Christie’s on Tuesday closed its “Six Rings — Legacy of the GOAT” online-only sale dedicated to Michael Jordan’s career.
The auction, comprised of six lots representing key moments in Jordan’s illustrious career, first began on June 1 and closed with 100 percent sell-through and raised almost $1.49 million in sales.
The six lots include game-worn and dual-signed player exclusive Air Jordan XIII sneakers worn by Jordan in game five of the 1998 NBA Finals; player exclusive Air Jordan XIII “Flint” sneakers made for Jordan during his final season on the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98; dual-signed Air Jordan VII “Bordeaux” sneakers from the 1992 All Star Game; a mint condition, restored pair of player exclusive Air Jordan V “Fire Red” sneakers, dual-signed 1985 Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” sneakers, and the Upper Deck Fleer signed rookie card from 1986 that was reclaimed for the 20th anniversary and signed by Jordan. Of the 23 cards released, only 14 are known, graded and owned by collectors — including the one in the auction.
Of the six lots, three achieved or exceeded their estimate, while the others came in under their estimate. The dual-signed 1985 Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” sneakers realized $40,320, and player-exclusive Air Jordan XIII “Flint” sneakers realized $11,340, both meeting their estimates. The dual-signed Air Jordan VII “Bordeaux” sneakers exceeded their estimate by more than $10,000, bringing in $40,320. The three remaining lots — Air Jordan XIII “Playoffs” sneakers for $378,000, Air Jordan V “Fire Red” sneakers for $10,710, and the signed rookie card for just north of $1 million — all sold below estimates.
Sneakers and streetwear specialist Caitlin Donovan, with rare sneaker collector Gerard Starkey, put together the sale. The selection included five game-worn and/or dual-signed Air Jordan sneakers and an Upper Deck trading card with an estimated worth of $3 million. A T206 Honus Wagner baseball trading card from 1909 still holds the record for most expensive trading card at $6.6 million, and the Nike Air Yeezy 1 Prototype holds the record for the most expensive pair of sneakers sold for $1.8 million.
“The strength of the sneakers and sports collectible market is demonstrated by the results of this sale, which achieved 100 percent sell-through by lot and the top lot selling for over $1 million,” Donovan said. “In this new market for Christie’s we saw tremendous interest from new and existing clients with each lot gaining bids within 24 hours of the auction opening. We see great potential for this category at Christie’s, and look forward to building upon the success of this inaugural stand-alone auction and further expanding into this space.”
Starkey explained the significance and rarity of each lot. For instance, the dual-signed Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” sneakers have “two era correct signatures from Jordan,” Starkey said, and they are considered extremely rare among collectors.
The Air Jordan V “Fire Red” sneakers nod to the pair Jordan wore when he scored the most points ever in his career. This pair has a restored midsole so the collector can handle the pair without it falling apart.
The “Bordeaux” Air Jordan VII sneakers were never worn in an official NBA game due to the uniform rules, but were worn for the 1992 All-Star game. Starkey added that Jordan wore a version of these sneakers alongside Michael Jackson in the singer’s music video for Jam on his eighth studio album, “Dangerous.”
The “Flint” XIII sneakers were made specially for Jordan during his last season on the Chicago Bulls. Starkey said, “In my 25 years of collecting, this is the third pair I’ve seen,” adding that the pair has tags signifying their purpose and rare materials no longer used in production on the sneaker.
And finally, the sneaker with the highest estimate, the game-worn and dual-signed player exclusive Air Jordan XIII sneakers, are one of the final pairs of sneakers Jordan played in on the Chicago Bulls in the 1998 NBA Finals. Starkey said Jordan wore this pair — which was featured prominently in documentary “The Last Dance” — in the first half of game 5, and switched to another pair for the second half.
“To try to understand provenance, you have to know the details of how this gets into someone’s hands,” Starkey explained. “Jordan was more inclined to giving things away if you did something for him. A car mechanic who was a very important mechanic to the Bulls received multiple pairs from that playoffs, but that’s how you sense check these things.”
Starkey received his first pair of Jordan sneakers, the Jordan VI “Carmine,” as a teen and continued to collect pairs since then. “The items were not fully understood and I saw a role for me helping collectors buy and source things and to help appreciate things more than they actually are.”
And Christie’s is doing something similar with this auction, which also marks the beginning of a new department for the company that focuses on sneakers and streetwear.
“With all new departments, there is a lot of trial and error in the beginning,” explained Donovan, who was a collector herself as a child. “I want this department to bring a fresh light to Christie’s and be something that new collectors are excited about from the announcements to the events and the education. Sneaker collectors are so advanced and well versed on buying in the secondary market. We want to bring that in and give it our own Christie’s spin.”
“Six Rings — Legacy of the GOAT” follows Christie’s “Handbags x Hype” and “Original Air” sales.
Donovan was hired nine years ago to start Christie’s handbags and accessories department. After Louis Vuitton and Supreme launched their collaboration, she was inspired to try selling those items in a handbag auction, and they sold for higher than primary market value.
“I give Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones a lot of credit, bringing streetwear into the highest couture worlds,” Donovan said. “Following where luxury was going, it was our time to follow.”
Donovan put together two stand-alone sneaker auctions with Stadium Goods and the “Handbags x Hype” sale as well. Their Air Jordan 1 “Shattered Backboard” sneaker auction set a sneaker sale record in 2020.
These auctions follow the long-established trend of non-traditional items being regarded as assets. Sneakers and sports memorabilia were not considered high-value assets when compared to original artworks, vintage cars and vintage watches, but the collectors’ communities around sneakers and memorabilia show the high demand for these items — and what people are willing to spend for them.
Museums showcase centuries-old relics and artifacts of cultural significance from bygone eras, and sneakers and sports memorabilia have stepped in to be the relics of greatness from the modern age.
“I’m so proud of this inaugural sale and for what will be the stand-alone department,” Donovan said. “What is so exciting and cool about this department is that sneakers and streetwear don’t do it justice. We can do so much that play around with culture, sneakers, artist collaborations. My ideas are endless. I think it’s going to be constantly evolving with what’s happening in fashion and luxury around the world.”
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