A pair of Air Jordans worn by Michael Jordan during the famed 1998 NBA finals sold at Sotheby’s for $2.2 million on Tuesday, becoming the most expensive pair of sneakers ever auctioned and setting a new benchmark in a burgeoning market that auction houses are closely watching.
The sneakers, officially dubbed the 1998 NBA Finals Game 2 Air Jordan 13s, were sold by Sotheby’s online in a sports memorabilia sale. Bidding had been open for over a week.
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While Sotheby’s can now boast a sneaker record, the result was toward the lower end of the shoes’ $2 million–$4 million estimate.
Part of the reason the reason the sneakers were able to go for such a price was because Jordan wore them during a season in which the Chicago Bulls dominated. The 1997–98 season for the Bulls, itself the subject of an ESPN documentary from 2020, is famous because it brought an end to storied string of victories for the team.
Jordan’s unparalleled recognizability surely boosted the sneakers’ profile, too. Sotheby’s touted what it called the “current record for game-worn sports memorabilia,” set by a jersey donned by Jordan in the 1997–98 season that sold for $10.1 million in 2022. And there is now a film about the making of Air Jordan, the Ben Affleck–directed Air, which just released theatrically in the US.
Sotheby’s, like its competitor houses Christie’s and Phillips, devoted itself mainly to art for many decades. Yet in an effort to court younger collectors in adjacent fields, the houses have begun placing greater weight on auctions for sneakers and other collectibles.
Sneakers in particular have proven a cash cow for these houses. Four years ago, in 2019, Sotheby’s made headlines when it sold 100 pairs of sneakers for $1.29 million, an unheard-of figure at the time. In 2021, the house set the record for an individual pair of sneakers, with shoes dubbed the Michael Jordan Regular Season Game Worn Nike Air Ships selling for $1.47 million.
Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of streetwear and modern collectibles, said of the new result, “Sotheby’s is extremely proud to hold the world record for most valuable game-worn sports memorabilia at auction and the most valuable sneakers ever sold, both of which—to no surprise—are directly tied to the global icon, Michael Jordan.”