They say memory has infinite space but it seems closets can outdo our minds. We may forget things but our shelves don’t, and the closet in the Lavi family home is no exception. It’s stuffed with framed family pictures, blankets, sundry bric-a-brac they’d completely forgotten about, and two objects that had once belonged to someone else: Michael Jordan. They had been collecting dust on the closet shelf in Tel Aviv for 25 years.
The story began in late 1994 when Jordan's wife at the time, Juanita Jordan, wanted to surprise him for his 32nd birthday. Consulting with a local high-end jeweller, they came up with the idea of reproducing his basketball sneaker and baseball glove in precious metal. And they wound up soliciting a quote from a company in Israel that had a unique technology to reproduce objects in silver plating.
“My father was a partner in a factory that made things using electroform silver in the 1980s and 1990s,” explains Dan Lavi, currently the owner of Rashbel, which sells equipment and materials to make jewelry. At the time the factory’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 glove 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.”
Two weeks later a parcel arrived with an original Air Jordan 1 sneaker, for the right foot, and a mitt that had been made specially for Jordan when he expanded into baseball. “The factory made templates from them, filling the shoe with plasticine and the glove with polyester to create large rubber molds,” says Lavi. “The method was to put items into an electroform bath, which conducts electricity. The items are coated in a conducting paint, and the silver builds up over that until a sufficiently thick layer is formed.”
Actually an original Jordan undershirt had also been sent but it was too big to make a silver-coated version of it, Lavi says.
The undershirt’s fate is unknown but the shoe and mitt survived the process intact. Ten silver-plated copies of each were sent to Chicago, but the originals stayed in the Lavi household.
“I was at the height of my Michael Jordan fanhood then,” says Lavi. “I’d get up at four AM to watch him play. I’d tape games and play them backwards and forwards again and again.” So his father brought the shoe and glove home, to his excitement. But then they were relegated to the closet.
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The silver-plated copies on the other hand became collector items. As far as is known, Jordan kept one silver shoe, gave one to an agent, one to the Museum of Science in Chicago, one to a golf club he used to play in, and one to the restaurant he owned, where that birthday party was held. The factory got $1,800 for each item but since then they’ve commanded prices reaching tens of thousands of dollars apiece in auctions held over the years.
“My father was the consummate straight-laced businessman,” Lavi says. “Any other Israeli would have made 11 copies and kept one for himself, but he was an air force man. He was asked to make ten so he made ten.”
His father died a few years ago, and now the Netflix series “The Last Dance” has afforded Jordan another comeback, this time in public discourse. With it, memories resurfaced.
“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,” Lavis says.
Actually over the years she would fantasize about organizing the closet and throwing everything out, Zehava Lavi says. She never did mainly because her husband always insisted that maybe one day those items would be worth something.
And maybe he was right. Michael Jordan’s original shoes can auction for serious money: Sotheby’s is presently selling a pair of basketball sneakers “Worn by Jordan During Pivotal Early Period of his Career” and expects to realize $100,000 to $150,000 for them. The Netflix series sent the market for Jordan memorabilia into the stratosphere.
One has to wonder if the left shoe of the pair still lies in Michael Jordan’s closet, and whether the pair was ever worn in a game. Even if not, the fact that the sneaker served as a template for rare silver-plated copies may render them interesting to serious collectors, suggests a source at the Heritage auction house.
Perhaps one day the Lavis will sell the items but meanwhile, the shoe and mitt are being given due respect. They are leaving the Lavis’ closet for a new home in a safe. This is after Dan’s original plan was foiled in order to keep the peace at home. “I thought of putting them in a glass box in our living room,” he says with a smile, “but my wife told me to forget that.”