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Fake Raptors merch cat-and-mouse game plays out during NBA Finals


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TORONTO — Hours before the Toronto Raptors take to the court during their historic playoffs run, a cat-and-mouse game unfolds outside the team’s arena.

On one side, a group of slippery hawkers sell illicit team merchandise in an effort to seek large profits from excited fans. On the other, a crew of NBA executives, private investigators, city bylaw officers and police try to enforce the league’s property rights.

It’s the first time this type of anti-counterfeit operation has played out for the NBA on such a scale in Canada, given the Raptors’ unprecedented ascent to the Finals where they are tied with the Golden State Warriors at one game apiece.

“The finals generates so much interest and the Raptors story is so significant being the first Canadian team that what happens is it creates a tremendous spike with certain types of illicit vendors,” said Anil George, an intellectual property lawyer with the NBA based in New York City. “They basically do a bait and switch.”

The top items being sold without the NBA’s permission are T-shirts, jerseys and caps. George didn’t provide specific figures but said a number of counterfeit items have been seized so far.

Such anti-counterfeit operations are set into motion before many of the league’s marquee events. For the current Finals, one of the league’s intellectual property lawyers has been in Toronto leading a team of private investigators as they enforce intellectual property rights.

The private investigators are the key to the operation, George said, calling them the league’s “eyes and ears.” They’re trained to differentiate between legitimate and counterfeit goods and know where to find the sellers who easily “disappear” when spotted by the anti-counterfeit team.

The NBA also got in touch with the City of Toronto, which has bylaw officers out on game nights looking for those selling wares without a permit, said the city’s director of bylaw enforcement, Rod Jones.

Permit-related fines run about $200, he said, but some other bylaw offences, relating to street vending for example, can come with a maximum fine of $5,000.

A city analyst couldn’t say how many violations bylaw officers have handed out related to selling Raptors merchandise, but Jones — who called the role of bylaw officers “minor”  — believes they’ve laid a few fines.

Plainclothes police officers are also involved, said Toronto police spokesman Kevin Masterman, but they are only along to “keep the peace.” The force has not launched a criminal investigation related to fake goods, he said.

When the anti-counterfeit crew catches a seller, it shows them a cease-and-desist letter, informs them they’re breaking the law, and asks that they stop their operation and give up their goods, George, the NBA lawyer, said.

“Generally we obtain compliance,” he said.

A recent operation during an all-star weekend in Charlotte, N.C., for example, gathered $100,000 in fake goods, he said.

The alleged perpetrators are usually a mix of locals along with others who come in from out of town — in Toronto’s case some peddlers are suspected to have come from the U.S., George said. Fake jerseys are likely made in China and smuggled in, while T-shirts are usually made locally, he said.

The goods are cheap, poorly made, don’t last as long, and those manufacturing them don’t pay taxes, George said.

“If it’s too good to be true in terms of a deal, it probably is,” he said, adding that cheap, vague labels, and merchandise without holographic labelling are easy ways to spot fakes.

A pair of Toronto intellectual property lawyers who’ve been helping brands protect their rights for years said hawkers often have sophisticated, organized operations.

Lorne Lipkus and his son, David Lipkus, aren’t working with the NBA but have been part of similar efforts for bands that play at the same arena as the Raptors. They said such operations typically have three teams of at least eight people circling the arena before an event.

Those teams consist of private investigators, paid-duty police officers, at least one lawyer armed with cease-and-desist letters and a group of “spotters.”

The hawkers often have their own “counter-spotters,” David Lipkus said.

“They get on their phones and say, ‘stay away from gate six,'” he said. “Then everyone moves and disappears into the crowd.”

Lorne Lipkus said the hawkers typically carry their goods in garbage bags and restock at a van full of fake merchandise that’s parked in the area.

“They used to sell it out of the trucks, but they don’t do that because we can seize their vehicle,” he said. “It’s a lot of garbage bags of merch.”

On a good night, the lawyer duo said they may find up to 300 fake shirts, each going for $20 to $30.

“We’re always trying to stay one step ahead,” David Lipkus said. “It’s intense.”

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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Unwelcome spotlight falls on NHL team Pride night events

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The Stanley Cup makes an appearance during the Gay Pride Parade in Chicago, Sunday June 27, 2010. At least one National Hockey League team with a Russian player on its roster has decided against wearing special warmup jerseys to commemorate Pride Night because of a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights. (AP Photo/Chicago Tribune, William DeShazer, File)

By Stephen Whyno

Pride nights, held annually for several years by National Hockey League teams to show support for the LGBTQ+ community, are in the spotlight following several high-profile incidents this season.

A handful of players have objected to participating in pregame warmups that included Pride-themed jerseys, most recently Florida’s Eric and Marc Staal on Thursday night. On Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks decided against having players wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys for their upcoming Pride night, citing an anti-gay law in Russia.


The Staal brothers and San Jose’s James Reimer — who are Canadian — and Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov, who is Russian, all pointed to their religious beliefs for refusing to take part in warmups.

“We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” Eric and Marc Staal said in a statement. “Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a Pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs.”

The Blackhawks said they acted out of concern that the safety of their Russian player and two others with connections to Russia could be jeopardized by the law when they return home because it expands restrictions on supporting LGBTQ+ rights.

Chicago coach Luke Richardson said he and his players were disappointed.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Richardson said. “I don’t think we can control the world issues, so that takes it out of our hands.”

The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild decided not wear Pride-themed jerseys during warmups after advertising that they would. While each team has at least one star Russian player on its roster, neither specified the reason for the change.


Somewhat. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the anti-gay law signed by President Vladimir Putin in December have combined to pose some problems for the NHL and its 32 teams.

No North American professional sports league has as many Russian players as the NHL. The Russian contingent includes some of the league’s best athletes.

There are currently 45 Russia-born players spread across 28 teams, or about 6.4% of all players. They include No. 2 career goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay’s two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning teammate and 2019 MVP Nikita Kucherov and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers.

The top five highest-earning Russian players receive an average annual salary of $11.1 million this season.

Russian players almost never discuss the war, in part out of concern for the safety of their loved ones at home. It was not clear if there was any credible threat behind the Blackhawks’ decision.


The Stanley Cup first appeared at a Pride parade in 2010 when then-Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel brought it to the celebration in Chicago. A few years later, in 2013, the league partnered with the You Can Play Project, which advocates for LGBTQ+ participation in sports. The NHL added team Pride ambassadors in 2016-17.

Rainbow Pride stick tape debuted with the Edmonton Oilers in 2016. Now all 32 teams hold a Pride night, though many do so without themed jerseys. The Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets call theirs “Hockey Is For Everyone” night.

Pride nights, like other themed events, are planned and staged by individual teams, not the NHL.


The You Can Play Project responded to Reimer’s decision by saying it was disappointed.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said.

Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop, who in 2021 made history as the first player signed to an NHL contract to come out as gay, called the Pride night incidents a “step back” for hockey.


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said defending teams’ handling of the situation, saying the boycotts were not about accepting bigotry.

“Whether or not you choose to embrace and make a statement on behalf of a cause affirmatively, if you choose not to do that, it doesn’t necessarily make you a bigot,” Bettman said last month. “I’m sure you don’t endorse every single charity that solicits you, and you don’t participate in every social cause. You pick and choose the ones that are important to you.”

The league declined to comment on the Blackhawks’ decision.


Teams with Pride nights coming up have some decisions to make. The Buffalo Sabres are set to host their event on Monday, and the Vancouver Canucks on March 31. Each team has at least one Russian player.

It was not clear if players would wear Pride jerseys in warmups, as the teams have done in the past.


AP NHL: and

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Thompson’s 37-save effort leads Golden Knights to 3-2 win over Flames

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Vegas Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson scrambles to block the net during third period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, March 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

By Darren Haynes in Calgary

Logan Thompson’s triumphant return for Vegas after six weeks on the shelf was overshadowed by him exiting the game late in the third period with another injury.

Before he departed with just over six minutes to go, Thompson made 37 saves as the surging Golden Knights picked up a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

“Right now, obviously concerned about Logan,” said Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy. “ Obviously, Logan missing that much time, we’ll have to look closely at that one.”

It was unknown if the latest setback is related to the lower-body injury he suffered back on Feb. 9.

“I don’t know what happened, to be honest. He just got up and left,” Cassidy said. “He knows his body. I have no idea. At the end of the day, let’s hope it’s not related to the previous injury and it’s something that will be short term.”

Up 3-2 at the time, Jonathan Quick came in and turned aside all five shots he faced as Calgary poured on the pressure in search of the tying goal.

“It doesn’t happen really often but when he got out there (Quick) made a couple really good saves to keep us in the game,” said Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev.

The best chance to tie came off the stick of MacKenzie Weegar with a minute to go but he couldn’t beat Quick from 30 feet out.

“I saw the net and I missed my shot,” said the Flames defenceman. “If there was one chance I can get back all year, it would be that one.”

Nicolas Roy scored in his return from an 18-game absence for Vegas (45-21-6). Jonathan Marchessault and Michael Amadio added the others.

Milan Lucic and Nazem Kadri replied for Calgary (32-26-15). Jacob Markstrom stopped 29-of-32 shots in his 11th start in the last 12 games.

In avenging their 7-2 home loss to the Flames on March 16, the Golden Knights earned their seventh win in eight games and are 16-3-2 in their last 21 contests.

Vegas opened up a four-point cushion on the Los Angeles Kings atop the Pacific Division.

Meanwhile, the Flames took a blow to their flickering playoff hopes, falling six points behind Winnipeg for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

It’s the Flames’ 27th one-goal loss this year, which leads the NHL.

“We’re in every game, and we have a chance to win every game we’re playing, so it obviously makes it more frustrating that we lose and it feels like we’re always losing by that one goal,” said Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson.

“I don’t know how many games I’ve played back in my head thinking that ‘Ah, I should have scored that’ or ‘How did we not score that’ and we would have been in a different situation, but it’s the reality.”

Up 2-1 entering the third period, Vegas got some breathing room at 5:19 when pressure from Roy forced a defensive zone turnover from Rasmus Andersson. Roy then went to the net, received a pass from Phil Kessel and fired a shot over Markstrom.

The Flames crept back to within one at 12:33 when Kadri ended his 16-game goal drought with a power-play marker, but that’s as close as they would get.

“When it’s big games, we need guys to step up and be big players and we didn’t have that tonight from everyone,” said Lucic.

Calgary fell to 0-18-3 when trailing after two periods. The Flames are the only NHL team without a comeback victory this season.

Vegas, which entered the night having outscored teams 70-45 in the first period this year, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening frame, with both goals coming less than four minutes apart.

Jack Eichel sprung Marchessault who whipped a shot past Markstrom on a 2-on-1 at 11:43.

Slipping behind the Flames defence and after being stopped on his first shot, Amadio rattled in his own rebound at 15:23.

Lucic cut the deficit in half with 58 seconds left in the frame off a slick cross-ice setup from rookie Walker Duehr.


The Flames wore #SnowyStrong stickers on the back of their helmets in support of assistant general manager Chris Snow’s ongoing battle with ALS. The stickers that feature a blue cornflower, the international symbol of hope for the fight against ALS, were created by a parent from the U9 hockey team in which Snow’s daughter plays and were first worn by that team and its coaches.


Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith had his career-best point streak snapped at nine games (four goals, 11 assists). It equalled the franchise best, also held by Alex Tuch, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.

Four Flames also had their scoring streaks come to an end. Defenceman Noah Hanifin at six games, while Tyler Toffoli, Elias Lindholm and Blake Coleman each had their four-game streaks halted.


Golden Knights: Wrap up their road trip in Edmonton on Saturday night.

Flames: Play host to San Jose in an afternoon game on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.

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