Earlier today, Sotheby’s set a world record for the most valuable sneakers ever sold with its single-lot online auction of Michael Jordan’s 1998 NBA Finals Game 2 Air Jordan XIIIs for $2.2 million, just nosing past the $2 million to $4 million estimate with fees factored in. The iconic court shoes, one of the most significant items from Jordan’s legendary career, hail from his final year with the Chicago Bulls.
The record-breaking sale, secured with a single bid of $1.8 million, makes the sneakers one of the most expensive Michael Jordan items ever sold at auction, second only to Sotheby’s sale of the basketball legend’s 1998 NBA Finals Game 1 jersey for $10.1 million last September, which remains the world record for any game-worn sports memorabilia.
The famed footwear was worn during the most recognizable season of Jordan’s career, which helped solidify his place as the GOAT (greatest of all time) in basketball history. Known as the Last Dance, the 1997–98 season was the player’s final with the Chicago Bulls on the team’s journey to a sixth NBA championship in eight seasons. The season culminated in a rematch of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Although the Bulls lost Game 1, Jordan came back strong in Game 2, leading the Bulls to a 93–88 victory. The Bulls ultimately won the series in six games.
After Game 2, in which he wore this particular pair of sneakers, Jordan gifted the Air Jordans to the ball boy, who had located Jordan’s lost jacket during an earlier practice. Post-game, Jordan took off his sneakers in the locker room, signed each one in silver, and gave them to the ball boy as a thank-you. This intact set is the only complete pair of sneakers worn by Jordan during the NBA Finals that year; it has traded privately before, but this was the first public offering.
Considered a ‘bred’ style—short for the team colors of black and red—the shoes were released to the public in May 1998, one of the last Air Jordan releases during his playing career with the Bulls. The first pair of bred sneakers Jordan wore were banned by the league for violating its uniform code, which imbued the ‘bred’ colorway with mythical status in sneaker culture.
The sale coincided with the recent release of the film Air, which tells the story of Nike’s rise to sneaker dominance through its partnership with Michael Jordan in the mid-1980s and the genesis of the famous Air Jordan sneaker.
The Jordan sneakers kicked off VICTORIAM, a two-part auction series featuring elite sports memorabilia from a variety of athletes. These lots included the Brazilian soccer legend Pele’s jersey that he wore during his 1975 debut game with the New York Cosmos (sold for $177,800), and the basketball that Kobe Bryant brought to the White House in January 2010 for President Obama to sign in commemoration of the Lakers’ championship run the year before (sold for $44,450). Part II of VICTORIAM netted nearly $1.5 million against an estimate of $1.4–$2.1 million.