By Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
It’s now day 70 AG, or 70 days since Rudy Gobert was discovered to have the virus and all sports as we know it came to a stop.
Good sports shows on TV have been few and far between for the past 70 days but one thing I’ve really enjoyed was “The Last Dance,” the ESPN series centering around the Chicago Bulls’ six NBA championships in the ‘90s. The 10 episode, 10 hour documentary was well done and fun to watch, even for people who aren’t fanatic basketball fans like me. It came on right after my wife’s favorite show, “Outlander,” and that made for three hours of enjoyable television to look forward to every Sunday night.
Although the series covered a dozen or so years of the Bulls team, most of the attention was centered on Michael Jordan, as you might expect. The terrific game footage brought back great memories for folks like me, and I’m sure it also introduced a younger generation to how good Jordan was.
It’s been 36 years since “His Airness” entered the NBA but he still puts out a popular line of Nike basketball shoes and apparel, and kids who never saw a live game with Jordan in it are buying the stuff. I compare that to young people still buying Beatles’ albums after all these years. Greatness never gets old.
I heard on the radio the other day that since “The Last Dance” began running on TV Jordan’s shoes have become even more popular. I googled “Air Jordan Shoes” and found some interesting facts. For one, a pair of original game worn 1985 Air Jordan 1S shoes, autographed by the man himself, were auctioned by Sotheby’s, probably the world’s most famous auction house. The bidding was open through last Sunday, to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Nike’s launch of Air Jordan sneakers as well as the final episode of “The Last Dance.”
This pair in particular had some unique features to go along with Jordan’s signature in permanent marker. They are mid-cuts, whereas Nike only released high- and low-cuts to the public in 1985. Also, the Nike trademark “Swooshes” are longer and leaner, they are made from leather and rubber and they feature red laces, while the public release featured black and white laces. Also, like other shoes Jordan wore for most of his career, the pair is mismatched; the left shoe with a size of 13 and the right shoe a size of 13 and a half. They’re considered the “crown jewel” of basketball shoes, and the auction bore that out.
The figure was up to $160,000 with a week to go, but a bidding war in the final 20 minutes of the sale saw the final price rise to $560,000, a record for a pair of sneakers. There were bidders from six different countries hoping to obtain the game worn shoes as the sale price shattered the former world auction record for a pair of sneakers, set last year by Sotheby’s auction of the Nike “Moon Shoe” for $437,500. The waffle-soled running shoes, one of 12 pairs ever made, were designed by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman for the 1972 Olympic Trials.
I found other original “Air Jordan” shoes, which were offered to the public in ‘85, on the internet for anywhere from $1,000 to $9,000, depending on condition, and they were all marked “used.” And that brings me to the following story.
It was the spring of 1986 and the Salem Times-Register had our annual “Steps to the Championship” basketball contest in the paper, where fans had to predict the “March Madness” bracket. We’ve had the contest every year since the ‘70s until this year, when the pandemic cancelled the NCAA tournament on day 5G (day five “After Gobert”).
We’ve always had a nice prize for the winner. Lately Mac & Bob’s restaurant has given a $50 gift certificate to the winner, but back in 1986 Salem’s Kenny Johnson had a store called “Surf & Turf” at Spartan Square and he gave away the annual prize. The store sold a lot of skateboards and skating equipment but also featured beachwear and a variety of athletic shoes.
That year, for the contest, Johnson offered to give away a pair of the brand new basketball shoes endorsed by Jordan. They were different than anything people wore at the time, and many thought they were ugly, but Jordan was already popular in this area from his days at the University of North Carolina. And, he was quickly becoming an NBA star in just his second season with the Bulls.
I don’t remember who won the contest that year, but I remember walking to Surf & Turf from my office, which was just a block away, to pick up the prize for the winner. Kenny offered to give me a free pair as well and I was quick to accept. However, when I got home and tried them on they were a shade too small, and not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth I stuck them back in the box and put them in the closet.
Well, fast-forward a couple years. I was single but had a house in Roanoke and rented out a room to Jon Kaufman, who came from New York to be the assistant General Manager of the Salem Redbirds baseball team. Jon was a good basketball player and one night he got a call to play a pickup game, but didn’t have basketball shoes. I remembered the Air Jordans in the closest and pulled them out for him to try on. They fit him well and I told him he could have them, as they didn’t fit me and were just taking up space in the closet.
Jon asked me how much I wanted for them, and I told him he could have them. He insisted he pay for them, so I told him twenty bucks would be fine and off he went to play some hoops in his new shoes.
Well, you can see where I’m going with this. If I hadn’t sold him those shoes I would now have a “never used” pair of original 1985 Air Jordans, in the box with the tissue paper wrapped around them. If the used ones were going for thousands of dollars, how much would those be worth now?
Oh well, I’m sure everyone has a story like that. If I could see into the future I would have bought 10 pairs and dozens of Michael Jordan rookie basketball cards, which are now worth in the neighborhood of $90,000 in mint condition.
I have a friend whose grandfather used to say, ‘save your old socks, you never know what will be valuable.”
If they were Michael Jordan’s socks. . .