LeBron James, a Fan of Tacos, Seeks to Trademark ‘Taco Tuesday’

It’s an undisputed fact that LeBron James loves tacos, especially on Tuesdays.

And this Tuesday night, for seemingly the thousandth time, the millennial N.B.A. superstar went on Instagram and announced to his tens of millions of followers: “You know what it is! Taco Tuesdayyyyyy!”

This is how he lets people know it is his family’s taco night.

Mr. James’s custom usually includes the addition of a howl delivered in an exaggerated Spanish or Mexican-ish accent. His fans love it. And now the 34-year-old forward for the Los Angeles Lakers is making a move to formalize a claim on the phrase.

On Aug. 15, a company called LBJ Trademarks LLC filed a request with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on behalf of Mr. James to copyright “Taco Tuesday.” The company seeks protection for use of the phrase in a host of forums, including “downloadable audio/visual works,” podcasts, social media, online marketing and “entertainment services.” USA Today first reported on the request this weekend.

“The filing was to protect the company from potential lawsuits should we decide to pursue any ideas, nothing of which is in development,” a spokesman for Mr. James said this week on (taco) Tuesday. “It has nothing to do with stopping others from using the term.”

Trouble is, the phrase is already a federal trademark for a company in Wyoming. That copyright is itself a source of dispute and grumbling. At issue, for taco lovers far and wide, is the question: Should anyone hold a trademark for a phrase in liberal usage at Mexican restaurants across the country?

A Brief and Shady History of Taco Tuesday

Gustavo Arellano, a longtime taco chronicler and author of the book “Taco U.S.A.,” has found references to American businesses highlighting tacos or other Mexican foods on Tuesdays as far back as 1933. Now a features writer for The Los Angeles Times, Mr. Arellano chalked up Mr. James’s move to a newcomer’s naïveté. After all, Mr. James is only entering his second season playing for Los Angeles, after playing for teams in other cities.

“In LeBron’s defense, he was in Cleveland, he was in Miami — hardly capitals of Mexican food,” he said.

Mr. Arellano argued that the current trademark for “Taco Tuesday,” which has been held since 1989 by the franchise restaurant chain Taco John’s, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., is a classic case of “Columbusing.” Mr. James’s effort to claim the term now, he said, could be an opportunity to “free” it for use by all.

Currently, the U.S. patent office recognizes four trademarks related to tacos and Tuesdays: “Techno Taco Tuesday,” for an entertainment company in Las Vegas; “Tuesdays Were Made for Tacos at Rosa’s!” for a restaurant in Fort Worth; “Taco Tuesday,” for the Gregory Hotel in Somers Point, N.J. (applicable only in the state of New Jersey); and the 1989 trademark held by Taco John’s (applicable throughout the United States, except in New Jersey).

Twenty-five other filings, including the request by LBJ Trademarks LLC, are pending or dead.

Taco John’s, which did not respond to a request for comment, has been known to aggressively protect its claim on the term. But policing the use of “Taco Tuesday” is likely a futile endeavor: just Google “Taco Tuesday” and the name of any medium-sized or larger big city. Hundreds of restaurants, bars, and cantinas use the alliterative phrase to promote taco and drink specials on their menus, flagrantly ignoring a federal trademark.

In Los Angeles, which may be the taco capital of the U.S., the news of the N.B.A. champ’s filing was met with frowns, guffaws or shrugs.

“He definitely doesn’t know L.A.”

At Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea Avenue, it was just another Tuesday on a hot September afternoon. Customers lined up at the taqueria — founded by the actor and hometown hero Danny Trejo — to have mini tacos of carnitas, cauliflower or spicy shrimp, for around $2.75 apiece. There’s a special Tuesdays-only menu at Trejo’s.

“It’s a national slogan. To patent it? Come on, give me a break,” said Valerie Bracamontes, 53, who was dining at Trejo’s with three members of her family. “He definitely doesn’t know L.A.,” she said.

For some, Mr. James’s affected accent with the “Taco Tuesday” gag is a separate source of discomfort. It’s been described as cringe-worthy, and possibly a play on the Looney Tunes character Speedy Gonzales. “If you’re going to do a ‘grito,’” or traditional Mexican ‘yell,’ Mr. Arellano said, “at least do a good one.”

Still, tacos are “so ingrained in our cultural milieu as Californians that it doesn’t even strike people who are non-Mexican necessarily that it is not indigenous to us,” said Alison Rose Jefferson, a third-generation L.A. native and an independent historian of the African-American experience in Southern California.

That was the vibe on Tuesday afternoon at Worldwide Tacos, a taco shack in South Los Angeles that is legendary for what are often described as soul food tacos. There are more than 150 possible tacos or burritos on the menu, usually a frightening prospect for taco purists from other parts of L.A.

The business got a boost last year with a scene on the HBO series “Insecure” — the show’s star Issa Rae orders, and then sings to, the B.B.Q. salmon taco — but wait-times are long, and even its operating hours remain elusive. Customers arrive, leave their order and phone number, and go somewhere else to wait for an hour or more to get pinged when their food is ready.

Faithful customers say the waits are worth it. The lamb-and-blueberry taco is another surprising standout.

Al Sennie, who was preparing tacos on Tuesday at Worldwide, said Mr. James should not be faulted for his business acumen, “if he can get away with it.” L.A. will always love the Lakers, he said. But he paused when asked if the trademark request was ill-advised.

“Before he came over here it was already ‘Taco Tuesday’” in Los Angeles, Mr. Sennie said. “He should come down to Worldwide and really know what Taco Tuesday is all about, and bring the whole team.” Mr. Sennie, making his own potentially exaggerated claim, added: “These are the best tacos in L.A.”

Marc Stein contributed to this report.

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