You could say that Jordy Geller has soles — lots of them.
Geller has the world’s largest Nike sneaker collection — in 2012, the Guinness Book of World Records certified that he had 2,388 pairs of them at ShoeZeum, a museum he owned and operated — and he is currently selling one of racing’s most revolutionary pieces of footwear. The 39-year-old, who lives in Portland, Oregon, is peddling an original OG Nike Moon Shoe Waffle Racer that was worn by veteran runner Bruce Mortenson at the 1972 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
Geller put the shoe on the block Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. Pacific Time for 99 cents. By 11:51 p.m. the price had leaped to $3,004, and by Tuesday night it was at $6,200. Bidding ends Sunday night.
“Every time I refreshed the page, the price went up,” Geller said. “I’ve been selling on eBay for 16 years. I’ve sold more than 100,000 shoes, but have never had this much attention.”
The Moon Shoe got its nickname from the waffle-like tread on the sole, which resembled the imprint on the footwear used by the Apollo astronauts that walked on the moon. The shoe was the brainchild of University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman, who along with Phil Knight created an athletic footwear distribution business in 1964 called Blue Ribbon Sports — that company changed its name to Nike in 1971. Bowerman was watching his wife make waffles one morning and became inspired. He ruined her waffle iron but created a revolutionary sole that was lightweight and gave runners better grip on the track.
“That was his ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Geller said. “And that shoe really catapulted Nike.”
Geller and Mortenson got together after the runner — at 72, “he runs more miles in one day than I’ve ran in the past 10 years” — saw that Geller had outbid Nike in 2015 for a pair of Moon Shoes worn by Mark Covert during the ’72 Olympic Trials. Geller allowed Covert’s shoes to be put on display at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, and that’s when Mortenson reached out.
“I got an email from Bruce,” Geller said. “He says ‘I’ve got the same pair of shoes as Mark.’
“I went and grabbed my 1972 Olympic Trial newspapers and saw that Bruce ran, wearing No. 26 — I thought that was neat, since a marathon is 26.2 miles — and then we spoke on the phone.”
“I have no idea why I kept the shoes,” Mortenson said from his home in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “Maybe because it was one of the first three things I got as a runner.
“I saw the big article in the Oregon newspaper about Mark selling the shoes. I contacted Jordy and he was all excited.”
So was Mortensen’s wife, Rosie.
“She said ‘if you can get me money, then get rid of them,’” Mortenson laughed.
Mortensen was a football card collector during the 1950s as a youth, recalling that he even owned a 1951 Bowman rookie card of future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. But it was unusual for him to collect old shoes, even if they were relics from the 1970s. Mortenson had run for Bowerman at Oregon from 1962 to 1966 and was on the cutting edge of Nike’s shoe technology. He even sold shoes for the company.
“I worked for Phil Knight in 1969, and I was selling shoes out of my car,” Mortenson said.
Mortenson’s original Moon Shoes were tucked away in his home.
“The shoes sat in a box in my basement for years and years,” said Mortenson, who added that he finally allowed the shoes to be put on display in nearby Eden Prairie. Mortenson, who turns 73 on Dec. 31, now coaches cross country and track at Eden Prairie High School — the football team is coached by Mike Grant, son of former Minnesota Vikings football coaching legend Bud Grant. The younger Grant is legendary, too, winning 10 state titles since coming to the school in 1992 and finishing 11-2 this season before losing in the playoffs.
Mortenson said he has logged more than 175,000 miles since he began running as a high school student in the summer of 1959, and he currently runs 40 miles per week and can still turn in a 9-minute mile. Since 1960, he has run 2,000 or more miles every year.
“I’m very blessed I can still do that,” he said.
But selling the shoes was an intriguing idea. “(Geller) was definitely more excited than I was,” Mortensen said.
At first, Geller did not know what kind of value to put on the shoe.
“I did an insane amount of research on the Moon Shoe,” he said. “I told Bruce I thought I was in a good position to get him top dollar.”
The shoes show plenty of wear, Geller said. “The bottom of it looks like a scientific experiment,” he said. “The bottom of the right shoe looks like a Chia Pet.”
“The bottoms of the waffles had seen better days,” Mortensen said.
As a runner, Mortenson could appreciate Bowerman’s innovation. “The shoes I had before were wafer-thin and your feet really took a pounding,” he said. “The (Moon Shoes) gave you a lot better cushion.
“The only thing I didn’t like about them was the shoe had a narrow heel, and I was a heel runner.”
Geller said the Moon Shoes “really changed the game.”
“They felt differently than other shoes,” he said. “There was more cushion to absorb the pounding of the pavement. Bruce said he felt like he was running higher off the ground.”
Unlike Mortenson, Geller was not a runner, although his father ran 10 marathons. But tagging along with his dad to sneaker stores, and Geller had his own “ah-ha” moment.
“I fell in love with Nikes and Air Jordans,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Arizona in 1999, Geller earned his law degree from the University of San Diego in 2003. When he passed the California bar exam, the number he was awarded was very Jordan-like — No. 234523 — the numbers Jordan wore, in order, during his NBA career.
Geller makes so secret about his first and middle names — Jordan Michael. He began selling shoes while still attending college. “I was at a swap shop and this guy was selling Nike shoes for $20 apiece,” he said. “I took $300 out of an ATM and bought them all, and I never looked back.”
Geller said he was selling 200 pairs of shoes per week online, and then hit upon the idea of ShoeZeum. He opened it in 2010 in San Diego but moved it to Las Vegas the following year. He opened it in the older section of the Vegas casino district, across from the El Cortez Hotel and Casino. He operated it with the help of his girlfriend (now wife) Natalie and her parents. He charged $10 admission and enthusiastically conducted tours of his dazzling display of sneakers; several tour videos exist on YouTube.
“It became my own little world I could disappear into,” he said.
For ShoeZeum’s grand opening, he sold “golden tickets,” a la “Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” on eBay and donated the proceeds to charity.
The museum was neither endorsed by, affiliated with or funded by Nike, although Geller said he maintains a cordial relationship with the company. Still, museum work soon got old.
“I never envisioned myself as a tour guide,” Geller said.
So after closing ShoeZeum in 2012, Geller began selling its contents. He busied himself with other aspects of sneakers and moved to Portland in 2014, where Natalie’s parents live.
And since his favorite Nike sneaker is the Air Jordan 11, it was only fitting that when he and Natalie were married in 2014, it took place on November 11 — 11/11 — and he presented his bride with a pair of specially made Air Jordan 11s.
“I did it during the wedding and she was blown away,” he said.
Natalie gave birth to the couple’s first child five weeks ago. The girl was named Violet Moon. It’s another Willie Wonka connection, as Geller said his daughter was named for Violet Beauregarde, the character played by Denise Nickerson in the 1971 film.
“That movie was an inspiration for me,” he said.
A year after relocating, Geller bought possibly the last item signed by 1970s running star Steve Prefontaine. The former Oregon star died in the early morning hours of May 30, 1975, when his MGB hit a rock slope while going downhill and bounced off the wall, rolling upside down. The day before, Prefontaine walked into the Red Rooster barbershop in Eugene, Oregon, and wrote down his name for a 2 p.m. haircut on a calendar appointment page. He returned at 1 p.m. and crossed his name off, telling owner Pete Peterson that he “just wanted to concentrate on the race” he was running that night.
Prefontaine won the 5,000-meter competition and then attended a party thrown by Geoff Hollister, the third employee in Nike company history. He never made it home.
When Peterson sold his shop, he sold the memorabilia he had accumulated to a customer name Eric Warlick, who posted the items — including the Prefontaine appointment sheet — on eBay.
Geller swooped in and bought the appointment sheet for $1,824.
Mortenson looks back fondly at his running career, although he conceded he “did not run well” in the 1972 Olympic Trials for the marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 36 minutes.
“I was very disappointed,” he said, conceding that his sixth-place finish at the Boston Marathon 2½ months earlier might have been a factor.
But he has no regrets about his career. He won five marathons, including back-to-back victories at the Drake Marathon in 1970-71, and has competed in 65 during his running career. He got his start in 1959 at St. Louis Park High School in suburban Minneapolis. As a ninth-grader his physical education class was required to run 440 yards, and Mortenson ran it in 62 seconds, nearly beating a varsity cross country runner. That got the attention of coach Roy Griak.
“He asked me if I ran,” Mortenson said. “I told him I had a paper route.
“So I went out for cross country and also basketball, hoping I could make the basketball team,” he said. “I was 5-foot-8 and 120 pounds so I got cut from the basketball team right away.”
Mortenson decided to compete in cross country and hit the ground running, winning back-to-back Minnesota state titles in the mile in 1961 and ’62. He attended Oregon and won the 1965 NCAA steeplechase as a junior and was an All-America selection in 1965-66.
He called Bowerman an “old school” coach who nevertheless believed in individuality.
“He was a tough taskmaster,” Mortenson said. “He taught you and then left you on your own to carry out what you learned.”
Mortensen, a retired rehabilitation specialist, said he enjoyed competing in the masters (over-40) division and set a national record of 2:59.36 in 1985.
Coaching is also a joy, too. “High school kids keep you young,” he said.
Times have changed. The runners are faster and stronger, and events dish out prize money to entice elite fields.
“In my day there was no prize money and no appearance money,” Mortenson said. “You paid your way and got a trophy.”
His biggest trophy from running could come Sunday when the eBay auction for his Moon Shoes ends.
“It’s been fun. I have a lot of friends on Facebook making comments,” Mortenson said.
Geller is glad that he and Mortenson are two kindred souls who admire soles — even if the Moon Shoes won’t include laces. As far as the auction is concerned, both are happy to just do it.
“It’s kind of nice living in the sneaker mecca of the world,” Geller said. “The sneakers are in a safe deposit box.
“I am so grateful to Bruce. Now I get to offer these shoes to the entire world.”