Michael Jordan’s Olympic Converse, world’s first ‘Nikes’ on auction at Sotheby’s

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These used sneakers are worth more than their weight in gold.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan wore the size-13 Converse Fastbreaks during the trials for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, before he went on to win a gold medal with the US team in the games. They’re now estimated to fetch a cool $80,000 to $100,000.

The signed sneaks are among the 50-plus lots of rare memorabilia from Olympic athletes, being sold in an online-only Sotheby’s auction. Bidding begins July 23, the day of the Tokyo Games’ opening ceremony.

The Converse are believed to be among the rarest Michael Jordan-worn sneakers now in existence — especially notable as he is so closely tied to Nike.

“He really liked Converse,” said Brahm Wachter, the head of streetwear and modern collectibles at Sotheby’s. “They were low to the ground, he could feel the court beneath his feet.”

Michael Jordan's Converse are estimated to fetch $80,000 to $100,000 at auction.
Michael Jordan’s Converse are estimated to fetch $80,000 to $100,000 at auction.
Sotheby’s

Not only is the auction ringing in the start of the pandemic-postponed games. It also comes at a time when collectors’ interest for rare sports memorabilia, and sneakers especially, is through the roof. In 2019, International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin’s 1892 manifesto for the modern games sold for $8.8 million in a Sotheby’s auction. Last summer, Christie’s auctioned a pair of kicks that Jordan wore during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics for $112,500. 

“Sneakers in general have become the most hip sports collectible besides sports cards because they appeal to a huge demographic,” said Leila Dunbar, an independent appraiser with an expertise in sports and pop culture memorabilia. (She previously ran Sotheby’s Collectibles Department, but has no involvement with this auction.)

Also up for bid is a pair of metallic Nike spikes worn and signed by sprinter Michael Johnson — who became known as “the man with the golden shoes” for wearing a nearly identical pair during his winning 200-meter and 400-meter dashes at the 1996 Atlanta games.

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Vince Carter-worn Olympic jersey and shorts.

Sotheby’s

Vince Carter of the United States soars in the air

Vince Carter of the United States soars in the air

Vince Carter soars in the air during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

AFP via Getty Images

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It was all part of his plan: “I didn’t want to be standing there in gold-plated shoes with a silver medal around my neck,” Johnson said at the time.

The footwear even made the cover of Time magazine, when Johnson tossed them over his shoulder alongside the gold medals around his neck. The auction shoes are expected to grab between $30,000 and $50,000.

But the big get is a pair of track spikes — estimated between $800,000 and $1.2 million — that Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman created for Canadian Olympic sprinter Harry Jerome in the early 1960s. They pre-date the 1964 launch of Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike, and Jerome’s bronze medal for the 100-meter race that same year, and feature four red prototype logos that resemble Nike’s signature swoosh and “waffle” sole.

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michael-johnson-auction-2

Michael Johnson-worn and signed “Golden Shoes”

Sotheby’s

1996 Olympic Games. Atlanta, USA. Athletics. Men's 400 Metres Heat. Eventual gold medal winner Michael Johnson of the USA.

1996 Olympic Games. Atlanta, USA. Athletics. Men's 400 Metres Heat. Eventual gold medal winner Michael Johnson of the USA.

Gold medal winner Michael Johnson in the 1996 Olympic Games, Atlanta.

Popperfoto via Getty Images

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“[Browerman] was zero percent at that time concerned with aesthetics,” said Wachter. “He was focused on, ‘Could this make the athlete run better, faster? Would this improve their time?’”

Most notable, said Dunbar, is that these may be the earliest known Nike prototypes that have come up for auction.

“Anything that’s a first … sets a foundation and, because of that, it has a higher level of desirability and historical importance, and that translates out usually into value,” Dunbar said.

bill-bowerman-olympic-auction

bill-bowerman-olympic-auction

Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman's handmade prototype logo track spikes.

Sotheby’s

Bill Bowerman, American Coach and Inventor

Bill Bowerman, American Coach and Inventor

Bill Bowerman

Alamy Stock Photo

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There’s also an Olympic jersey-and-shorts combo, with a $5,000 to $10,000 estimate, made for hoops star Vince Carter who won gold during the 2000 games in Sydney.  That’s when he performed his gravity-defying “le dunk de la mort” (dunk of death) — as the French press called it at the time — by jumping over seven-foot-two French player Frédéric Weiss. It’s one of the most iconic moves in hoops history, making Carter’s Olympic gear all the more valuable.

“These are tough items to find,” Dunbar said. “When you buy Olympic athlete … memorabilia, you are buying history. You are buying a moment in time that can’t be replaced and it can’t be recaptured.”

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