A pair of shoes worn by Michael Jordan during Game 4 of the 1991 NBA Finals has had a sole owner the last 28 years. But now, Sonny Vaccaro, who was instrumental in getting Nike to sign Jordan when he came out of North Carolina, forever changing the sneaker industry, is ready to part with them.
The black Air Jordans were announced Tuesday as a lot in the joint auction conducted by Goldin Auctions and Sotheby’s, adding to an already impressive array to its “A Century of Champions” sale. The auction, which began Tuesday and runs through Dec. 7, includes 100 lots of high-end sports memorabilia and cards over the past 100 years of sports worldwide.
The shoes could fetch anywhere between $500,000 and $750,000, according to Sotheby’s.
Vaccaro, 81, told USA Today that he had never sought memorabilia from athletes and even refused an offer from Jordan to attend a 1991 NBA Finals game in Los Angeles.
But after the Bulls clinched their first NBA title, Jordan left a box for Vaccaro that contained a pair of black Air Jordans he wore to start Game 4. The shoes were signed twice.
“There’s 10,000 pairs of Michael’s shoes — his first dunk, his first game, this one, that one and they’re all valuable and people save them,” Vaccaro told the newspaper. “But this was me and him 30 years ago and I never thought I’d sell them, but it’s the right point and the right time.”
While Vaccaro pushed Nike to sign Jordan, the company pushed him out during the summer of 1991, just a few months after MJ’s first title. Vaccaro would go on to work for rival Adidas and helped the company sign Kobe Bryant to his first shoe deal.
The shoes come with a letter of provenance from Vaccaro and feature the Air Jordan silhouette logo embroidered in red on the tongue of each sneaker. The backs of each sneaker have a raised Nike logo. The right shoe has a slit on the toe, which was added after Jordan sprained his big toe during the series.
There is also a letter of authentication from Sports Investors Authentication, who photo-matched the sneakers to Game 4. There is also an LOA from JSA for the signatures.
Other Jordan items in the auction include a 1984-85 game-used Bulls home uniform, a full uniform from his rookie season, and a pair of 1985-96 game-used and autographed Air Jordan Dunk Sole sneakers. Jordan returned from injury during the March 15, 1986 game against the Milwaukee Bucks after recovering from his broken foot, and he wore variations of the Dunk shoes 1s for the remainder of the season.
The partnership with Goldin Auctions is the first dedicated sports memorabilia sale at Sotheby’s since 2008, but the company has sold historic items before. Some of the more notable sales include James Naismith’s founding rules of basketball, which fetched $4.3 million in 2010; the baseball bat Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 1923; the contract between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees that sent Ruth to the Big Apple, which sold for $996,000; and Pierre de Coubertin’s 1892 Olympic Manifesto, which sold in December 2019 for $8.8 million, the current world auction record for sports memorabilia.
Other items of note in the sale include the 1970 World Cup Jules Rimet Trophy presented to Brazilian soccer legend Pelé; a signed 1979-80 Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers game jersey; Also part of the catalog: the late Paul Hornung’s 1956 Notre Dame Heisman Trophy; an Olympic torch signed by Muhammad Ali, part of the tour leading up to the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games; a 1923-25 Babe Ruth game-used Hillerich & Bradsby R2 Professional Model Bat; and a game-worn, autographed Kobe Bryant jersey from December 2014.
New items include the official American League baseball used in the final game of Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive-game playing streak, and a game-used football from the game when Emmitt Smith broke the all-time record for carries in 2002.
The Jordan sneakers will be another special item in an already star-studded auction.
“(Jordan) was the everyday part of my life for eight years and it’s not there anymore,” Vaccaro told USA Today. “And there will be people who will treasure it. It’ll maybe never be seen or heard of again but the person who buys this will have a treasure because you can’t duplicate this one that’s for sure.”