The release of LeBron James’ Space Jam: A New Legacy is reviving interest in the original film from 25 years ago starring Michael Jordan. That’s not merely limited to on the screen, either. A pair of iconic Air Jordans will likely capture a massive price at auction.
The shoes were featured in the 1996 hit Space Jam. They debuted during Jordan’s return to the NBA in 1995. While some are taking the opportunity to turn the new movie into a chance to drive the Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James conversation in an offbeat direction, Sotheby’s Auctions uses the renewed interest to attract potential bidders.
Michael Jordan debuted the Air Jordan XI during the 1995 playoffs
In March 1995, Michael Jordan ended an 18-month retirement from the NBA. His return to the Chicago Bulls culminated in a playoff berth. But it was clear Jordan needed to knock the rust off his game. In 17 regular-season games after his return, Jordan shot a career-worst 41.1% from the floor and dropped in 26.9 points per game. That did get much better in the playoffs, as he averaged 31.5 points a game on 48.4% shooting.
In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Orlando Magic, Jordan took the floor in a pair of black patent-leather high tops. It was the Air Jordan XI “Space Jam,” which he also sported in the movie.
That 1995 series against Orlando ended in disappointment for Jordan and the Bulls. But it was also the last playoff series the Jordan-led Bulls would ever lose.
One of the interesting facts about the shoes up for auction is that they are in perfect condition, made to Michael Jordan’s exact specifications.
Made in China, the pair of Air Jordan XIs were never used
According to Sotheby’s, the shoes for auction are “player sample” or “player exclusive” shoes. Produced in 1995 and manufactured in Taiwan, the size-13 shoes are signed by Michael Jordan. They come in a custom wood box lined with velvet.
While Jordan debuted the Air Jordan XI “Space Jam” kicks in 1995, they were not available for sale until 2000. A commercial during the Super Bowl in January 1992 featuring His Airness and Bugs Bunny inspired the Space Jam movie. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, thought the Jordan-Bugs partnership could work in a feature-film format.
A $27 million opening weekend would indicate Falk correctly read the marketing crystal ball. With a domestic box office take of $90.4 million, it is the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time. The 1992 release of White Men Can’t Jump had held the record.
The auction continues through July 26. Sotheby’s estimates the Air Jordan XIs will sell for between $150,000 and $200,000. That will buy a lot of carrots if those are your thing.
Michael Jordan and the history of the iconic Air Jordan brand
The lucrative partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan began during his rookie season. The 1985 release of the Air Jordan I “Notorious” shoe was a mere preview of what was to come. In red and white with black trim, Air Jordan I set a template for the releases that would follow.
Per The Cardboard Connection, 35 Air Jordan models hit the market over the past 36 years. That number does not include retro versions or colorways. The last release came in 2020 with the Air Jordan 35 (thank you, Nike, for abandoning the Roman numeral thing).
Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum began wearing the Air Jordan 36 in the playoffs. The Air Jordan 36 “Tatum” will be available for retail on July 24, per Footwear News.
Eighteen years since he last played a game, Michael Jordan continues to prove that it’s gotta be the shoes.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.