One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Eighteen years ago, Wisconsin native Larry Awe, then head of maintenance at Milwaukee’s Capital Court Mall, found a cracked and faded Nike basketball sneaker in an abandoned storage area as the mall was in the midst of being demolished.
Awe recognized the red, white and black size 13 shoe immediately as one of the game-worn NBA kicks displayed behind Plexiglass in the sports store Playmakers, which he passed by countless times during his three decades working at the mall. This particular shoe was branded with Michael Jordan’s signature (albeit faded) and the message, “My Very Best.”
“I saw the box and said, ‘This isn’t going to the dump,'” the 67-year-old told Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel.
Now Awe’s “buried treasure” stands to fetch more than $20,000 at auction. The 1980s-era sneaker has been put up for sale by Heritage Auctions, with bidding starting at $5,000. The auction listing describes the shoe as “unquestionably one of the most exciting Jordan items to surface in recent memory” and “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the advanced collector.”
One of the first designs in the evolution of the now-iconic Air Jordan was never available in stores; the sneaker is believed to have been worn by Jordan during a 1985 matchup between his Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks. Jordan led all scorers with 26 points, although the Bulls ultimately lost 125-105. A color photograph of the basketball legend on-court in the sneakers is included as part of the auction.
A code printed on the inside of the shoe indicates that it was manufactured on Nov. 8, 1984, making it the earliest documented Air Jordan game sneaker ever to surface. The shoes are identical to the ones Jordan sports in the famous “Jumpman” advertisement in which he is captured airborne against the Chicago skyline at dusk. The image went on to become an internationally recognized logo.
“By nearly every metric of evaluation for Air Jordans, this is as good as it gets,” the auction listing notes. Heritage believes the shoe could ultimately sell for much higher than its $20,000 estimate. The auction is set to close Feb. 24.
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