wilfully infringed upon his copyrighted images of Jordan by exceeding the scope of their original agreement. It accused Nike of ripping off his work to create the Jumpman logo, a world-famous brand mark that shows Jordan in a pose similar to the one Rentmeester instructed him to do for the Life photo shoot in 1984. The lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful; it was dismissed in June 2015, and the Supreme Court rejected an appeal in 2019.