Jurors at a civil trial focused on the market value of Michael Jordan's identity have handed him a major win, ordering a grocery-store chain to pay him $8.9 million for invoking his name in a steak ad without his permission.
The amount was close to the $10 million his attorneys said the one-time use of his name was worth and Jordan hugged his lawyers after the decision was read Friday night in a federal court in Chicago, where Jordan won six NBA titles with the Bulls.
"I'm so used to playing on a different court," a visibly delighted Jordan told reporters outside the courthouse. "This shows I will protect my name to the fullest. ... It's my name and I worked hard for it ... and I'm not just going to let someone take it."
Jordan added that the case "was never about money" and that he'll give the damages award to charities in Chicago.
Stepping back into the courthouse, two jurors asked him for a photograph and he obliged by throwing his arms around them and smiling for a cellphone camera.
A judge ruled before trial that the now-defunct Dominick's Finer Foods, which was owned by Safeway, was liable. So the sole unresolved issue was damages for the unauthorized ad in a 2009 Sports Illustrated. It congratulated Jordan on his Hall of Fame induction and included a $2-off coupon above a photo of a sizzling steak. Jurors deliberated for six hours before returning with the $8.9 million figure, at one point sending a note to the judge that said, "We need a calculator."
Jordan's fame loomed over the case, with one would-be jurors struck from the jury pool after describing Jordan as his idol. During closings Friday, Jordan attorney Frederick Sperling appealed to city pride in trying to persuade jurors to side with Jordan.
"He gave us six championships," he told jurors, Jordan sitting nearby.
Steven Mandell, the Dominick's attorney, told jurors he was also proud of Jordan's accomplishments in sports. But he said Jordan's attorneys overvalued their client's name, saying jurors should award Jordan no more than $126,900.
Evidence presented during trial provided a peek at Jordan's extraordinary wealth, including the $480 million he made from Nike alone between 2000 to 2012.
Jordan testified at the trial that he would never have approved the Dominick's ad ."I feel like it was a misuse of my likeness and name," he said. "It didn't fit the strategy we were operating on." He also testified about the use of his brand name: "There is no decision that happens without my final approval,"
Among the witnesses was Estee Portnoy, a marketing executive hired by Jordan, who said she was shocked when she saw the Dominick's ad, which included the text, "Michael Jordan ... You are a cut above."
Asked after the jury's decision whether he ever tried one of the steaks Dominick's advertised, Jordan laughed and noted his own namesake steakhouse was a few blocks away.
"You can go get a steak over there," he said.
Jordan has vigorously defended the use of his name for commercial products worldwide. But last month, he lost a lawsuit in China.
Jordan asked Chinese authorities in 2012 to revoke the trademark of Qiaodan Sports Co, accusing the sportswear firm of misleading consumers about its ties to the six-time NBA champion. (“Qiaodan” loosely translates to “little Jordan” in Chinese).
As well as the name, Qiaodan's products carry a silhouette of a leaping basketball player resembling the "Jumpman" logo used by US sporting goods giant Nike to promote its Air Jordan brand.
Authorities refused Jordan's request, and a lower court in Beijing did the same. He appealed to the Beijing Higher People's Court, which has ruled against him, the Chinese news portal Sohu reported.
"'Jordan' is not the only possible reference for 'Qiaodan' in the trademark under dispute," it cited a transcript of the verdict as saying.
A Beijing court has dismissed a trademark case brought by US basketball superstar Michael Jordan aga …
"In addition, 'Jordan' is a common surname used by Americans," the court added according to the report Monday, and the logo was in the shape of a person with no facial features, so that it was "hard" for consumers to identify it as Jordan.