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OFF BEAT: Michael Jordan cries foul over use of name, image in China

Posted On: Feb. 24, 2012 12:00 AM CST

When you're as famous as Michael Jordan, seeing your name and image used on billboards, retail signage and other promotional materials is simply part of the game.

However, a Chinese sportswear and sneaker company's attempt to rebrand itself using Mr. Jordan's name, image and variation of his iconic “Jumpman” logo without his permission has the Hall-of-Famer crying foul.

In a lawsuit filed in a Beijing court on Feb. 21, Mr. Jordan accused Qiaodan Sports Co. Ltd. of illegally appropriating his identity and brand. According to Mr. Jordan, Qiaodan is the Chinese name by which he has been known in China since the late 1980s.

According to materials posted to Mr. Jordan's website regarding the suit, Qiaodan has attempted to trademark its name and the number 23—Mr. Jordan's jersey number during his days in the National Basketball Assn.—and the names of Mr. Jordan's children, Jeffrey and Marcus, in Chinese characters and the corresponding pinyin Romanization.

In a statement released on Thursday, Mr. Jordan said it was “deeply disappointing to see a company build a business off my Chinese name without my permission, use the number 23 and even attempt to use the names of my children.”

According to Mr. Jordan's website, a Shanghai sports product marketing company conducted an independent survey involving 400 respondents in 2009, finding that 90% of young people in China's small cities believed Qiaodan Sports was Michael Jordan's own brand in China.

“Chinese fans have always been very supportive of me, and that's something I deeply appreciate,” Mr. Jordan said in his statement. “I think they deserve to know what they are buying.”

Mr. Jordan said any money he is awarded from the lawsuit “will be invested in growing the sport of basketball in China.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Qiaodan has denied any connection to Mr. Jordan, arguing that any similarities between its branding and promotional materials and those of the basketball star are purely coincidental.

“There is no connection,” a Qiaodan spokesman told reporters in China, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Twenty-three is just a number like $23 or $230 dollars… I don't think there is a problem at all here.”

“Not everyone will think this is misleading,” the spokesman added. “There are so many Jordans besides the basketball player. There are many other celebrities both in the U.S. and worldwide called Jordan.”