The original first pair of Air Jordan sneakers fetch $672,000 and smash auction records
Michael Jordan’s autographed game-worn 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1s sold at auction yesterday for $672,000 ($560,000 plus 20 percent buyers premium) to set a new world auction record for any footwear. The shoes were the first ever signature sneakers and with Jordan top-of-mind thanks to The Last Dance documentary airing globally during the COVID-19 sports vacuum, the online auction powered past a number of auction records over the preceding few days.
Sneakerhead culture has enveloped the world in the last few decades and it is illustrative to turn to Wikipedia's entry on the subject to comprehend the cultural gravitas of this first ever pair of Air Jordans: "The birth of sneakerhead culture in the United States came in the 1980s and can be attributed to two major sources: basketball, specifically the emergence of Michael Jordan and his eponymous Air Jordan line of shoes released in 1985, and the growth of hip hop music. The boom of signature basketball shoes during this era provided the sheer variety necessary for a collecting subculture, while the hip-hop movement gave the sneakers their street credibility as status symbols."
With $240,000 bid on the shoes (with 20 percent buyers premium added, that’s $288,000) and the reserve price having been met four days before the virtual hammer fell, the shoes were already the most valuable Michael Jordan memorabilia ever sold at auction, having surpassed the $190,373 paid for Michael Jordan’s Converse basketball boots worn in the 1984 Olympics.
Other records which were eclipsed include the prior sports shoe record price of US$411,986 (£266,500) fetched by the running shoes in which Roger Bannister famously broke the four-minute-mile and standing sports shoe record price set by the original Nike Waffle Racing flats which sold for a world record $437,500 in 2019.
The long-standing outright most valuable shoes ever to go to auction was the final hurdle to fall - the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in the 1939 classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. One of three pairs extant that were used in the movie, the pair sold for $666,000 at Christie's in New York on May 24, 2000.
The cultural significance of the Air Jordan range cannot be underestimated in framing the value of these shoes.
Beyond the commercial success though, Jordan was the first to ink a deal as a player for a signature sneaker and he paved the way for Scottie Pippen, Penny Hardaway, Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James to have their own signature shoes, and ultimately for the sneaker culture.
The 1985 Air Jordan 1 Vintage Originals were produced for Jordan in the white, black and red of his Chicago Bulls – the colorway he wore most often on court.
In 1984, Nike set out to entice Jordan. Converse had Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and Nike offered him $250,000 a year and his own shoe line: Air Jordan. Nike’s expectations were that it would be selling $3 million a year by the fourth year of the contract. It sold $126 million in the first year and it has grown every year since. Nike's Jordan Brand generated $3.14 billion in revenue for the 12 months ending May, 2019 and the brand reported its first billion dollar quarter in December, 2019.
Auction page: Sotheby's