What’s the chance that a jury — a Chicago jury — will find that basketball great Michael Jordan reneged on a movie deal?
That’s one of the questions in a breach of contract case that got under way this week in Cook County Circuit Court.
The phenomenally popular Jordan attended jury selection, and according to local newspapers, before a jury was finally seated, many potential jurors told Circuit Judge Richard Neville that they admired Jordan too much to be able to render any verdict against him.
The suit, filed against Jordan in 1993 by Heaven Corp., alleges that Jordan entered into a contract in 1987 to play the supporting role of a playground basketball star who walks away from a college scholarship in the movie “Heaven Is a Playground.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Dean Dickie contends that Jordan signed a contract in 1987 agreeing to do the movie as well as contract extensions while the producers tried to put together $3 million in financing for the low-budget film. But in 1989, when they were ready to start, Jordan backed out of the project.
Dickie contends, “This is simply a case about broken promises by Michael Jordan and unanswered telephone calls and threats and intimidation by (agent) David Falk.”
Perhaps because they are concerned about bearing down too hard on Jordan, Heaven’s attorneys have stressed the role of longtime Jordan agent Falk as the villain of the story.
“Heaven Is a Playground” was ultimately made with Bo Kimble in the Jordan role. The film did not get national distribution and failed to make a profit. Plaintiffs are seeking $16 million-$20 million in damages based on what they estimate the movie might have made if Jordan had participated.
To do the film, Jordan received $50,000 — which was subsequently returned — against a $350,000 salary plus a share of net profits. The Bulls star ultimately made his acting debut in the highly successful “Space Jam” for Warner Bros., for which Jordan was paid $4 million.
Jordan’s lawyer Frederick Sperling said, “Michael Jordan never refused to act in Heaven Corp.’s movie in the summer of 1989. In fact, Mr. Jordan and Heaven Corp. mutually agreed to postpone the filming of the movie until the summer of 1990. Unfortunately, Heaven Corp. failed to do what it promised.” Jordan also has counterclaimed that the company lied when it said it had the financing in place in 1989.
The case is expected to last four weeks. Heaven Corp. president Randall Fried, who produced the film and wrote the screenplay, took the stand Wednesday. Jordan, who has been attending the trial, is expected to testify next week.