“It’s gotta be the shoes!”
Thirty-one years ago, a young filmmaker named Spike Lee teamed with Michael Jordan for a shoe commercial that helped launch Jordan’s signature Nikes. And with those five words, the sneaker game was forever changed.
The argument can be made that nobody – ever – has been as famous for their footwear as Jordan since Dorothy clicked her heels in The Wizard of Oz. Entertainment icons have flaunted flashy footwear for generations, and plenty of athletes have attached their names to signature kicks, but for impact on the shoe industry, Jordan stands alone.
The first Air Jordans – their red, black and white design considered flashy at the time – evolved into a series of 34 different shoe models, a nearly endless array of athletic apparel and even a few nicknames for the player who inspired them all: His Airness.
Plenty of collectors covet and have each of the Air Jordan models. But shift the focus from shoes created for Jordan to shoes worn by Jordan, and the demand changes significantly.
Consider some of the Jordan shoes being offered in Heritage Auctions’ Summer Platinum Night Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction Aug. 29-30:
The casual fan or collector might think Jordan has never worn a shoe other than those made by Nike – not true. The shoe world’s ultimate version of “it’s all about who you know” yielded 1984 Michael Jordan Olympics Trials Game-Worn & Team-Signed Sneakers with Letter from Son of USA Team Doctor.
The consignor had the good fortune of being the son of a team doctor at the University of Indiana, which in terms of these shoes gave him two advantages: a friendship with Patrick Knight, the son of Indiana University and U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball coach Bobby Knight, and entry into tryouts for the 1984 Olympic team, which were being held in Bloomington. The consignor and Patrick Knight got to hang out with some of the players at the team’s hotel pool – the two even engaged in a game of “chicken” in the water, with each sitting atop the shoulders of one of the players.
The consignor rode a hotel elevator that was crowded with players, including Jordan, who gave him the Converse practice shoes he was carrying. The consignor later called upon his friend, Patrick, to take the shoes on the team bus to get them autographed, landing signatures from the likes of Jordan, Magic Johnson, Chris Mullin and Wayman Tisdale.
As teams improve, there often is that one team that presents a repeated roadblock on the path to championship glory. For the Bulls in the late 1980s, the team that was the Detroit Pistons, who reached the finals in three straight years and won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. The Bulls broke through after that, of course, winning six championships in eight years, but until they did, the Bad Boys from the Motor City were their most hated rival.
Yet it was in Detroit that a Pistons ball boy received the 1988 Michael Jordan Eastern Conference Semifinals Game Worn & Signed Air Jordan III Sneakers from the league’s biggest star after a game. That the consignor received the shoes was remarkable, considering the intensity of the rivalry between the two teams and the postseason frustration Jordan and the Bulls had felt up until that point.
If Michigan’s Fab Five validated the existence of long shorts, it was Jordan who accelerated the acceptance of – and demand for – shoes with wild color combinations. Case in point: the 1991-92 Michael Jordan Game-Worn & Signed Air Jordan VI Sneakers with Arm Band that can be traced back to the season in which he won his second Most Valuable Player award. Arguably the second-most important model after the original Jordans, these shows come from the manager of the merchandise department of Chicago Stadium.
They’re not just any shoes from the player often referred to as the greatest of all time; Jordan wore these late in the team’s first title run and in the early portion of the following season. They even come with a bonus prize: the winning bidder also will receive a black sweatband that Jordan wore near his left elbow.
What’s the phrase? Good things happen to good people? A version of that landed a pair of 1992 Michael Jordan Game-Worn & Signed Air Jordan VII Sneakers in the hands of the consignor, a former ball boy for the Miami Heat, whose father was a Heat season ticket holder. The ball boy overheard Jordan tell his public relations representative that he needed additional tickets to the game, and since his father’s tickets were going unused that night, he offered them to Jordan, who asked what the ball boy wanted as a show of gratitude. The ball boy asked for Jordan’s game shoes from the game, and Jordan delivered, handing over the shoes after the game and signing each one.
While perhaps enjoying the fact that his tickets helped the game’s biggest star and earned his son a keepsake that he has kept in storage for decades, the ball boy’s father missed out on a stellar performance by Jordan, who poured in 39 points in a 105-100 Chicago win. The lot includes the former ball boy’s letter of provenance.
Nobody will ever compare the athletic accomplishments of outfielder Michael Jordan with those of basketball deity Michael Jordan, but stint with the Birmingham Barons was historic, if not a runway into Major League Baseball. Anything related to Jordan is collectible, and given the brevity of his baseball career, the demand for lots like these 1994 Michael Jordan Game Worn Birmingham Barons Air Jordan Cleats is considerable – see the pair Heritage sold in May 2020 for $93,000.
The offered shoes come from Ed Smith, a third baseman from the Chicago Cubs’ AA affiliate in Orlando. Smith said that he landed the shoes because he treated Jordan like what he … wasn’t: just another minor leaguer. Winning these shoes also means winning the letter from the consignor, as well as three photos of the consignor with Jordan.