Sotheby’s leans into sports with auctions of Jordan shoes, Ali trunks and Kobe jersey

Business

MJ 1996 Air Jordans.
Photo: Amanda Bass

Sotheby’s is increasing its sports offerings, as the auction house looks to capitalize on the growing demand for sports memorabilia and draw in a younger demographic.

The company on Wednesday announced its first “Sports Week,” which will include six live and online auctions with items from many of the biggest names in sports. The auctions will kick off April 4.

Demand for athletic memorabilia has jumped in recent years, and sports has become one of Sotheby’s fastest-growing categories, the auction house said.

“We’ve seen exponential growth and interest in the category,” Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of Streetwear & Modern Collectibles, told CNBC. “Sports Week represents another example of Sotheby’s commitment to engaging in collecting communities with creative sale formats and is presented with attractive estimates that caters to all sports fans and collectors alike, both seasoned and also those looking to kickstart their collection.”

The market for sports collectibles is massive, and only getting bigger. Consulting group Market Decipher estimated the valuation of sports memorabilia at $26.1 billion globally in 2021. The group predicts the market will explode in the coming years, reaching $227.2 billion by 2032.

The sports category saw higher demand during Covid, when the popular documentary series “The Last Dance” was released, according to Wachter. “The Last Dance,” which chronicled the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ quest for their sixth NBA title, boosted interest in Jordan collectibles, which then translated into other sports memorabilia.

Sports has also brought a new, younger demographic into the market.

Sotheby’s said its average client for sports memorabilia are 20 to 40 years old, and 50% of them are new to auctions. Some sales lead to more purchases in the contemporary and watch categories, Wachter said.

As a result, Sotheby’s is going all in on sports. In addition to dramatically increasing its offerings, the auction house is partnering with the NBA to sell game-worn jerseys, and is in talks with a variety of other sports organizations about potential tie-ups.

Earlier this year, Sotheby’s sold The Dynasty Collection, a set of six individual Air Jordan sneakers worn by Jordan in the clinching games of his six career NBA Finals championships, for $8 million. The sale set a new global auction record for game-worn sneakers and became the second-highest price achieved for Jordan sports memorabilia. 

Thrilla in Manilla autographed shorts.
Photo: Amanda Bass

Sotheby’s Sports Week auction highlights include a pair of Muhammad Ali’s shorts from his legendary “Thrilla in Manila” match from 1975, considered one of the greatest boxing matches in history. The trunks are expected to sell for an estimated $4 million to $6 million, which would make them one of the most valuable items of Ali memorabilia to appear at auction.

Kobe Bryant’s jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Photo: Amanda Bass

A Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers jersey from Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals also up for auction that week is expected to fetch an estimated $1.5 million to $2.5 million. The late star scored 40 points that game, his highest-scoring NBA Finals performance.

Sports Week will also include some classic sneakers worn by NBA greats. Sotheby’s will offer 50 pairs of sneakers donned by some of the league’s greatest players such as Jordan, Bryant, LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Jordan’s Air Jordan 11s from Game 5 of the 1996 NBA Finals are the headliner, expected to fetch between $200,000 and $400,000. Jordan wore the sneakers as he returned from his brief retirement to lead the Bulls to a 72-10 regular season record and then their fourth NBA title.

Detail photo of Sabrina Ionescu’s jersey.
Photo: Amanda Bass

For fans looking to get their hands on more recent memorabilia, Sotheby’s is offering several items from February’s NBA All-Star weekend in Indianapolis. Those include a James 2024 All-Star Jersey, expected to fetch $200,000 to 300,000, along with the jerseys Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu wore during their three-point competition. The Curry and Ionescu jerseys are expected to sell for between $30,000 to $500,000, and $8,000 to $12,000, respectively.

The entire sports collection is expected to sell for more than $12 million, with individual items ranging from $500 to about $6 million each.

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