The earliest known pair of shoes worn by Michael Jordan in a regular season NBA game sold for $1.472 million Sunday afternoon, establishing a new record for any pair of sneakers sold at auction. Created and worn in 1984, the shoes were given by Jordan to a Denver Nuggets ball boy. Jordan added his autograph to the shoes that has faded over time but remains visible.
According to Sotheby’s, the buyer was avid sports card collector Nick Fiorella, who indicated on social media earlier this year that he’d purchased the 1/1 National Treasures Logoman Luka Doncic rookie for over $4 million.
Attributed to a November 11, 1984 game—Jordan’s fifth ever NBA game-the Nike “Air Shop” sneakers are the earliest regular season pair from Jordan’s NBA career to come to market, and are a precursor to the genesis of the Air Jordan line.
“To present such a groundbreaking and important pair of sneakers at this special auction in Las Vegas further solidifies the strength and broad reach of the sneaker collecting community,” stated Brahm Wachter, Head of Sotheby’s Streetwear and Modern Collectables: “This record-breaking result for the Jordan Nike Air Ships affirms the place of Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan franchise at the pinnacle of the sneaker market.”
In 1984, Nike gave Jordan a signature line of shoes and clothes – an unprecedented move to entice Jordan to sign with Nike. It was a first for the Oregon-based company. The “Air Ship” – designed by Bruce Kilgore – was the first basketball shoe worn by Jordan as an NBA professional. In the preseason and early games of his rookie year, he wore a white and red colorway and also a black and red colorway (now known as ‘Bred’) that Nike creative director, Peter Moore, had specially designed for him. However, when Jordan joined the NBA that same year, the Air Jordan 1 was still not ready for him. In the process of creating the Air Jordan 1, Nike supplied Jordan a limited number of Nike Air Ships – some of which had “Air Jordan” or “Nike Air” printed on the heels. Unlike other versions that have surfaced at market before, this pair just say “Air,” which is visible in pictures from the game on November 1, 1984.
Jordan’s Black & Red Air Ships became controversial after the NBA sent a letter to Nike in February of 1985, informing the company that Jordan’s colorful shoes were a violation of the league’s uniformity of uniform clause. Nike responded by creating an infamous ad campaign around Jordan’s ‘banned’ shoes (advertising the first Air Jordans) remarking that while “the NBA threw them out of the game, fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them.”
When the Air Jordan 1s were released, they established MJ as the league’s leader in shoe style.
Another pair of Jordan rookie gamers sold for over $400,000 earlier this year.
The sneakers were among the star attractions in the Icons of Excellence & Haute Luxury Auction held in Las Vegas. A pair of “Player Sample” Air Jordan 1s designed for Jordan but never used sold for $100,800.