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Not every contract dispute that gets handled in the federal courthouse here attracts the crowd that came Tuesday to the Chicago courtroom of Senior U.S. District Judge James Moran where every seat was filled with lawyers, gawkers, court buffs, and the media. But then, not every contract dispute involves former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan. Dressed in a gray suit with a white handkerchief in his pocket, Jordan entered the courtroom through a backdoor to get around the crowd that gathered on the 18 th floor hallway. Sitting at a table with his battery of attorneys, led by Frederick J. Sperling of Chicago’s Schiff Hardin & Waite, Jordan remained silent during the morning portion of the trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois case, Jordan v. 23 Food Inc., et al., No. 00 C 1601. After the bench trial concludes later this week, Moran must rule whether a license agreement signed between Jordan and four companies once controlled by brothers H. Gene Silverberg and Joe Silverberg can be terminated over what Jordan’s attorneys said were remarks by the Silverbergs that were damaging to the ex-NBA star’s reputation. The license agreement allowed the companies to operate a restaurant bearing Jordan’s name in Chicago’s River North area. Jordan’s counsel especially objected to alleged comments that he had “abandoned” the restaurant. “Michael Jordan’s name is his most valuable asset,” Sperling said in his opening statement. “He has spent his entire life building the reputation that he has.” The four companies filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in March, and a group of attorneys led by J. Samuel Tenenbaum, of Chicago’s Sachnoff & Weaver Ltd., represent the bankruptcy trustee in the trial. One of those defense attorneys, Brian D. Roche, also with Sachnoff & Weaver, said in his opening remarks that the statements Jordan’s attorneys claim damaged His Airness’s reputation were taken out of context. “The Silverbergs were within their rights to explain why they were in a lawsuit with Michael Jordan and explain why the restaurant would have to move to another location,” Roche said. If the agreement had not been breached, then Moran must decide if the companies have the right to locate a restaurant at a new location. The LaSalle Street restaurant closed in December. It’s not exactly the stuff of high courtroom drama, but when one of the most recognizable men in the world is involved the curious are bound to turn up even if it’s just to give them bragging rights to say they were in the same room with Michael Jordan. When every seat in the courtroom was filled and U.S. Marshals ushered those without a seat into the hallway, officers with the Federal Protective Service allowed people into the courtroom only after someone exited and a space was freed up. Although it is MJ and Partners Restaurant Ltd., 23 Restaurant Inc., 23 Food Inc., and 23 Retail Inc. that are the parties in the lawsuit, the names of the Silverberg brothers came up again and again. Especially noticeable was the Silverberg name in the testimony of the first witness, David Falk, the “super agent” who represents Jordan and many other big-time athletes. Falk’s testimony also gave a rare glimpse into the hardball world that has surrounded Michael Jordan for years now. Only, no longer is it the world of Jordan the indomitable basketball star. Rather, it is now the world of Jordan the unbeatable marketing strategist who knows how hard he’s worked to craft his All American image with the help of Falk and the likes of Nike, Coca Cola and McDonald’s whose products he has endorsed � and the lengths he will go to defend that business advantage. For instance, Falk related that when the proposal for an MJ restaurant was first brought to him in 1990, he was concerned because of the high failure rate of such businesses. Also worrisome, Falk testified, was the fact that the Silverbergs, for all their success in operating a popular men’s clothing chain in Chicago, had no experience running a restaurant. “I did not want him to be associated with a business that might fail,” bluntly concluded Falk, an attorney who is still a member of the Washington, D.C., bar. “I felt we were going against our own game plan.” The controversial licensing agreement called for the Silverberg-controlled companies to have the right to a one-time change in the location of the restaurant, a right that was exercised when the original site on Grand Avenue fell through and the restaurant opened instead on LaSalle Street, Falk said. Falk’s testimony also revealed an animosity between himself and the Silverbergs, who were present in the courtroom. “Did you ever tell Gene Silverberg that you would destroy the restaurant,” Sperling asked. “I never told Gene Silverberg that,” Falk replied, and then quickly added. “I think the Silverbergs have done a good enough job doing that themselves.” Tenenbaum quickly rose from his seat and asked that the comment be stricken from the record, a request that Moran granted.

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