Basketball legend Michael Jordan testifies in $10 million brand case

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 18, 2015 3:04 PM

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Basketball superstar turned billionaire pitchman Michael Jordan took the stand in federal court on Tuesday to testify in his lawsuit seeking millions from a grocery chain that used his name and jersey number in an ad, without permission.

Jordan claims he should be paid $10 million, which he says is fair market value for a full page ad in a 2009 Sports Illustrated commemorative magazine celebrating his career, taken out by now-defunct Dominick's Finer Foods, a division of Safeway.

A judge previously ruled that Dominick's is liable for using Jordan's identity without his permission. The jury in the trial before U.S. District Judge John Blakey, which began a week ago, now must decide what the grocery chain will have to pay Jordan.

Lawyers for Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association championships in the 1990s, have put on the stand sports marketing experts and Jordan advisers who said he typically only endorsed products in long-term deals that were worth at least $10 million in cash and promotional value.

Defense attorneys have argued that the ad should not be judged by Jordan's huge endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade and Hanes, but by a few deals the star made with smaller businesses.

The trial, which began on Aug. 11, has drawn a small group of fans to the Chicago courtroom.

Under questioning by his lawyer Jordan said he brought the lawsuit "to protect my likeness, my image. It's something I value very preciously." Dressed in a charcoal suit and gray tie, Jordan drew laughs when he said "don't look" as he put on reading glasses to read an evidence document while he was on the stand.

Jordan, 52, was only on the stand a few minutes. But he did spar with a defense attorney over whether or not he was qualified to compare the value of his major product endorsements with the value of the Dominick's ad.

Jordan is majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team and his biography on the NBA website calls him "by acclamation" the greatest basketball player in history.

He has built a fortune out of product endorsements, making well above what current sports stars receive. In 2014, 11 years after he retired as an NBA player, he made $100 million from marketing of his image, his business manager, Curtis Polk, said in testimony on Monday.

(Additional reporting and writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Bernard Orr)