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How Sneaker Collecting Became a Million-Dollar Pursuit

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Michael Jordan paid a visit to Palais 23 this afternoon on Friday June 12, Joined by his frequent partners-in-design Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith, key figures in the 30-year evolution of the Air Jordan, Jordan has returned to Paris to mark the 30th anniversary of 1985's Air Jordan One. Palais 23 is a spectacular tribute to the shoes, moments, designs and artifacts that have shaped the 30-year evolution of the Air Jordan. (Jordan Brand via Getty Images)
Michael Jordan paid a visit to Palais 23 this afternoon on Friday June 12, Joined by his frequent partners-in-design Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith, key figures in the 30-year evolution of the Air Jordan, Jordan has returned to Paris to mark the 30th anniversary of 1985’s Air Jordan One. Palais 23 is a spectacular tribute to the shoes, moments, designs and artifacts that have shaped the 30-year evolution of the Air Jordan. (Jordan Brand via Getty Images)

 

Michael Jordan wore Converse in college. (His coach Dean Smith was paid approximately a whopping $10,000 annually to make them the shoe of the North Carolina Tar Heels.) Jordan himself wanted to wear Adidas as a pro. Neither brand stepped up, however, with the result Jordan signed on for $500,000 a year guaranteed plus incentives with Nike when he entered the NBA in 1984, an unprecedented amount at the time. It proved a good deal: In 2015, Nike’s Jordan brand earned $3 billion in U.S. retail shoe sales. (Keep in mind Jordan has not played since 2003.)

UNDATED: Chicago Bulls' forward Michael Jordan #23 jumps and dunks as the crowd takes photos during a game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Michael Jordan
Chicago Bull Michael Jordan doing what made people buy sneakers in the first place. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

 

Indeed, the sneaker market has so exploded that it’s possible to strike it rich with guys who don’t even particularly need to wear sneakers. Kanye West has partnered with companies including Adidas, Nike, and Louis Vuitton. His YEEZY line has proved monumentally successful, to the point that his Nike Air YEEZY 2 Red Octobers retailed for $245… but that’s a bargain because he kept the production limited so they’ve been known to command over $5,000 on the resale market.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 28: Kanye West at Milk Studios on June 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California. adidas and Kanye West announce the future of their partnership: adidas + KANYE WEST (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for ADIDAS)
Kanye West and Adidas announce the future of their partnership at Milk Studios on June 28, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for ADIDAS)

Indeed, the demand for rare sneakers is now so great that 16-year-old Benjamin Kickz has made millions and achieved celebrity as the “sneaker broker” you contact if there’s a pair you absolutely need. (And, of course, have the money—eBay bidding for extremely limited edition Nikes has been known to crack $70,000.)

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: A general view of the Kanye West Adidas YEEZY 3 sneakers outside the Jeremy Scott fashion show during MADE Fashion Week at MILK Studios on February 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/GC Images)
The Kanye West Adidas YEEZY 3 sneakers outside the Jeremy Scott fashion show during MADE Fashion Week on February 18, 2015 in New York City. (Michael Stewart/GC Images)

Perhaps the fullest testament to the growth of the luxury sneaker biz is that there is now a tagalong industry devoted to preserving these insanely pricey sneakers for the generations to come. (After all, they’re not shoes: they’re an investment.) Rene Chun writes for Wired:

“The question that every serious collector wants to know is this: Can the dreaded sneaker plague be eradicated, is it possible to prevent hydrolysis, oxidation, and everything else in the atmosphere from laying waste to all of this ridiculously expensive footwear? How about building an underground walk-in closet that maintains strict, climate-controlled, museum conditions: 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit/45-55 percent relative humidity? And just to be safe, throw in a truckload of silica gel packs to counteract that nasty hydrolysis thing.”

392672 02: A man wears the new Air Jordan XVI Low basketball shoe at a Jordan promotional event July 31, 2001 in Harlem, New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A man wears the new Air Jordan XVI Low basketball shoe at a Jordan promotional event July 31, 2001 in Harlem, New York City. In 2001, they retailed for $160. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Click here to read the full piece. At bottom, watch a group of noted Adidas collectors (including Stone Roses lead singer Ian Brown) tour of an Adidas “store” in Buenos Aires owned by an obsessive collector who seems determined never to part with any of his stash.