Michael Jordan is back again, driving us down memory lane with “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s ten-part series about Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls. But while the spotlight shed new light on team relationships, his true partner was and always has been his shoes. Sorry Scotty Pippen.
His shoes – Nike’s Air Jordan – are now in the news again. On May 17th, Sotheby’s sold a pair of Air Jordan sneakers worn by M.J. in 1985 for over $560,000. The price is the highest ever paid for game worn sneakers. For collectors, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though, given Air Jordan’s popularity. Over the years, sale prices for “Jordans” have steadily surged with game worn items like those sold at Sotheby’s attracting the most interest.
With collectibles, it’s also about the gem, and M.J.’s previously highest selling footwear this year came to the public by way of the diamond, not the court. A pair of game worn Jordan baseball cleats from his minor league days with the Birmingham Barons sold for $93,000 at Heritage Auctions on May 8.
Previous sale prices for game worn basketball shoes have set tongues wagging too, no pun intended. A pair of game-worn and autographed Air Jordan 1 sneakers sold in 2017 for over $55,000 at Heritage Auctions. Another pair from Jordan’s rookie season (pictured above) sold for just over that amount at Heritage Auctions last August.
So what about other sales? Dallas-based Heritage Auctions has sold nearly a dozen game-worn Air Jordan sneakers for over $20,000. A pair of Air Jordan V shoes from 1990 that were gifted to Whitney Houston, sold at auction for $20,000 in 2016. Retail prices (determined by the seller and not the buyer) have risen the last few months. Autographed, but not game worn Air Jordan footwear has recently sold for as much as $20,000 on SportsMemorabilia.com, according to its website.
When it comes to sports memorabilia, auction prices are generally lower than at retail. Collectors can still get a pair of game worn shoes at a much lower price. After all, not all sales of game worn Air Jordan shoes are newsworthy. Some shoes have sold for less than $5,000. Sneakers worn by Jordan in the 1998 season (his last with the Bulls) recently brought $3,000. Hammer price for game worn memorabilia often depends on several variables: an item’s importance and condition, its provenance and proof of authenticity, and the size and reputation of its seller.
But for a serious collector, a pair of kicks used in a game of horse just won’t do. And with a healthy supply of shoes on the market, there are choices. There have been a lot of great moments. Michael Jordan’s NBA career spanned three decades with six league championships, five MVP trophies and 10 scoring titles.
In the age of stifling defense, Jordan not only powered over bigger opponents – just ask Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo – he found endless ways to improvise his shot. And for much of the 1990s, he was unstoppable, at least when he was on the court.
While M.J. was lifting trophies, his footwear – Air Jordan – became one of the world’s most popular sports brands, with a new version released every year since 1984. After Jordan retired in 2003, the brand continued to grow, outfitting athletes outside of basketball like Derek Jeter and soccer team Paris Saint Germain.
Jordan’s legacy will endure through the sale of his memorabilia, maybe even more than it has for Babe Ruth. Many of today’s collectors followed Jordan in his prime. Some even wore his shoes. And now for the right price, they can not only look like Mike again, they can spend like him too.