For 25 years, they sat in a closet in the Lavi family home in the Tel Aviv area alongside blankets, old books and a suitcase – two valuable collector’s items: an original Air Jordan 1 sneaker and a baseball mitt, both belonging to basketball legend Michael Jordan. On Monday, they were finally sold at a public auction in the U.S., with the help of the Netflix documentary 'The Last Dance.'
The Lavi family told Haaretz sports writer Elad Zeevi about the items for the first time in May, recounting how they had originally acquired them, back in late 1994. Juanita Jordan, who had wanted to surprise her megastar husband for his 32nd birthday, got in touch with the Lavis – whose business was known for producing silver-plated, 3-D reproductions of items – about reproducing the sneaker and baseball glove as a gift. Ten silver-plated copies were eventually produced and sold at auction but the originals remained in the hands of the Israelis.
“My father was a partner in a factory that made things using electroform silver in the 1980s and 1990s,” explained Dan Lavi, current owner of the Rashbel company, which sells equipment and materials for making jewelry. At the time Rashbel’s technology to reproduce three-dimensional objects in silver was unique. “One day we received an order by fax to make a shoe and baseball mitt in silver. They didn’t say who it was for. My father asked them to send a sample, saying he would see what could be done. If it were possible, we’d quote a price, he told the sender.”
So how much did the items sell for? The sneaker was sold as part of Dallas-based Heritage Auctions’ June 14th sports catalog for $31,000 and the mitt for $21,000.
Jonathan Scheier, senior consignment and cataloger of sports memorabilia at Heritage Auctions, told Haaretz last month that thanks to the popularity of the Netflix show, the market for Jordan’s memorabilia had skyrocketed. Scheier added that several factors determine the value of such items – for example, whether Jordan actually wore them in a game. It was clear that the glove and sneaker the Lavis had had belonged to the star, and the fact that they were used for making rare silver reproductions, Scheier predicted, would definitely interest serious collectors.
Lavi and his mother Zehava also told Haaretz about the connection between the new Netflix documentary about the Chicago Bulls superstar, “The Last Dance,” and the items that had been gathering dust in their closet.
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“My father died a few years ago, and now the series had started,” Lavi said. “My mother read a story about Jordan in Haaretz and suddenly asked me if I remembered the sneaker and glove that were waiting for me in the closet.”
According to Zehava Lavi, it was more or less by chance that the two precious items had survived. “Once in a while I had this fantasy about cleaning out the closet and getting rid of everything. Over the years, house cleaners would ask whether they could throw those things in the garbage,” she said. But Lavi never acted on that fantasy and recalled that her husband always said that one day the items might be worth something. He was right.