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A prototype of the original ‘Air Jordan’ is on sale for $50,000

The seller stumbled upon the shoe accidentally more than 20 years ago.

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Michael Jordan changed Nike and sneaker brands forever with his introduction of the “Air Jordans” in 1984. The big name. The bold colors. The controversy.

This shoe brought it all — and to this day puts millions of dollars into the company’s pockets while remaining a fashion icon.

Somehow, one of its earliest prototypes from 33 years ago was left in a storage closet and nearly tossed to the garbage. That would have left a true piece of history to waste.

Luckily, Kris Arnold found the shoe — yes, shoe: he only found Jordan’s size 13.5 right sneaker — from one of the first batches of Air Jordans ever made, and preserved it before it was too late.

More than two decades later, he’s ready to sell the shoe, and it could be yours for at least $50,000 — though he thinks they are worth MUCH more.

Wait, what? Someone almost threw out a sneaker worth $50,000?

Yes!

Arnold worked for a sports management company called ProServ, which used to represent Jordan and many other athletes. There, the original Air Jordan prototypes were put on display before Jordan flashed them on the court. As time passed, the displays made their way to a storage closet along with other memorabilia, never to be touched for more than nine years.

But instead of chucking them, Arnold, a Chicago native and big Jordan fan, decided to snag the shoe, which was unearthed from a regular old orange Nike box.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Arnold told SB Nation, recalling his first experience with the piece of sneaker history. “It was different from any Air Jordan I’d seen before. It was a black toe model with a black tongue. I looked inside the heel and there was a sticker from the factory, like a form sticker that had a bunch of information on it.

“It had a date of Nov. 14, 1984; it said Jordan Pro BB. So I was like ‘Woah this must be a prototype or something.’”

Photo credit: Kris Arnold
Photo credit: Kris Arnold

So he must have bought a shrine for this collectible, right?

Wrong! It was more than a size too big for Arnold.

So instead of wearing the shoe, he used it as a penholder on his desk. Seriously. He had no idea of its true worth.

“I stored it in my buddy’s basement and I moved to L.A.,” Arnold told SB Nation. “Years later, in 2007, I pulled out this box of stuff and I told my friend I had a prototype and he didn’t believe me. So that was the beginning of ‘What is this shoe?’”

It took more than 15 years to discover its true value

Arnold got closer to finding that answer, coincidentally, on set at a Jordan commercial filmed on the University of Maryland’s campus. Arnold played a small role in the four-minute ad, and though he was unable to speak to the basketball star directly, he was in contact with a Jordan brand rep. That began an email chain that got Arnold in touch with the right person at Nike’s archives. Nike was interested in the shoe, but couldn’t promise more money than what he could get from shoe collectors.

Through a friend, Arnold was able to get in touch with Peter Moore, the man known for designing the original Air Jordan. Moore was able to better inform him of the intricacies of the rare prototype Arnold stumbled upon. That was the authentication Arnold needed to promote his shoe and realize its true place in history.

What’s different about this prototype shoe?

The biggest difference between this rare prototype and the ones released to the public is its bigger and pointier swoosh. It’s that distinction most sneakerheads point out to Arnold when they first see it.

Photo credit: Kris Arnold

Other than the swoosh, Arnold noted its sleeker design, lower toe-box, and different spacing in the holes for the lacing.

Photo credit: Kris Arnold

So why should anybody pay $50k for these shoes?

Air Jordans are more than a shoe for those who embraced the Nike takeover in the ‘90s. The ‘Just Do It’ campaign turned a generation on to sneaker collecting and introduced a new way of fashion by way of the swoosh mark.

Photo credit: Kris Arnold

“To me, [this shoe] is a piece of history,” Arnold said. “This is a museum piece. The sneaker culture goes beyond shoes. There’s kids every single day buying the original Air Jordan 1s, 33 years later. There’s a resell market for them.

“That’s why this shoe to me is special. It’s not just Michael Jordan, it’s the whole sneaker culture. It’s Nike. People feel really strongly about wearing Nike.”

It’s also incredibly rare. This isn’t one of the hundreds of shoes Jordan may have worn and signed after a game.

“This shoe is from the very, very, very first batch. No one has these. If someone has these, it’s like Michael and maybe a friend,” Arnold said.

And now they’ll be in the hands of a new shoe-collecting fanatic.

The prototype is up for auction here on eBay, and a portion of the profits will go to Best Buddies International, which helps those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.