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Seven-Figure Brick Flipping: Most Expensive Sneakers Ever Sold Fall From Grace

Seven-Figure Brick Flipping: Most Expensive Sneakers Ever Sold Fall From Grace
September 21, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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In the sneaker world, a "brick" is a term often reserved for discounted pairs that can be bought for a cheap price because they were unwanted. But maybe bricks can still be expensive. In fact, we've found our very first seven-figure bricks....two of them, in fact.

At last week's Part II of the Goldin 100 auction, two of the most expensive sneakers in history came back to the block, each in quite different circumstances from their prior sale.  In one case, the failed flip will come as no surprise whatsoever. The other pair just might raise some eyebrows.

Back in April of 2021, fractional sneaker platform Rares purchased the Nike Air Yeezy Prototype worn by Kanye West at the 2008 Grammy's for $1.8 million from Sotheby's in a private transaction. The idea was for the sneakers to serve as a cornerstone for the platform. At the time, while West certainly had his share of unappealing quirks and red flag behavior, the thesis for those sneakers becoming the most expensive ever sold had at least some merit.

The pair represented the beginning of an odyssey that would see Yeezy become one of the most powerful brands in footwear in just a few years. The Nike Yeezys are among the most sought-after sneakers in existence, and West's partnership with Adidas was a phenomenon in the late 2010s and early 2020s. This pair of prototypes was effectively the public launch point for all that would follow.

However, whether the price was merited or not, $1,800,000 is a massive offering for a fractional upstart to fill. Despite significant marketing and a veritable tour of relevant sneaker media outlets, the platform struggled to sell shares amounting to more than a few hundred thousand dollars. Keep in mind: this was before West really went off the rails. With little chance of filling the offering, Rares turned to Christie's in September of 2022 to conduct a private sale of the pair.

And then, things went south. West's behavior reached its most errratic, concerning the house enough to decline to proceed with selling the sneakers altogether. This is a house, Christie's, that sold $202 million in jewelry from the Horten Collection before only recently buckling to backlash due to the Nazi-era-related source of wealth. And apparently, they took one look at what was happening with Kanye and said no thank you. With West effectively blocking the path to exit, the sneakers were removed from the public spotlight for several months until they resurfaced as a lot in Part II of the Goldin 100.

Though Ye is no longer as frequently and prominently featured in the public discourse, the timing remains suboptimal for a sale - really, it's unclear if the timing ever could or should be "optimal" again. A photomatch from Sports Investors Authentication could not spare them from their failed flip fate. They sold for "just" $180,106. A 90% loss.

Just like with living athletes, investing in living stars of pop culture is fraught with risk, and West's risk profile was among the most volatile of all.

On the other hand, prices for Michael Jordan-worn memorabilia have mostly risen since October of 2021. That's when his Nike Air Ships, worn in his fifth regular season game, sold for what was an auction record of $1,472,000. The signed sneakers are the earliest known regular season Jordan gamers in existence, a status which the "Air" printed on the heel nods to. It's a bit odd to see an item of this caliber return to auction so soon after selling. In the case of a seven-figure sports memorabilia item, within two years qualifies as quite soon, and that typically wouldn't be seen as a positive development.

In their return trip to the auction block, the Air Ships sold for $624,000. Not too long ago, it would've been a sneaker auction record. Now? It's just 58% less than they sold for two years ago.The sneakers carried the same authentication as at Sotheby's in October 2021. There was a letter of provenance from the Nuggets ball boy who received them initially, an LOA from MEARS for game use, an LOA from JSA for the autographs, and an LOA from Resolution. The contents of that last one are important, as Resolution was unable to identify a conclusive photomatch and could only point to a possible photo match for an October game against the Bucks. But again, that was the case two years ago when they sold for $1,472,000.

So what changed? Photomatching became more important, and then even the reliability of photomatching was called into question. So absent a conclusive match - or at least some form of even more robust authentication than was offered in October 2021 - the sneakers were unable to command a bidding war amongst as many parties. However, emerging from the woodwork with new authentication for a game 40 years ago might raise some eyebrows so soon after the recent scandal.

It also bears repeating: that the sneakers returned so soon at all was likely unproductive. It similarly doesn't help that they weren't the top billed lot (Lot #3) in an event replete with lots that could vie to headline your average monthly auction. In hindsight, that structure may not be conducive to realizing the highest potential result for any one lot.

We probably won't see either pair of sneakers on StockX or GOAT anytime soon, but perhaps it's best if they're not seen for sale on any platform anytime soon. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but perhaps it won't open them further.

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