An American collector has paid a little more than $1.4 million for a pair of trainers worn by basketball superstar Michael Jordan early in his career, setting a record price at auction for game-worn footwear.
The white leather shoes with the red Nike swoosh and soles were worn by the player in the fifth game of his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, when Nike's Jordan-affiliated brand was only just taking off as a sensation both on and off the court.
"The most valuable sneakers ever offered at auction – Michael Jordan's regular season game-worn Nike Air Ships from 1984 – have just sold at $1,472,000 in our luxury sale in Las Vegas," Sotheby's said.
Nick Fiorella, a well-known collector, is the buyer. Before the auction, the shoes were estimated to sell for between $1m and $1.5m.
The astronomical price easily beat the record held by a pair of Nike Air Jordans which sold for $615,000 in August 2020 at a Christie's auction.
A pair of Nike Air Yeezy 1s worn by rapper Kanye West sold for $1.8 million in April, triple the previous record for trainers – although that was a private sale.
"Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand helped redefine what a signature line formed around an athlete could be. These sneakers are a crucial part of the genesis of that story," said Brahm Wachter, Sotheby's head of streetwear and modern collectables. "This pair, with provenance from Michael's 5th NBA game really touches two worlds as the Nike Air Ship holds a special place in the hearts of sneakerheads as the precursor to the Air Jordan 1."
Jordan's autographed size-13 lace-ups were in good overall condition, with signs of court wear and tear, Sotheby's said. The pair was a gift from the player to Tommie Tim III Lewis, who was a ball boy for the Denver Nuggets during the 1984-1985 season.
The market for rare sports shoes is soaring. The record price for trainers has been broken several times recently as what was seen as a niche market a decade ago now attracts interest from the general public as well as leading collectors.
And the market value of objects identified with the retired basketball superstar have skyrocketed since the release of The Last Dance, an ESPN/Netflix documentary that chronicles the saga of Jordan and Chicago Bulls.
The trainers that went under the hammer on Sunday predate the first Air Jordans, the now-classic line that quickly morphed from popular basketball gear to sought-after streetwear worldwide.
The Air Ship shoe that served as the genesis for the Air Jordan series was designed by Bruce Kilgore and originally released in 1984, and it was the first trainers worn by Jordan as an NBA professional.
That year Jordan, already a bankable star given his college basketball heroics, completed a deal with Nike in which the company gave him his own signature line of shoes and clothing.
The deal was a first for Nike, and it paved the way for a proliferation of player-brand collaborations.
Jordan's now-famous black and red Air Ships became a focus of controversy in 1984 when the National Basketball Association sent Nike a letter informing the company that the player's colourful trainers, which he wore during an October 18 pre-season game that year, violated the league's uniform clause.
Sunday's auction also sold a pair of Nike Air Jordan 11 Retro x OVO "Gold" trainers, designed under a collaboration between the shoemaker and rapper Drake, for $20,160. The model was never released to the public, making them a rare set of shoes.
Scroll through the gallery below for 15 of the best sneakers of all time, from Nike Air Jordan to Adidas Stan Smith:
– Additional reporting by AFP