Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
June 13, 1959
2002 - 2006
Currently Known For:
Former Model and Former Executive Secretary for the American Bar Association
Michael Jordan’s Ex-Wife
“I’m in a good place.” If you spent the 1990s watching Michael “Air Jordan” slam dunk his way to victory game after game with the Chicago Bulls, then you’re likely familiar with the name of his former wife, Juanita Vanoy. After all, the couple endured one of the most highly publicized divorces of the era after Vanoy received over $168 million in their 2006 divorce settlement which, at the time, was the largest on public record. So, how exactly did the basketball legend meet the former model and what caused their marriage to crumble? Let’s take a look!
The fifth of six girls raised in Chicago’s tough South Side, Juanita Vanoy came into this world on June 13, 1959 in the Windy City where she often dreamt of making a better life for herself. Determined not to fall into the traps of Chicago’s slums, Vanoy was in her teens when she started working as a fashion model and was later hired by the American Bar Association where, after briefly modeling for the company, she worked her way up the ladder and was named executive secretary of the organization. However, not even the promotion could prepare Vanoy for the path her life would soon take after a friend set her up with a young basketball star in the NBA named Michael Jordan.
Meeting for dinner at a local Bennigan’s restaurant in Chicago, Vanoy and Jordan instantly hit it off despite their age difference with Vanoy almost four years older than Jordan, who was only 22 years old at the time. “He soon proved to me that he was mature and could deal with me at my level of maturity,” Vanoy recalled. They had their second date at a party hosted by their mutual friend and spent the next few years dating regularly as Jordan’s popularity soared on the hardwoods with the Chicago Bulls. On December 31, 1987, Jordan proposed to Vanoy during dinner at Nick’s Fish Market in Chicago but, although Vanoy initially said yes, they agreed to postpone their engagement for a year before addressing the idea of marriage again.
By July 1988, the topic of marriage quickly came up a second time when Vanoy told Jordan she was pregnant, which Jordan refused to believe and even suggested that the baby wasn’t his. Over the next few weeks, Vanoy started shopping for attorneys as an article in The Washington Post reiterated the 29-year-old’s plan to get Jordan’s attention: “A well-dressed and determined young woman walked into the spacious downtown offices of one of Chicago’s toughest and better-known domestic lawyers. Juanita Vanoy had been meticulously attorney shopping for weeks. Twenty-nine years old and a mid-level office worker, she was romantically involved with a very big sports celebrity and now she had a very big problem… ‘She told me she was pregnant, unwed and that the father of the child was Michael Jordan,’ attorney Michael Minton recalled. ‘She felt she could not get Michael’s attention or cooperation or response without the retention of a legal representative.’”
Proving she wasn’t afraid of or intimidated by Jordan or his celebrity status, Vanoy hired Minton and filed a paternity suit as Jordan later agreed to marry Vanoy in what many called a shotgun wedding after the two eloped at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 2, 1989. By then, their son, Jeffrey Michael Jordan, was already 10 months old. A year later, they welcomed their second son, Marcus James Jordan, on December 24, 1990, followed by their daughter, Jasmine Michael Jordan, who was born on January 7, 1992.
Over the next decade, Vanoy focused on her children and encouraged each of them to be their own person. “When they were growing up, most coaches wanted them to wear No. 23. I insisted that they not do that,” Vanoy said of teaching her children independence. “It was important to me. I wanted to make sure that their skills were going to be what they made them and that it was based on how hard they worked.” In fact, both sons paved their own way at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois with Jeffrey playing college basketball for the University of Illinois before transferring to the University of Central Florida, which is where Marcus was enrolled. “They wanted to be like their dad. What boy doesn’t,” Vanoy said of her sons. “But they both got to a point where they said, ‘We’re not going to the NBA.’”
After over a decade of marriage, three beautiful children, mansions, private jets, exquisite jewelry and plenty of scandal thanks to Jordan’s life in the spotlight, Vanoy filed for divorce in January 2002 due to irreconcilable differences. Months later, she withdrew the petition as the two seemed to rekindle their love until 2006 when they announced their mutual decision to divorce. By then, Jordan was already neck-deep in scandal when he had allegedly paid his longtime lover, Karla Knafel, $250,000 to keep their relationship quiet. On December 29, 2006, the court granted Jordan and Vanoy their divorce with Vanoy receiving a $168 million settlement, which marked the largest celebrity divorce settlement on public record at the time.
Stepping out of the spotlight to focus on her children and her role as chairperson for the Michael and Juanita Jordan Endowment Fund, Vanoy pursued other interests in real estate and learned to navigate divorce the best way possible especially since Jordan settled down and started a family with model Yvette Prieto in 2011. “I’m in a good place,” Vanoy said during her first interview in 2013 after years of declining offers for tell-alls and reality television. “Divorce was certainly new to me. I had to learn that you have to communicate. That it’s not about you or your ex-partner. It’s about making sure that the children are all right.”
With her children now grown, the 58-year-old Vanoy has settled down in the exclusive Kingsbury Estates area of River North in Chicago where she says she’s simplified her life compared to everything she once had and did as the wife of His Airness. “I wanted to simplify my life so I got off boards and I downsized the way I lived,” she said. “I had to because I wasn’t going to be in a huge house. I really looked forward to the basic things: my children and my good friends.” Once toying with the idea of opening her own business, Vanoy has endless opportunities in front of her as one of the few women who’s ever stood up to Jordan, which just goes to show you that Vanoy definitely hasn’t strayed from her roots as a young girl raised on the tough streets of Chicago’s South Side.