Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Michael Jordan’s Nike Air Ship Shoes Elevate Auction Record

Michael Jordan Air Ships that sold for over $1.4 million at a Las Vegas auction.
Michael Jordan Air Ships that sold for over $1.4 million at a Las Vegas auction. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Marketers, designers, and sneakerheads have helped elevate shoe collecting to high art. This past Sunday, one of the industry’s masterpieces sold for upwards of $1.4 million.

White and red leather Nike Air Ships, Michael Jordan’s earliest game-worn professional high-tops to surface at market, sold for $1,472,000 at a luxury sale in Las Vegas, setting a new record price at auction. Featuring Nike’s iconic swoosh, Nick Fiorella, a well-known collector, purchased the kicks. It is the highest sum ever paid for any sports game-worn footwear and smashes last year’s record $615,000 sale for another pair of game-worn Jordan sneakers. Like any icon worth its place in history, these trainers are shrouded in myth and mistruth.

This pair of Air Ships were a gift from Jordan to Denver ball boy ‘TJ’ Lewis following the Bulls vs. Nuggets game on Nov. 1, 1984. This was the same year that Jordan and Nike began a long-running collaboration on a range of shoes and clothes. Nike gave the rookie his own signature line of shoes and clothes, which was pivotal in signing Jordan. This was Nike’s first foray into endorsement, which paved the way for today’s endless player collaborations. 

David Falk, the shooting guard’s agent, coined the term “Air Jordan” because Nike shoes had air in the soles, and to describe the air up there in Jordan’s stratosphere. Before Nike designer Peter Moore sat down with a young Jordan to create the Air Jordan 1, a shoe that would become the sneakerhead Holy Grail, Nike supplied Jordan with Air Ships — in red and white and black and red versions. 

On Feb. 15, 1985, the NBA submitted a letter to Nike Vice President Rob Strasse stating that the red and black shoe that Jordan was wearing the previous Oct. 18 was against league decorum. NBA policy required each player to wear shoes matching teammates and team colors. Jordan being Jordan, he continued to wear the shoes and to get fined $5,000 for each instance. 

Hence, the Air Jordan 1 was deemed to be “banned,” kicking off one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time and ushering in a revolution for the shoe world. Early orders brought in over $55 million for Nike, and, after the brand projected selling 100,000 units, sold between 3 and 4 million pairs in just the first year of the shoes’ release. 

Related Guides

While it is generally accepted now that the Air Ship was the real banned sneaker, Jordan has stuck with the apocryphal version of the banned Air Jordans over the last 30 years.

The auctioned white and red leather pre-Air Jordan high-tops also carry a peculiar detail on the heel. In most examples, the back of the shoes show a “Nike Air” decal. On this particular pair, though, they just say “Air.” In very early games, Michael can be seen wearing this unusual model.

In history’s circular shape, it is fitting that the shoes that kicked off an entire footwear revolution should now be the most expensive sold. Resale and sneaker specialist sites that allow collectors to trade “player exclusives” and limited-edition shoes has fueled a global sneaker resale market valued at $6 billion in 2019, and forecast to be worth $30 billion by 2030.

While sneakers were once considered a dirty word in fashion circles, sports-inspired footwear is now a leading luxury category with celebrities sporting exclusive versions on catwalks and red carpets, affirming secondhand sneakers as rivals to fine art.

For history’s sake, you can check out the original Banned ad here:

Read More: A$AP Nast and Lacoste’s Exclusive L001 Lux Sneaker

Matthew Denis
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet: Inside Ed Sheeran’s watch collection
Ed Sheeran's watch collection features some big names
Ed Sheeran G-SHOCK Subtract watch on his wrist

When it comes to Ed Sheeran's watch collection, renowned names like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet take center stage along with the music, reflecting not only his impeccable taste but also his journey through fame and fortune. These prestigious brands have adorned the wrists of connoisseurs, collectors, and celebrities alike, each watch bearing a story of craftsmanship, heritage, and unparalleled sophistication.

We can't talk about Ed Sheeran's watch collection without first mentioning the collaboration between G-SHOCK, John Mayer, and Hodinkee, which led to the G-SHOCK Ref. 6900 – Subtract By Sheeran watch. Crafted in homage to Sheeran's album, "Subtract," the watch draws inspiration from the album's artwork and thematic elements. In a reflection of the album's raw emotion and authenticity, the watch embodies Sheeran's artistic journey through its distinctive design. Featuring a vibrant yellow resin case and strap, the watch exudes a boldness that mirrors the energetic spirit of Subtract.

Read more
7 reasons why your Apple Watch battery life is terrible (and what you should do about it)
Here's why an Apple Watch battery struggles to stay alive and how you could throw it a lifeline
An Apple Watch charging.

Nothing is more frustrating than starting the day with a fully charged Apple Watch and having that watch get down to 15% before you get home from work. The battery life of an Apple Watch is supposed to be 18 hours, but we all know that is a hope and a dream. Between checking your apps and using it as your fitness buddy, it feels like a few hours before you have to throw it on the charger. Here's why an Apple Watch battery struggles to stay alive and how you could throw it a lifeline.

How the battery gets drained when not in use
Your battery works hard even when you aren't using your Apple Watch to check your texts. There are silent stealers of your battery you should know how to deal with.
Features suck battery life
If you like to use GPS to check your route to a place you've been a hundred times or to keep track of your heart rate while watching your favorite show, those actions slowly drain your battery.

Read more
Woolrich winter sale: Up to 60% off jackets, sweaters, and more
Rugged Outdoorsman Look

Looking for tactile yet stylish apparel? Woolrich is one of the best options you will find for this type of men's clothing. Right now, they are having their men's winter sale where you can get up to 60% off jackets, sweaters, hoodies and more.

Anything and everything you need for the winter months when it comes to apparel and accessories is available during this sale. Outdoor enthusiasts and style seekers alike can find clothing that will suit their needs. Click the button below to start shopping.

Read more