Prestigious auction house Sotheby’s is selling the first pair of sneakers Michael Jordan wore as a pro, with estimates suggesting it will be the most expensive pair of sneakers ever sold at auction.
The game-worn and signed red and white Nike Air Ships are the earliest known sneakers MJ wore as an NBA player and are expected to be sold for between $1m and $1.5m (£735,000 - £1.1m).
This would potentially double the previous record price for rare Jordans for sale set in 2020 for a pair of Air Jordan 1 sneakers worn during the exhibition game in 1985 where he smashed a backboard with a legendary dunk, which sold for $615,000.
This itself beat a record set three months beforehand in May 2020 when another signed pair of Jordan Is sold for $560,000, both of the previous two records being made during the height of renewed interest in the six-time champion following The Last Dance documentary.
What makes these shoes so fascinating and so valuable is that these shoes pre-date the Air Jordan I, the first time Nike created a dedicated shoe line for any sports personality and one of the most famous brand deals since Chuck Taylor wore Converse sneakers.
However, the shoes were not ready in time for the season, so he wore the prototype Nike Air Ships instead. This was a slightly bulkier, less refined take on what would become the legendary high-top Jordan shape, but it did not slow him down in any way and he went on to become NBA Rookie Of The Year in 1984.
The sneakers for sale are in a red and white colourway, but these shoes are far more infamous in red and black, as they were part of one of the most infamous, and misreported stories in sneaker history.
The Banned Jordans
One of the most legendary colourways associated with Jordan is the “banned” or “bred” colourway, which is a predominantly black sneaker with a red swoosh, sole and high top.
They were used in a few preseason games, which led to the NBA notifying MJ and the Chicago Bulls that the shoes were banned for breaking an incredibly obscure rule.
The “uniformity of uniform rule” (sometimes also known as the 51 per cent rule) says that all players must wear shoes that match their uniforms and the shoes worn by their teammates, with 51 per cent of the colourway being white and the Bulls’ colours were red and white at the time.
Michael Jordan was a special kind of player, and he wanted to wear red and black shoes, which were seen as more rebellious at the time, but the commissioner of the NBA at the time, David Stern, outlawed them, allegedly threatening Jordan with a $5000 fine every time he wore them.
It should be said that they were not actually worn in an official regular-season game, only in pre-season games and the 1985 Slam Dunk Contest, switching instead to a red, white and black Jordan I shoe when they became available in March.
As a result, when he played the first half of his rookie season, he was wearing the same Nike Air Ships that are likely to become the most expensive sneakers sold at auction.
Only one other pair, the “Grammy Worn” Air Yeezy worn by Kanye West in 2008, has sold for a higher price in a private sale.