A Michael Jordan jersey signed by the NBA legend for a seriously ill child when they met in the 1990s was stolen from her grandfather's burned-out western Wisconsin home, and authorities are putting on a full-court press making every effort to find it.
And while there's nothing like the real thing, Jordan heard about the thievery and is having the memento replaced.
Three people were permanently displaced when fire struck the house in the Township of Rock Creek on Oct. 11, said Suzanne Valleau-Schiel, whose daughter Kelsey Schiel got the jersey autographed by the basketball star at his Chicago restaurant in 1995.
Valleau-Schiel said her little girl was going through "a really dark time … and meeting Michael Jordan made her smile."
Early on Nov. 2, a family member showed up at the charred home and encountered two males running into the house, Valleau-Schiel, of suburban Chicago, said last week.
"She asked them, 'What are you doing?' " she said. "And they said, 'The same thing you are. We're looting.' "
To that, the family member replied, " 'No, we're family,' " Valleau-Schiel continued.
The duo drove away from the home with a garbage can full of items, the Dunn County Sheriff's Office said. Both have since been arrested and charged. They are identified as Ryan J. Weiss, 39, and Michael A. Tenney, 33, both of nearby Eau Claire.
Authorities believe the jersey has been sold since it was taken. It remains unaccounted for.
"It's devastating to know that someone stole such an important item," said Kelsey Schiel, now 28, who lives in the Chicago area and has beaten the rare disease that she prefers to keep private. "I really hope that whoever has it realizes its importance and turns it in. We won't ask questions; it's just really special to me."
The meeting with Jordan, where the No. 45 jersey was signed, was lined up for Kelsey Schiel by the Starlight Children's Foundation, which creates special moments for ailing youngsters.
Mom said that "Kelsey was a tomboy from the time she could speak. At 4 years old she was playing basketball before school."
Kelsey showed up with a name tag and wrote Michael Jordan's name on it, Valleau-Schiel recalled.
" 'You're not Michael Jordan,' " Valleau-Schiel said she heard him say to her daughter. "And she said, 'Yes, I am.' "
At one point, "I even got to rub his head," Kelsey Schiel said last week, "which was pretty cool. He said only me and [teammate] Scottie Pippen were allowed."
A representative for Jordan said arrangements were underway to get a signed replacement jersey to Kelsey Schiel.
"Michael was very sorry to hear about what happened to the Schiel family and was happy to send Kelsey a new signed jersey," the representative said.
Anyone with information about the jersey or suspects is urged to contact the Sheriff's Office at 1-715-232-1348 or visit dunncocrimestoppers.com.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482