For Dave Russell, the novelty running shoes he wore for a few months in the early 1970s were a curiosity, something he threw into a box to be left in a closet “as memorabilia nestled inside this kind of a time capsule.”
Those shoes, among the rarest Nikes on the planet and called the “moon shoe” because of the imprint left by their waffle tread, fetched a record $437,500 Tuesday in an online auction by Sotheby’s, breaking the record of $190,373 set in 2017 by a signed pair of Converse sneakers worn by Michael Jordan in the 1984 Olympic gold medal game against Spain.
The Nikes are one of only about 12 pairs created for the 1972 Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. They were the innovative product of Bill Bowerman, the former Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder who made their soles by placing rubber on his wife’s waffle iron, creating a shoe lighter and more flexible than the hard-soled spikes then worn by distance runners.
Russell, then a 25-year-old runner, happened on them because he had qualified for the trials and was entranced by the shoes, which were part of an offer of free merchandise to runners who were in the trials.
“They were exotic,” he told the Sacramento Bee last month. “They were something that was so different.”
About 10 other athletes chose the shoes, too, but their fate is unknown. Russell’s are the only ones known to exist in nearly unworn condition. They made their way from his closet to the auction block when, while shopping for running shoes at an El Dorado Hills, Calif., store last winter, he mentioned those old Nikes to his friend, Nick Bouris. Bouris discovered that a pair of the same shoes had recently been sold for $11,200. The soles of that pair were falling off and the laces were missing, and Russell quickly realized he had something of value, although Bouris told the Bee that Russell “didn’t have a clue” as to their worth. Russell decided to unload them and put the money into a fund for his children.
Enter Miles Nadal, the founder of MDC Partners and Peerage Capital. He had more than a clue about their worth and snapped them up, spending far more than the $160,000 they had been expected to bring. He also dropped $850,000 during Sotheby’s Ultimate Sneaker Collection auction. Included were the Air Jordan 11’s commemorating Derek Jeter’s career, and the Nike MAG sneakers with self-lacing technology (then fictional) from “Back to the Future Part II.” He told Sotheby’s that he plans to display the “moon shoes” in his private Dare to Dream Automobile Museum in Toronto.
Russell was smitten with the shoes in 1972, but he didn’t wear them in the trials, preferring to wear the only ones he knew in what was such a big race for him. Seeded 98th out of 102 runners, he finished 55th and did not qualify for the national team. The shoes, he acknowledged, were a special memory of a time when “I got to rub elbows with the most elite athletes in the world.”
“It wasn’t easy to part with them because they’re a part of my history,” he told the Bee, “but I’d rather have them sold if it’s going to be a decent price.”
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