Michael Jordan sneakers on the auction block is not a new phenomenon, but a pair the Hall of Famer wore during the first week of his NBA career is a head-turner — and very likely, a record-setter.
Sotheby’s is auctioning off a pair of signed red-and-white sneakers that Jordan wore during his fifth NBA game. It is part of the auction house’s Icons of Excellence and Haute Luxury auction, and fittingly, the sneakers are Lot 23, matching Jordan’s uniform number with the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan signed the sneakers in red ink, right above the red Nike swoosh on the right sneaker, and below the swoosh on the left sneaker.
Jordan wore the size 13, 1984 Nike Air Ships on Nov. 1, 1984, when the Bulls traveled to play the Denver Nuggets. The Bulls lost 129-113, but Jordan scored 17 points, had five rebounds, five assists, a steal and one blocked shot.
The sneakers are the earliest regular-season pair of Jordans to come to the market. Advanced bidding began Friday, and Sotheby’s is already predicting the footwear will sell in the $1 million to $1.5 million range when the bidding ends on Oct. 24.
The live auction will be held in Las Vegas on Oct. 24 at the MGM’s Aria Resort and Casino.
The current record for a pair of sneakers sold at auction is $615,000, when Christie’s, in partnership with Stadium Goods, gaveled a pair of 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1 High game-worn sneakers in August 2020. That was the game when Jordan shattered a backboard during an exhibition game in Trieste, Italy, on Aug. 25, 1985.
The $615K figure topped the $560,000 paid out three months earlier for a pair of original Air Jordan sneakers from MJ’s rookie season. Sotheby’s handled that sale.
And in June 2021, a pair of Jordan sneakers from his rookie season sold for $420,000 through Grey Flannel Auctions.
“Michael Jordan’s items are perhaps the most coveted,” Brahm Wachter, head of Sotheby’s streetwear and modern collectibles, told CNBC. “We put up a lot of other valuable memorabilia items, but I would say on a kind of ongoing and continuous basis Michael Jordan’s market is really strong.”
If you’re wondering, Sotheby’s owns the distinction of selling the most expensive sneaker. In April 2021, the auction house sold a Kanye West “Grammy Worn” Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototypes from 2008 in a private sale for $1.8 million.
Jordan’s sneakers could top that mark.
The Jordan sneakers are currently owned by Tommie Tim III Lewis, 52, who was a ballboy for the Nuggets when he was a teen in 1984, according to The Wall Street Journal. Jordan gave him the sneakers after the game, according to Sotheby’s auction listing.
The sneakers are accompanied by a letter from Resolution Photomatching indicating a possible photo match to Jordan’s third NBA game, on Oct. 29, 1984, when the Bulls hosted the Milwaukee Bucks. Jordan was the leading scorer that night with 37 points as Chicago won 116-110.
But for now, the sneakers are a match for Jordan’s fifth game.
Nike gave Jordan a limited number of its Air Ships, designed by Bruce Kilgore, while the shoe giant was creating the Air Jordan 1 prototype. Some of the sneakers had “Nike Air” or “Air Jordan” logos, but the one Sotheby’s is selling this month simply says “Air,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Air Ships that Jordan later wore caught the eye of NBA officials, who said that a black-and-red version of the sneakers violated the league’s uniformity clause. Nike responded with an advertising campaign based on the ban and showcased the first Air Jordans, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Sneaker and Basketball fans, this one's for you! 👟🏀 Introducing the Most Valuable Sneaker Ever Offered at Auction: Michael Jordan’s Earliest Known Regular Season Game-Worn Nikes – the Nike Air Ships.https://t.co/UzDdJeXegC
— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) October 8, 2021
Jordan kept wearing the renegade sneakers, but Nike simply paid the $5,000 fine assessed every game by the NBA. In terms of marketing, those fines were a pittance. Nike — and Jordan — would make much more money over the years thanks to the notoriety of the sneakers.
Sotheby’s entered the sneaker market in 2019 as a way to reach millennials, according to CNBC. Wachter told the network that footwear has become one of the auction house’s fastest-growing categories. Sales are bringing in 55% new clients. More than half of those new clients are between the ages of 20 and 40.
And as for Jordan, the iconic basketball player is still gold among collectors. Sales of products associated with Jordan soared after the success of the documentary series, “The Last Dance.”
The sale of these sneakers will only enhance that legend.
The Nike Air Ship is a key part of the Air Jordan brand genesis,” Sotheby’s wrote on its auction listing. “When Michael joined the NBA, the Air Jordan 1 was still not ready for him. He preferred sneakers that were lower to the ground, where he could feel the court beneath his feet.”