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Plugged In

NBA legend Bill Russell sues EA, NCAA

Plugged In

Electronic Arts, which has struggled with its basketball titles for the past couple of years, now has another hardwood woe: One of the game's all-time greats.

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Bill Russell (Getty Images)

Former Boston Celtic center Bill Russell has sued the company over the use of his likeness in its "Tournament of Legends" feature in the NCAA basketball franchise.

Russell, who was named NBA MVP five times and remains the winningest player in history with 11 championship rings, alleges his image was used without permission and without compensation. He's seeking to block future sales of the game and receive a share of the profits from previous ones.

His beef isn't solely with EA. Russell, 77, is just as upset at the NCAA itself for licensing out his likeness from his college days without paying him. Russell led the University of San Francisco to championships in 1955 and 1956.

It's not the first such suit for the two organizations, either. Former college star Ed O'Bannon has an ongoing suit on behalf of other players against EA and the NCAA, alleging, as Russell does, that the NCAA violated federal anti-trust laws by not allowing former athletes to receive compensation for the use of their images.

Russell, incidentally, isn't opposed to appearing in video games. He most recently licensed his image to 2K Sports to appear as a playable legend in this year's stunning NBA 2K12 alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and his old nemesis, Wilt Chamberlain.

Winning the suit could be a challenge. Last month, a judged agreed to dismiss a suit against EA by Rutgers University quarterback Ryan Hart, who had alleged the company lacked the legal right to use his likeness in its NCAA Football titles. The judge sided with EA, which argued that its First Amendment rights overruled the privacy rights of Hart and others who hoped to control the use of their name and likeness.

It's also worth noting that EA has been out of the NCAA basketball game business for over a year now. It seemingly cancelled the series last February.

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