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Sotheby’s launches into sports with auctions of Jordan shoes, Ali trunks and Kobe jerseys

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The Air Jordan 11 worn in game by Michael Jordan. Worn in Game 5 of the 1996 NBA Finals.

Photo: Sotheby’s

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

The company announced its inaugural “Sports Week” on Wednesday, which will feature six live and online auctions with items from many of the biggest names in sports. Bidding will begin on April 5.

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

“We’ve seen exponential growth and interest in this category,” Brahm Wachter, head of Sotheby’s Streetwear & Modern Collectibles department, told CNBC. “Sports Week represents another example of Sotheby’s commitment to engaging with collecting communities with creative sales formats and is presented with attractive estimates that appeal to all sports fans and collectors, whether they are experienced or wishing to launch their collection.”

The sports collectibles market is huge and only growing. Consulting group Market Decipher has estimated the valuation of sports memorabilia at $26.1 billion worldwide 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 tells the story of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ quest for their sixth NBA title, spurred interest in Jordanian collectibles, which later translated into other memorabilia sportsmen.

The sport has also attracted a new, younger demographic to the market.

Sotheby’s said its average sports memorabilia customers are between 20 and 40 years old, and 50 percent 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 focusing on sport. In addition to significantly increasing its offering, the auction house is partnership with the NBA to sell match-worn jerseys and is in talks with various 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 deciding games of his six career NBA Finals championships, for $8 million. The sale set a new world auction record for match-worn sneakers and became the second highest price achieved for Jordanian sports memorabilia.

Muhammed Ali’s fight wore trunks from the “Thrilla in Manila” boxing match.

Photo: Sotheby’s

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

Kobe Bryant’s jersey for the Los Angeles Lakers. The jersey was worn in Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals.

Photo: Sotheby’s

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

Sports Week will also feature classic sneakers worn by NBA greats. Sotheby’s will offer 50 pairs of sneakers worn by some of the league’s greatest players like 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 and are expected to retail for between $200,000 and $400,000. Jordan wore these sneakers when he returned from his brief retirement to lead the Bulls to a 72-10 regular season record and then their fourth NBA title.

Sabrina Ionescu’s jersey worn during the 2024 NBA All-Star during her 3-point challenge with Stephen Curry.

Photo: Sotheby’s

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. These include a 2024 All-Star James jersey, which is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000, as well as the jerseys that Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu wore during their three-point contest. The Curry and Ionescu jerseys are expected to sell for between $30,000 and $500,000 and between $8,000 and $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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