Michael Jordan, Chicago’s greatest basketball player, and two of the region’s iconic grocery brands appear to have settled a legal fight over the allegedly unauthorized use of imagery connected to the basketball legend in advertisements designed to honor Jordan’s induction into the basketball Hall of Fame six years ago.
Federal court records have yet to indicate the submission of any settlement to either of the judges overseeing the cases in Chicago. But a spokesman for Albertsons, the parent company of the Jewel-Osco and Dominick’s supermarket brands, confirmed the two sides have reached a deal to potentially end the litigation.
“Dominick’s Finer Foods, Jewel-Osco and Safeway confirm that we have reached an agreement resolving the lawsuits concerning the ads that appeared in a 2009 commemorative edition of Sports Illustrated Presents concerning Michael Jordan’s induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame,” Brian Dowling, spokesman for Albertsons, said in a prepared statement. “The terms of the agreement are confidential, but we are pleased to have reached a resolution of these matters.”
Reports published elsewhere indicated a spokesperson for Jordan also confirmed a settlement agreement had been reached.
Jewel-Osco was acquired by Albertsons in 1999. Albertsons acquired the Dominick’s brand when it completed its acquisition of Dominick’s parent Safeway in early 2015.
According to federal court records, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman moved on Friday, Nov. 20, at the request of Jordan and the supermarket operators to terminate further proceedings in Jordan’s case against Jewel. The action included clearing the calendar of the trial over Jordan’s allegations against Jewel set to begin Dec. 8.
A status hearing is still set for Dec. 17.
Likewise, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey cleared the calendar of all scheduled court dates involving Jordan’s lawsuit against Dominick’s. Earlier this year, a jury ordered Dominick’s to pay Jordan $8.9 million for the grocer’s alleged infringement of Jordan’s trademark.
The cases center on advertisements Jewel and Dominick’s placed in a special edition of Sports Illustrated magazine published to commemorate Jordan’s induction in the Hall of Fame.
After leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships in the 1990s, Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest basketball player in history, has become an international celebrity. He recently also became a billionaire, whose business empire is built largely upon his likeness and many elements of the image he built through decades of athletic achievements and product endorsements.
At the time of Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction, Jewel and Dominick’s were among several local businesses to run ads for free in the special magazine and also sell the edition on news racks in its stores for a time.
Jewel’s ad, for instance, included a pair of basketball shoes, similar to those Jordan wore during his years with the Bulls, bearing the number “23” on the top of the tongue. Jordan wore that number on his jersey for all but one season with the Bulls.
The ad further incorporated Jewel’s logo and its trademarked slogan, “Good things are just around the corner,” in discussing Jordan’s accomplishments.
Jewel had attempted to argue Jordan’s lawsuit should be dismissed because its use of the imagery was protected by constitutional free speech guarantees.
A federal appeals court, however, determined Jewel’s speech was commercial in nature, and therefore subject to restrictions under the law.
Feinerman in further proceedings had also warned Jewel of the likelihood it would be found liable at trial for unauthorized use of Jordan’s trademarked property.
Those concerns were only amplified by the jury’s findings in the case involving Dominick’s in late August.
Jordan was represented in the action by the firm of Schiff Hardin, of Chicago.
Jewel was represented by the firms of Goldberg Kohn Ltd., and Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale P.C., each of Chicago, and Merchant & Gould P.C., of Minneapolis.
Dominick’s was represented by the firms of Mandell Menkes, of Chicago, and Latham & Watkins, of Washington, D.C.