Apr 12, 2023 - Economy

Air Jordans sell for record $2.2M as sports memorabilia booms

Michael Jordans 1998 NBA Finals Air Jordan XIIIs sneakers are displayed during a press preview in New York on April 6, 2023 at Sothebys ahead of their auction at Southeby's.

Michael Jordan's 1998 NBA Finals Air Jordan XIIIs sneakers are displayed during a press preview in New York on April 6 at Sotheby's ahead of the auction. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

A pair of Air Jordans worn by Michael Jordan became the world's most expensive sneakers on Tuesday when they sold for $2.2 million at a Sotheby's online auction.

Why it matters: Although the Air Jordan XIIIs that the legendary basketball player wore during the 1998 "Last Dance" NBA finals season didn't fetch as much as some anticipated, it's the latest example of such memorabilia reaching record prices as demand for nostalgic sports collectables surges.

A screenshot of a Southeby's tweet saying: "Tweet See new Tweets Conversation Sotheby's @Sothebys Another historic day at #SothebysNewYork! Michael Jordan’s 1998 NBA Finals Game 2 Air Jordan 13s from the famous ‘The Last Dance’ season sold for $2.2 million, setting a new world record for the most valuable sneakers ever sold."
Photo: Sotheby's /Twitter

By the numbers: The sports memorabilia and trading card industry is set to reach $35 billion this year — $2 billion more than the previous year, per a February Market Decipher report.

  • It's projected to hit $230 billion by 2032, according to the market research and consultancy firm's report.

The big picture: Auction houses around the world have reported soaring demand for sports memorabilia since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A shirt worn by Argentina's Diego Maradona when he scored his controversial "Hand of God" goal against England in the 1986 soccer World Cup set a sports memorabilia record when it sold for $9.3 million last May.
  • That record was shattered a few months later when a mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million.
  • A Wall Street Journal analysis of high-value memorabilia sales in September found the 10 priciest sports trading cards had all been sold since the pandemic began.

What they're saying: Max Williamson, a senior specialist in sporting memorabilia at Australia's Abacus Auctions, told Axios in a phone interview Wednesday demand for sports memorabilia and nostalgic collectables has been consistently high during the pandemic — and it shows no signs of slowing down.

  • "When the COVID pandemic hit, people couldn't travel, couldn't go to work so often, they had collections they hadn't looked at for a few years and so they pulled them out and started collecting again," he said.
  • "It's very popular. ... I think people look back with fondness on some of the heroes from these [earlier eras]. And some of them were larger than life and it's it's fun. That's the main thing."
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