Michael Jordan’s 1st Game-Worn Nikes Just Sold for Nearly $1.5 Million at Sotheby’s Auction

Michael Jordan’s impact on sports and the culture around sports cannot be overstated. He was the first modern superstar, a stratospheric talent who rewrote what was possible on a basketball court and raised the NBA’s profile one iconic moment at a time. Off the court, Jordan was one of the first athletes to become synonymous with his brand. He created a cult of celebrity around himself that made everything he endorsed or wore look cooler than any other athlete could.

His heyday as a player was well before most basketball fans were born, yet his shoes still sell for outrageous prices. The latest example is an auction for one of the oldest pairs of Jordan-worn Nikes still in circulation. 

In case you didn’t know, Michael Jordan was good at basketball

After decades of adoration bordering on religious fervor, it’s tough to find new ways to explain the level of dominance that Jordan — and the Chicago Bulls as a result — enjoyed in the 1990s. 

He’s not the best winner in NBA history — that would be 11-time champion Bill Russell — but he delivered legendary results with such dynamism, intensity, and flair that he shifted conventional thinking almost single-handedly.

Before Jordan, most people assumed a title-winning team started from the inside. But leading the Bulls to six championships in seven years furthered the idea that a wing player could be the clear centerpiece of a great team. The modern game would look vastly different without his influence. 

Of course, such greatness came at a price. Some of Jordan’s treatment toward his teammates and opposing players crossed the line. But it’s also fair to say he held himself to the same unreasonable standards.

His image is so bulletproof that descriptions of his behavior in The Last Dance only heightened his standing for most people. Jordan’s hold on the culture remains as strong as ever. 

Decades after his prime, Michael Jordan’s shoes remain iconic

A pair similar to Michael Jordan's Nike sneakers sold at this weekend's Sotheby's auction. Pictured: Air Ship, MJ Player Exclusive, game-worn sneaker Nike, 1984; left shoe: size 13.5, right shoe: Size 13, high-top on display during a press preview on July 24, 2020, at Christie's New York
Nike Air Ship sneakers similar to Michael Jordan’s pair sold at this weekend’s Sotheby’s auction | TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Global high-end broker Sotheby’s held its Icons of Excellence & Haute Luxury auction on October 24. The event included a signed pair of Michael Jordan’s earliest known regular-season Nike sneakers, predating even the first Air Jordans.

They were called Air Ship, and Jordan wore them after inking his first signature deal with the brand but before the Air Jordan 1 was ready for wear. The pairs Nike gave Jordan had different phrases on the heel collars — mostly “Air Jordan” or “Nike Air.” But the shoes sold at the Sotheby’s auction simply have “Air” on them.

“Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand helped redefine what a signature line formed around an athlete could be,” Brahm Wachter, head of Sotheby’s Streetwear and Modern Collectables, says in a statement.

“This pair, with provenance from Michael’s fifth NBA game, really touches two worlds, as the Nike Air Ship hold a special place in the hearts of sneakerheads as the precursor to the Air Jordan 1. But beyond that, it is also simply an incredible artifact that dates to the nascency of Michael Jordan’s rookie season.”

Jordan’s shoes first gained notoriety because they violated NBA rules at the time. The league attempted to ban the sneakers, creating his first hit commercial. A longstanding rumor held that the NBA fined Jordan every time he wore the shoes, but no evidence of that exists. 

He gifted the white-and-red Air Ship pair at Sunday’s auction to then-Denver Nuggets ball boy Tommie Tim III Lewis. Sotheby’s estimated the shoes would go for $1 million to $1.5 million. The bid page shows the shoes sold for $1.472 million. That’s the highest-ever winning bid for a pair of sneakers offered at auction.

Another signed pair of Jordan’s game-worn shoes previously held the record. The Air Jordan 1 sneakers sold for $615,000 in August 2020, according to Christie’s.

How does the NBA legend spend his money?

According to Insider, Jordan makes more from his Nike royalties in a year ($100 million) than in his entire NBA career ($90 million). His Heirness’ fortune amounts to $1.6 billion. That’s far too much money for one person to spend, even if that person owns an NBA team and holds a deep appreciation for cigars, fine liquor, and golfing. 

But those interests shape what Jordan does with his seemingly bottomless money pit. He co-founded Cincoro Tequila in 2019, and he designed his personal golf course in Hobe Sound, Florida. Named “Slaughterhouse 23,” the course counts a drone delivery service among its list of incredible features. 

His list of investments extends far beyond those two ventures. Jordan has also put money into the following:

  • A $305 million investment in Dapper Labs, the startup behind the virtual trading-card platform NBA Top Shot
  • An equity stake in DraftKings
  • Majority ownership of the NASCAR team 23XI Racing
  • Gigster, a Silicon Valley startup connecting companies to freelancers
  • A minority stake in the Miami Marlins

In addition, he owns several restaurants, a Nissan dealership, a private jet painted Carolina blue, and multiple multimillion-dollar residences. 

The capitalistic bent to his spending drew early criticism, but Jordan has pushed more money into social causes in recent years. He donated $2 million of his earnings from the 2020 docuseries The Last Dance to Feeding America food banks in Chicago and the Carolinas. And after George Floyd’s murder, Jordan Brand pledged to donate $100 million over 10 years to organizations fighting for “racial quality, social justice, and greater access to education.” 

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