This month, Sotheby’s will offer for sale a legendary piece of basketball and sports history: the earliest known Michael Jordan Regular Season Game Worn Nikes – the Nike Air Ships. Attributed to Jordan’s 5th NBA game in his rookie season on November 1, 1984, the sneakers are the earliest regular-season pair from Jordan’s unparalleled career in the NBA to come to market, and are a precursor to the genesis of the Air Jordan line.
Estimated to sell for $1/1.5 million, the Air Ships carry the highest estimate for a pair of sneakers ever offered at auction, and are among the most valuable pair of sneakers ever, following Sotheby’s record-breaking sale last year of Kanye West ‘Grammy Worn’ Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototypes from 2008, which sold for $1.8 million via private sale.
The sneakers will be offered in Sotheby’s Icons of Excellence & Haute Luxury auction – a multicategory luxury sale, encompassing jewelry, watches, collectors’ cars, sneakers, designer handbags, and more – that will take place live from ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on 24 October. The sale is organized in connection with MGM Resorts and Sotheby’s presentation of the first-of-its-kind auction of works by Pablo Picasso from the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection, which will be conducted live from Bellagio on Saturday, 23 October.
The unique collaboration between Sotheby’s and MGM for the Picasso auction represents the first time that Sotheby’s will host a marquee sale in North America outside its signature New York auction venue. With Icons of Excellence & Haute Luxury, Sotheby’s will further present a specially designed exhibition experience and saleroom at ARIA, which will provide a showcase for this presentation of luxury objects.
The exhibition will be open to the public from 21 – 24 October and the live auction will begin at 11 am PT from ARIA, where it will be live-streamed around the world via Sothebys.com. Bidders can participate from the live auction room, or through online bidding at Sothebys.com. A complimentary luxury online auction will be open for bidding from 21 October – 4 November, and will further feature a wide range of jewelry, watches, wine & spirits, and handbags, among much more.
“We’ve chosen iconic examples from our jewels, watches, fashion and automotive categories that capture the spirit and identity of this legendary entertainment capital. Building off the success of our Luxury Weeks in New York, Hong Kong and Geneva, we’re thrilled to present a carefully selected group of items showcasing some of the best of Sotheby’s luxury categories in Las Vegas for the very first time. With attractive price points ranging from $1,500 to $1.5 million, there’s something for everyone to bid and win!”Josh Pullan, Head of Sotheby’s Global Luxury Division
Brahm Wachter, Head of Sotheby’s Streetwear and Modern Collectables, comments: “Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand helped redefine what a signature line formed around an athlete could be. These sneakers are a crucial part of the genesis of that story. This pair, with provenance from Michael’s 5th NBA game, really touches two worlds as the Nike Air Ship holds a special place in the hearts of sneakerheads as the precursor to the Air Jordan 1, but beyond that, it is also simply an incredible artifact that dates to the nascency of Michael Jordan’s rookie season. We are thrilled to unveil this astonishing piece worn by one of the best athletes to play any sport, as Sotheby’s continues to lead the sneaker and modern collectibles market.
In 1984, Nike gave Michael Jordan a signature line of shoes and clothes – a crucial, unprecedented move to entice Jordan to sign with Nike. It was the first time the brand did anything like this, and it paved the way for many of the player collaborations we now see. The “Air Ship” – designed by Bruce Kilgore – was originally released in 1984, and was the first basketball shoe worn by Michael Jordan as an NBA professional.
In the preseason and early games of his rookie year, Michael wore a white and red colorway and also a black and red colorway (now known as ‘Bred’) that Nike creative director, Peter Moore, had specially designed for him. However, when Michael joined the NBA that same year, the Air Jordan 1 was still not ready for him. In the process of creating the Air Jordan 1, Nike supplied Jordan with a limited number of Nike Air Ships – some of which had “Air Jordan” or “Nike Air” printed on the heels. Unlike other versions that have surfaced on market before, this pair just say “Air,” which is visible in pictures from the game on November 1, 1984.
Michael’s Black & Red Air Ships became controversial after the NBA banned sent a letter to Nike in February of 1985, informing the company that Jordan’s colorful shoes were a violation of the league’s uniformity of uniform clause. Nike responded by creating an infamous ad campaign around Jordan’s ‘banned’ shoes (advertising the first Air Jordans) remarking that while “the NBA threw them out of the game, fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them.” When the Air Jordan 1s were released, they established MJ as the league’s leader in shoe style.
These White & Red Air Ships are thus a remarkable Nike artifact and come to the market for the first time in excellent condition by the Denver Nuggets Ball Boy they were originally gifted to, Mr. Tommie Tim III Lewis.
The auction will also include a pair of ‘Player Sample’ Air Jordan 1s made exclusively for Michael Jordan in 1985, but of which have never been worn and remain in perfect condition, without ever being laced (est. $50/70,000).
The sale will also be highlighted by an early working manuscript of Bruce Springsteen’s beloved American anthem, “Born to Run.” The 1975 hit catapulted ‘The Boss’ to mega-stardom and remains a beloved classic, having been ranked as the singer’s greatest song by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2013, and used by the artist as the title of his 2016 autobiography.
Written entirely in Springsteen’s hand over a six-month period of editing and reworking, this early version – believed to be the first – charts the beginnings of the breakout hit and the singer’s ongoing creative process. Formerly in the collection of Springsteen’s previous manager and Born to the Run producer, Mike Appel, the manuscript comes to auction with an estimate of $200/300,000.
Although Springsteen is known to have an intensive drafting process, few manuscripts of “Born to Run” are known, with the present example being one that crucially includes a version of the chorus. Captured here, perhaps for the first time, is one of the most iconic of any Springsteen lyric, though in a very nascent version: “You can stay in this town kill you / deaf and dumb or you can ride (leave) with me if / you got the guts to come you ain’t too / young Tamps like us (me) baby we were born to / run.”
The majority of the lines are apparently unpublished and unrecorded, but Springsteen reworked many of them to produce what would become the recorded version. This constant revision is evident in his choice of “us’ over “me” as quoted above. The imagery and tone are constant from the present manuscript to the final song. Most significantly, this manuscript exposes the lyrical developments of one of America’s favorite rock songs and epitomizes its ideology: escapism, optimism, rebellion, and the promise of time. Though different, the lyrics still impress upon the listener the romantic and impassioned feeling of being “Born to Run.”