Gold Air Jordans Worth More Than $10,000 Found in a Donation Bin

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The sneakers tumbled down the donation chute just like the old shirts, pants and coats that regularly were donated to the Portland Rescue Mission.

But these sneakers were different. They were a striking metallic gold with a Nike Swoosh. One heel was adorned with the logo for 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Spike Lee’s production company.

“Normally, clothes are given out very quickly,” said Erin Holcomb, director of staff ministries at the Portland Rescue Mission, which provides services like food and shelter to the homeless and those struggling with addiction in Portland, Ore. But staff members suspected these shoes were special and set them aside.

The sneakers, Nike Air Jordan Retro 3s, turned out to be a specific variety called “Spike Lee Oscars.” Mr. Lee debuted the shoe in 2019, wearing them to the Oscars when he and his co-writers won the award for best adapted screenplay for the movie “BlacKkKlansman.”

The sneakers were not released to the public, and only a handful were made.

The pair in Portland was donated in April, and an auction house says is worth more than $10,000.

“I don’t think anyone on staff was a sneakerhead,” Ms. Holcomb said. “We Googled, and it was pretty clear what they were. But we thought there was no way; they must be replicas or knockoffs.”

Staff members took the shoes to a sneaker resale shop for appraisal. “They took them in the back,” Ms. Holcomb said. “They were gone for a long time.”

When the shop’s employees came back, they had a surprise: The sneakers were real. (The shop offered to buy them on the spot, Ms. Holcomb said, an offer that was declined.)

The organization then contacted Tinker Hatfield, the famed Nike sneaker designer behind every Air Jordan from 3 to 15. He too confirmed they were authentic, adding that only four or five pairs of the Retro Spike Lee Oscars had been created. Mr. Hatfield also signed a box he provided to help increase their value.

Donations with the potential to bring a windfall are not common at the Portland Rescue Mission. “I’ve been here for 17 years,” Ms. Holcomb said. “We’ve never resold anything.”

Now, Sotheby’s is selling the sneakers on behalf of the organization in an auction running through Monday, with a sale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. As of Friday morning, the top bid was $7,000.

While major auction houses are mostly thought of as places to buy high-cost art and antiques, collectibles, wine, memorabilia and, yes, sneakers are also known to go under the hammer.

Sneakers “represent an accessible entry point into a nonetheless rarefied world, which is why I think we are seeing this market continue to grow, with today’s collectors — particularly in luxury — generally being under the age of 40,” said Eric LiBassi, a Sotheby’s specialist in streetwear and modern collectibles.

“Nike and their subsection of Jordan Brand have certainly dominated the primary and resale markets over the years,” he said.

For instance, the Air Jordan 13s that Michael Jordan wore in Game 2 of the 1998 NBA Finals — featured in the documentary “The Last Dance” — sold for $2.2 million this year, establishing a new world record, Mr. LiBassi said.

As for the sneakers found at the Portland Rescue Mission, “it’s somewhat rare to see another logo on a pair of Jordans,” he said, “so seeing Spike’s 40 Acres and a Mule logo on the heel is an interesting touch and another rare distinction.”

So who was the benefactor or benefactors? And did they know what they were getting rid of? “We have no idea who donated them,” Ms. Holcomb said. “It is a real mystery for us.”

In the unlikely event that a buyer should want to wear the five-figure sneakers in a pickup game: They are size 12½.

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