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Why Michael Jordan is in a Chicago court

Michael Jordan is defending his 'brand' in a civil trial looking at the market value of the former NBA star's identity.

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    Michael Jordan leaves the U.S. courthouse Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015, in Chicago. after the first day of his civil trial against the defunct grocery-store chain Dominick's Finer Foods for using his name and jersey number without permission.
    (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times Media via AP)
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Opening statements are set for a civil trial looking at the market value of Michael Jordan's identity.

Wednesday's openings at Chicago federal court will focus on whether a grocery-store chain diluted the value of the former Chicago Bull's brand by running a steak-coupon ad invoking his name without permission.

The trial in the city where Jordan won six NBA championships with the Bulls stems from a lawsuit he filed against the now-defunct Dominick's Finer Foods for the 2009 ad in Sports Illustrated that congratulated him on his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Text above a $2 coupon and photograph of a steak read, "Michael Jordan ... You are a cut above."During jury selection Tuesday, Dominick's lawyers questioned would-be jurors about whether Jordan's stardom would tilt their findings in his favor.

When a dozen prospective panelists were asked to raise their hands if any considered Jordan "an idol or personal hero," none of them did. But Judge John Blakey later dismissed one juror who said he idolized Jordan. When a lawyer noted the man wasn't wearing Nike Jordan-brand shoes, Blakey said maybe they should see if he used another Jordan-endorsed product.

Blakey joked, "We should check if he was wearing Hanes (underwear)."

Jordan has meticulously guarded his image and the suit was an attempt to thwart companies that employ praise to slip references to him in an ad. He's expected to testify about why he so carefully controls his brand.

Questions are also expected to arise about Jordan's lucrative endorsement deals with multiple companies, including Nike, as the sides seek to establish the value of his image.

A separate judge previously ruled that Dominick's did, in fact, use Jordan's identity without permission, so the unresolved issue is damages. Jurors could decide to award Jordan millions of dollars or, if they decide no notable damage was done to his image, nothing at all.

Jordan also sued the supermarket group Jewel-Osco for a similar ad congratulating him on his Hall of Fame induction. A lower court judge ruled in 2012 that the congratulatory message was constitutionally protected free speech and not a commercial, though an appellate court overturned that finding. That case is scheduled for trial in Chicago later this year.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

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