Pair of Nike AJ1’s Worn by Michael Jordan During Rookie Season With Chicago Bulls Hits the Auction Block
“My game is my biggest endorsement,” Michael Jordan said in “The Last Dance,” explaining how he was able to capitalize on his sneaker brand.
A sneaker collector's dream item is up for grabs as a coveted pair of Nike AJ1’s worn by Michael Jordan during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984 is set to hit the auction block and is expected to sell for over $110,000, according to Reuters.
Sotheby’s is auctioning off shoes from 13 of the NBA’s biggest stars of all time and the AJ1’s are expected to be the most prized item.
Josh Pullan, of Sotheby’s Global Luxury Division says the shoes show off some scuffs due to Jordan wearing them in a game.
Pullan added that the market for high-end collectors is changing, following the auction sale of Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy 1’s, which sold recently for over a million dollars.
"There is a new generation of collectors, generally 20 to 40 years old, who are participating in the sneakers market, but we also see that often times, they are also collectors of contemporary art or even old masters,” he told Reuters. “We just, as you may know, sold the most expensive pair of sneakers ever, which were a pair of Nike Air Yeezy 1s worn by Kanye West at the 50th anniversary Grammy Awards, and we sold those for 1.8 million U.S. dollars.”
But a game-worn pair of AJ1’s, the sneaker that changed pop culture forever, could go for even higher than what Sotheby’s is expecting.
Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984 and during his rookie season, his agent pushed for him to get a shoe endorsement.
By the late 1970s and 1980s, Converse sneakers had the NBA in the palm of their hand, as stars like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird endorsed and wore their high tops. While Converse tried to court Jordan, the player’s agent realized he didn’t want his client joining the crowd. Instead, he wanted the crowd joining Jordan.
Jordan, who was outspoken that his favorite sneaker brand was Adidas, told his agent to get a meeting with the German shoe company. But the company, which was gaining popularity in the American streets thanks to hip-hop endorsements from Run DMC and Beastie Boys, turned down the idea to make a basketball sneaker.
Nike, however, was willing to take a chance on the rookie. Nike, whose primary focus were track shoes, wanted to broaden their horizons and with the hype around Jordan so big, they were willing to go all in.
Jordan at first was reluctant to sign with the company. He wasn’t a fan of the shoe and wasn’t that impressed, but his mother made him take the meeting and forced him to speak to the company. When the family and his agent met with Nike, they did everything they could to court the young superstar.
While NBA vets were making $100,000 in endorsements at Converse, Nike was willing to give Jordan, who was unproven in the NBA, $250,000. They also wanted to craft a new line of shoe for him called “Air Jordan.” Jordan signed.
Once the red, black, and white sneakers hit the street, they became the most desirable item anyone could own.
“For a kid, it was like having a lightsaber from ‘Star Wars,’” rapper Nas says in 2020’s docuseries on Jordan and the Bulls, “The Last Dance.”
Justin Timberlake revealed in “The Last Dance” how he would cut grass and do chores to save up money and be able to buy the latest pair of Jordan sneakers.
And nearly 20 years since his 2003 retirement, the sneakers seem to be bigger than ever. Other famous players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have paid homage to Jordan's shoes, which are constantly name-checked in hip-hop songs and movies. Nike unveiled a line of clothing in 2020 and 2021 featuring the iconic AJ1 sneaker because, as the saying goes, everyone wants to “be like Mike.”
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