He has kept his private life private and his legal record clean, steering away from scandal and never losing a lawsuit in two decades as an A-plus celebrity. But two recent court filings suggest that Michael Jordan has become embroiled in the kind of ugly public battle that he once would have done anything to avoid.
What's startling is that Jordan slung the first mud. On Oct. 23 he sued his former lover Karla Knafel, 39, for attempting to extort money from him in excess of the $250,000 he had previously paid her to keep mum about their relationship. Knafel says that she and Jordan began seeing each other in December 1989, three months after he married his wife, Juanita, and they continued their affair for a couple of years. Jordan's decision to file the suit in Chicago is significant: The former Bulls star has won two civil cases in the city where jurors have been known to gawk at him and ask for his autograph.
Knafel, however, does not seem intimidated. With noted Chicago trial lawyer Michael Hannafan at her side, she countersued on Nov. 19, alleging that Jordan has reneged on an oral agreement to pay her $5 million when he retired from the NBA. ( Jordan has so far retired twice.) She also says that Jordan called Juanita a "hired hand."
The matter is not likely to end there, or soon. Knafel has been corresponding with Jordan and his lawyers since she confronted him at a Las Vegas blackjack table in 1998. Her attorney says that she never signed what's known as a "release and confidentiality agreement" setting financial terms and contractually binding her to silence. She herself is vulnerable to criticism as a woman too interested in athletes. On Nov. 20, Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Knafel successfully sued Portland Trail Blazer Dale Davis for support of their now two-year-old daughter. She also has an 11-year-old child with a former minor league baseball player. Both sides agree that Jordan, thinking for a time that the older child was his, paid her $250,000 over four years, paid hospital bills for the child's delivery and even sent Knafel roses. More money may yet change hands; there is little chance of flowers.