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2023's Big Ticket Sports Memorabilia Sales Look to Follow Strong 2022

2023's Big Ticket Sports Memorabilia Sales Look to Follow Strong 2022
January 26, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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2022 was a year of record sports memorabilia sales that placed those top relics in the realm of fine art prices.

$10 million Jordan jersey. $9 million Maradona jersey. $6 million Ali belt. $5 million Tiger irons.

Those are hard acts to follow. Undoubtedly though, their astronomical prices will draw some top tier supply out of the woodwork and to the auction block. In fact, it already has. Over the next few weeks, 2023 will look to build its case as a sequel that's more Godfather: Part II and less Godfather: Part III.

The follow-up campaign begins at Sotheby's on Friday. The auction house, which played host to both the Jordan and Maradona jersey sales, will sell the jersey worn by LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, a clincher for the Heat. Many will remember 2013 for the Bosh-assisted Ray Allen shot in Game 6, as early Heat fan departures desperately sought re-entry to the arena. Game 7, then, was perhaps the Gold Medal Game to the 1982 Miracle on Ice semi-final: crucially important to solidify the legacy, but not as memorable as the game before. Still, it saw a LeBron James at the peak of his powers tally 37 points and 12 boards in victory.

The jersey was worn only in the first half of that game. It carries an estimate of $3,000,000 - $5,000,000, and the lot has also received an irrevocable bid. For those unfamiliar, that means a bid has been placed that ensures the lot will sell. For effectively de-risking the auction, that bidder typically receives a fixed fee whether they're ultimately the winner or not. Long story short: we're very likely to have not only a towering LeBron James jersey record, but also our first multi-million dollar sports memorabilia sale of 2023.

But the fun doesn't stop there.

In early February, Sotheby's will bring another important basketball jersey to the block. This time, it's a key Kobe Bryant piece. From his 2007-08 MVP campaign, the only season in which Bryant won an MVP, the signed jersey has been photomatched to 25 games, as well as his MVP award picture and an iconic photo often seen in murals. The heavy wear and the dominant period are the hallmarks here.

With an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000, the jersey would easily become the most expensive Bryant jersey ever sold. The current record stands at $3,600,000, achieved at Goldin in May of 2021 by a rookie jersey matched to 7 games and a pre-season photo shoot, making it one of the earliest known Bryant-worn Lakers jerseys.

It's worth noting for perspective: should the Kobe jersey at Sotheby's reach the higher end of its range, it would be more expensive than any game-worn item sold pre-2022.

In that regard, it would serve as a confirmation sale of sorts, signaling that the game-worn market has reset at a higher level. The term "confirmation sale" is borrowed from the art market. When an artist's price record is broken, market observers look not so much to when the record will next be broken, but rather, to see if sales begin to fill in above the prior record and below the new record. This provides evidence - confirmation - that the artist's market has taken to new heights. If the Kobe jersey doesn't cross $6 million, that doesn't mean the market has failed to retrench higher, but there will be an expectation that something should test and surpass those levels in 2023.

Finally, at a more "modest" price point, Goldin is set to auction the ball from the 1986 World Cup Quarterfinal between Argentina and England. That ball is the one that struck Diego Maradona's hand for the "Hand of God" goal. Of course, the $9.3 million jersey sale from that game raises the profile of the ball, which comes from the match referee. The ball was actually up for auction at Graham Budd Auctions in the UK in November, and bidding surpassed £2 million but failed to meet the reserve. Surpassing those prices in February will be a tall order, but doing so would be evidence of momentum in sports memorabilia that's not waning at the high end. The sequel begins Friday. It sure would be fun to see a blockbuster.

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