‘Rarest’ sneakers shatter auction record

A pair of Michael Jordan’s game-worn sneakers sold for $860,000 ($US615k), Christie’s auction house has announced in a sale that’s shattered the previous NBA sneaker merchandise price set earlier this year.

The sneakers were a pair of Air Jordan 1 Highs that the NBA megastar wore during a 1985 exhibition match in Italy when he dunked the ball so hard it shattered the glass backboard.

“This is the original shoe with an actual piece of the backboard, a piece of glass, in the sole of the shoe,” said Caitlin Donovan, head of handbag and sneaker sales at Christie’s — which organised the auction with Stadium Goods.

The shoes were described by merchandise experts as the “rarest of rare”.

Jordan racked up 30 points while wearing the size 13.5 shoes, which are in the red and black colours of his Chicago Bulls team.

Though the sale broke the record set in May when a pair of Air Jordan 1’s sold for $US560,000, the new auction landed below the range of more than $1.1 million experts predicted at the start of the auction.

It was just one of several items to be sold for more than $100k. Among the highest profile merchandise sales were a pair of the Air Jordan 7 “Olympic” shoes worn by the Bulls legend during his 1992 gold medal-winning campaign with the US Dream Team at the Barcelona Games, selling for more than $150,000.

A pair of Nike baseball cleats used by Jordan during his brief cameo with the Chicago White Sox in 1994 also went under the hammer, selling for more than $12,000.

The record setting sales highlight the soaring market value of objects identified with the retired basketball superstar since the release of “The Last Dance,” an ESPN/Netflix documentary that chronicles the saga of Jordan and his Chicago Bulls.

The sale also confirms that the lowly sneaker now has a place of pride in the world of wealthy collectors alongside more traditional collectibles.

Upon its release 35 years ago, sneaker connoisseur Bobbito Garcia described the Air Jordan design as “garbage”, but it quickly became a cultural phenomenon.

In episode five of The Last Dance, Jordan’s former agent David Falk spoke about the early success of the brand during the 1980s.

“Nike had just come out with this new technology for their running shoes called ‘air soles’, and obviously Michael played in the air. So it got called Air Jordans,” Falk said.

“Nike’s expectation when we signed the deal was at the end of year four, they hoped to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordans. In year one, we sold $126 million.”

It was revealed in the popular documentary earlier this year that Jordan’s iconic partnership with Nike almost never eventuated.

At the end of the last financial year the famed Jordan Brand, under the Nike umbrella, was worth $3.14 billion, up 10 per cent from the year prior, according to Forbes.

But the biggest shoe deal on the planet almost never eventuated with Jordan not even wanting to meet with Nike ahead of his NBA career getting underway.

Back in 1984 Converse was the shoe of choice for NBA stars, the brand boasting Celtics icon Larry Bird and LA Lakers pin-up Magic Johnson among a host of others on their books. And as Jordan recalls, it was one meeting with the company that persuaded arguably the game’s greatest player to look elsewhere.

“Converse had big players and told me, ‘We cannot envision you being put ahead of them’,” Jordan says on The Last Dance.

It was to prove a costly mistake.

Jordan’s agent David Falk and his firm, ProServ, had a host of high-profile tennis players and it was Falk’s vision to treat Jordan the same way.

Nike executive Howard White said the company blew rival sneaker companies out of the water with a gamble worth $250,000 on an unproven Jordan.

It ended up being the best money Nike ever spent.

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