In 2012, Jordan Geller was bidding in an eBay auction for arguably one of the most important shoes in sneaker history. On offer was a pair of Air Jordan 1s were worn by Michael Jordan, signed by Jordan himself. Ultimately, Geller won the shoes. And now, eight years later, the sneakers are coming up for auction again—this time from the glitzy auction house Sotheby’s, better known for selling multi-million-dollar Monets and Cartier bracelets. (And, more recently, Supreme skate decks.) In the intervening years, sneaker collecting and selling has become a massive business, with private investors spending millions to goose resale startups, and plenty of people make their living by selling the hottest pieces. Prices are auction-house-worthy now, too: the estimate for the Jordans going up for sale today is $100,000 to $150,000.
After making them the crown jewel of his shoe museum—named ShoeZeum—Geller decided it was time to sell the shoes to a new doting owner. Plus, there has never been a better time to be in the business of Jordan. This auction was put together quickly over the past two weeks, after Geller noticed that everything Jordan was going up in price because of The Last Dance documentary. “Timing is everything, and right now is unquestionably the right time to put them on the market,” he says. “There’s more interest and excitement in Michael Jordan than ever before. I think that it will have a big impact on the sale.” (The global pandemic with a depression right on its tail curiously hasn’t ravaged auction houses, which are still selling watches, design pieces, and art for record prices.) And speaking of timing: the auction ends next Sunday, the 17th—the same night The Last Dance wraps up.
But the massive estimate isn’t just thanks to that documentary. Sneakers are blowing up at auction by carving out an identity similar to watches: they’re both mass-produced items that see value bumps from scarcity and provenance. The most expensive sneaker ever sold at auction is an old beaten-up pair of original handmade Nikes known as the “Moon Shoes,” one of the first ever made by the brand. They sold for $437,500 at Sotheby’s last year, not in spite of their worn-down appearance but because of it. Think of it this way: they’re not wrecked, they have patina. These Jordans follow a similar blueprint: these aren’t just vintage versions of the most iconic shoe on the planet—they are the most iconic sneakers on the planet previously owned by Michael Jordan. Every scuff mark symbolizes some desperately fought battle with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. The specific details help, too—the mid-top sneaker design was exclusive to Jordan, and no other AJ1 came with red laces. All these marks serve to heighten the value of the shoe.
The parallels to the watch world don’t stop there. At one point, the most expensive watch in auction history is Rolex Daytona with a design so closely associated with Paul Newman that it was known by the actor’s name. The specific model up for auction was owned by Newman himself—accordingly, it was known as Paul Newman’s Paul Newman. Think of these shoes as Jordan’s Jordans.