When it comes to the use of his name, Michael Jordan says he’s the boss.
And the retired basketball superstar told a federal jury Tuesday he never would have let Dominick’s use his name in a magazine ad offering $2 off a grocery store steak.
“I have the final say-so with everything that involves my name,” Jordan testified.
The Chicago Bulls great finally took the witness stand Tuesday, a week after going to trial against Dominick’s and parent company Safeway at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. The grocer ran an ad in a 2009 limited-edition issue of Sports Illustrated magazine using Jordan’s name and his famous number “23” without Jordan’s permission.
Jordan’s closest advisers have already explained to jurors his strategy of only agreeing to long-term deals worth $10 million or more.
But Jordan attorney Frederick Sperling finally announced late Tuesday morning that, “as our final witness, we call Michael Jordan.” Wearing a charcoal suit and gray tie, Jordan stepped to the front of the courtroom. He raised his right hand in the air and placed his left hand behind his back as he was sworn in.
Unlike most trial witnesses, Jordan was not asked to spell his name in front of a gallery packed with spectators anticipating his testimony.
While he’s no stranger to the spotlight, Jordan spoke softly at times. The attorneys even asked him occasionally to repeat an answer because they couldn’t hear him. He jokingly told jurors to “don’t look” as he slipped on a pair of reading glasses to review legal documents.
He spent only 30 minutes on the stand, though he could be asked to testify again as soon as Wednesday.
When Jordan left the stand, lawyers for Dominick’s and Safeway began calling their own witnesses, including a former marketing executive for Safeway. A federal judge has already ruled that Safeway violated the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, so all that’s left for the jury to decide is damages.
Jordan kicked off his testimony by telling Sperling he sued Dominick’s “to protect my likeness, my image, something I value very preciously.” He reviewed his well-known biography, recounting how he initially failed to make his high school’s varsity basketball team. Jordan said he kept practicing and ultimately made the cut.
Then Sperling asked if “it’s worked out OK since then?”
“I’m not complaining,” Jordan said.
Jordan also gave a shout-out to the Detroit Pistons, who he referred to as the Bulls’ “nemesis” during his early days in the NBA.
“They used to beat us pretty good,” Jordan said.
Eventually, he told the jury he thought the 2009 Dominick’s ad “was a misuse of my likeness, my name,” and he said he would not have given permission for it.
The legal team for Dominick’s and Safeway has tried to undermine Jordan’s claim that he never enters endorsement or marketing deals for less than $10 million.
Steven Mandell, one of the grocer’s lawyers, tried to prompt Jordan to say he is not qualified to compare the authorized use of his name by Nike, Gatorade, Hanes and Upper Deck to the unauthorized use by Dominick’s. Jordan instead told jurors he was “very much qualified.”
As Mandell continued to press, Jordan asked him to define the word “qualified.”
“Are you competent?” Mandell asked Jordan.
Jordan stood by his answer and eventually told jurors, “I didn’t grant Dominick’s any rights.”