On 11 September 2009, former Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan, considered by many to be basketball’s greatest player ever, was among a class of five players inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (along with Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, C. Vivian Stringer and David Robinson). In conjunction with that event, the Chicago-based Dominick’s Finer Foods grocery chain (a subsidiary of Safeway Inc.) took out an advertisement in Sports Illustrated magazine congratulating the NBA superstar:
The placing of congratulatory advertisements by businesses as a promotional ploy is not uncommon in the corporate world, but this had another aspect to it that placed it outside the realm of the purely laudatory: it included a $2 coupon good for Rancher’s Reserve steak purchases at Dominick’s. That aspect prompted Jordan himself to file a lawsuit against Dominick’s seeking $10 million in damages for using his name in an advertisement without his permission.
The two sides did not reach a settlement, and in September 2015 jurors at a civil trial deliberated for six hours before finding for Jordan and awarding him $8.9 million. The obviously happy and relieved basketball legend quipped to reporters after the verdict that “I’m so used to playing on a different court” and asserted that “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.” He added that the case “was never about money” and that he intended to donate the damages awarded to him to charities in Chicago.
As the Chicago Tribune noted of the decision, which culminated a five-year long business dispute:
Before the case even went to trial, the court had decided that Dominick’s was liable for running the ad without Jordan’s permission. That meant jurors only had to decide how much Safeway should pay.
The case turned on the two sides’ competing versions of how to calculate the fair market value of the ad. Jordan testified that he signs only long-term deals expected to be worth $10 million and that he would “never” have agreed to the Dominick’s ad, which compared him to a piece of meat and came with a $2-off coupon for steaks.
An expert hired by Dominick’s had calculated that a “hypothetical deal” between the two sides could have been concluded for $126,900.
The Dominick’s Finer Foods chain had closed virtually all of its stores by the end of 2013, two years before the multi-million verdict against it.