Mike Rowbottom @ITG

If you have, say, $300,000 (£234,000/€253,000) to hand, or its equivalent, and you are a basketball fan, you might want to take a look at what Heritage Auctions (HA), in Dallas, Texas, currently have on offer by way of Michael Jordan memorabilia.

The aforementioned sum could net you the earliest known Chicago Bulls rookie jersey that Jordan wore in 1984. 

Or you may prefer to bid for the Chicago Bulls uniform Jordan wore in the 1986-1987 season, "definitively photo matched to five games Including 56 points vs Philadelphia on 3/24 with many more probable matches!"

If that is beyond your price range, you could shift your ambitions within the Michael Jordan & Basketball Icons Auction to a pair of Air Jordan rookie sneakers worn by Jordan in 1985. 

Here we would only be talking $100,000 (£78,000/€84,000).

You have until October 3 to go for these or other related items being dealt with by the sports collectibles section of the auctions.

Having said that, please be aware that these are only guide prices. And judging by how previous guide prices on Jordan memorabilia have been exceeded, you may be wise to set aside, say, nine or ten times more money. Just in case.

For example, in May this year, a pair of Birmingham Barons Air Jordan cleats worn by Jordan in 1994 – "with player provenance!" – were estimated at more than $5,000 (£4,000/€4,220) and were sold by HA for $93,000 (£72,500/€78,500). 

And on August 29 a single Michael Jordan card – "the finest known example of Michael Jordan's 1986 Fleer rookie card, graded a Pristine 10 by SGC" – was estimated at $100,000 and was sold by HA for $420,000 (£328,000/€354,500). 

It was a world record price for a Michael Jordan rookie card.

On August 29, Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas sold a single Michael Jordan rookie card, estimated at $100,000, for a world record $420,000 ©Getty Images
On August 29, Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas sold a single Michael Jordan rookie card, estimated at $100,000, for a world record $420,000 ©Getty Images

Also last month, a pair of Jordan's Nike trainers sold for a record $615,000 (£470,000/€520,000) at an online auction organised by Christie's and Stadium Goods.

Such is the demand for Jordan memorabilia, now even a photocopy of his first-ever contract with the Bulls sold for $57,068 (£43,680/€48,490) at auction.

Jordan played in his final National Basketball Association (NBA) game on April 16, 2003. Since then, it seems, his star has not dimmed. Prices don't lie.

The statistics of Jordan's career only tell part of the story. But with Chicago Bulls, either side of an excursion into minor league baseball, he won two sets of three-in-a-row NBA titles, spanning 1991 to 1993 and 1996 to 1998.

Jordan's individual accolades and accomplishments include six NBA Finals most valuable player (MVP) awards – three more than his closest rivals – 10 scoring titles, nine all-defensive first team honours, three steals titles and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

He holds the NBA records for career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and career play-off scoring average (33.45 points per game). 

In 1999, he was named the 20th century's greatest North American athlete by ESPN and he was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press list of athletes of the century.

He also won gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics – as a college player – and the 1992 Barcelona Games as a member of the American "dream team".

Since the start of his NBA career, Jordan has signed-up as an ambassador for a range of brands including Nike, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, McDonald's, Rayovac, Hanes and MCI.

In 1984, Nike created a signature shoe for him, called the Air Jordan, which became a monster seller.

Designed by Peter Moore, the name "Air Jordan" was coined by Jordan's agent David Falk because at the time Nike had just developed its new air cushioning technology, and Jordan played basketball "in the air".

A rare pair of trainers worn by Michael Jordan during his rookie season have sold for a record $615,000 at auction ©Christie's
A rare pair of trainers worn by Michael Jordan during his rookie season have sold for a record $615,000 at auction ©Christie's

Jordan remained active at the heart of the game, and in 2010 became the first former player to become the majority owner of an NBA team – the Charlotte Hornets.

The MJ currency still holds uniquely strong – as Chris Ivy, director of sports collectibles at Heritage Auctions, told insidethegames.

"Michael Jordan memorabilia has seen a recent uptick in values and interest for several reasons," he said. 

"First, the generation that grew up watching Jordan play is the same generation that grew up during the 1980s and 1990s sports card boom, buying packs, going to sports card shows and collecting memorabilia from their favourite players.

"That generation is now getting to an age where they can invest in high-end collectibles from their favourite athletes.

"In addition, the recent ESPN documentary series, The Last Dance, has also renewed interest in Michael Jordan, while at the same time, the pandemic has caused many to stay home and has led to renewed interest in collecting.

"There are many greats of the game that came both before and after Jordan, but he is considered to be the greatest player of all time by many fans of the game.

"All of these factors have created a bit of a perfect storm for collecting in general with a large group of collectors focused on collecting Michael Jordan memorabilia, and the prices realised for recent Jordan material have soared.

"As far as how this Michael Jordan material is coming to market, it is not from Jordan himself, as he certainly does not need the money. However, Jordan was very generous with his friends, fans and charitable causes during his career.

"Thus he gave away countless pairs of sneakers, uniforms and autographs, in addition to his endorsement deals with memorabilia companies such as Upper Deck, which has provided the secondary marketplace with a plethora of Michael Jordan collectibles for fans around the world.

"Of the recent Michael Jordan cards and memorabilia that have sold at auction, many have set world record numbers at many multiples of where similar items were selling just one year ago."

Jordan is known to many millions of sports followers around the world, each of whom will have their own take on his claims to greatness.

Michael Jordan shows off his first NBA shirt from his 1984 season ©Getty Images
Michael Jordan shows off his first NBA shirt from his 1984 season ©Getty Images

In offering a personal evaluation to insidethegames, Patrick Sandusky can speak both as a fan and as a professional involved in the game.

While at high school in Chicago, he regularly went to watch Jordan in action for the Chicago Bulls, and from 2018 to 2020 he was head of communications for the company that owns both the New York Knicks NBA basketball team and the New York Rangers ice hockey team, which plays in the National Hockey League.

"I grew up in Chicago," says Sandusky, who was previously vice-president of communications for the Chicago 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Committee and, for a decade, the senior public relations executive with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

"When I was a teenager was when MJ was at the height of his career, before he came back for the swansong.

"As a kid I saw him play at the old Chicago Stadium in the early to mid 90s, when I was in high school.

"When he came into the league he was the most athletic, high-flying, Air Jordan – he won all the dunk contests, he could go by anybody. In a soccer sense, he could dribble the ball past anyone. And he could just get to the hoop and beat people.

"But as he got older and people criticised him for being just flash and not winning titles, he transformed his game and his body. 

"What people tried to do was play him very physically. It's like when you have a guy like Lionel Messi in soccer, you'd think you could physical him but you can't."

Looking back on Jordan's career in 2001, Phil Jackson – his longtime coach at Chicago Bulls – recalled: "Michael would get fouled on every play and still have to play through it and just clear himself for shots instead and would rise to that occasion."

Sandusky continues: "On the basketball court in those early days of his career the NBA rules were very different to what they are today. Play was not nearly as free-flowing, it was very physical.

"And MJ completely changed his game from being the most aerial, acrobatic, attacking player to the most thoughtful. 

"He adopted this fade-away jump shot that was nearly unstoppable. So it would be like, in soccer parlance, the way David Beckham had a specialisation with crosses.

"Jordan was able to literally transform his game. As he got older he lost some of the physical tools, he didn't jump as high, he wasn't as fast. But he was never not the best. He just figured out another way to be the best player. And no-one has done that since.

"He developed a three-point shot. He became a better passer. But he still would be the leading scorer. He not only did the leading scorer and defensive player of the year but he was also the most valuable player.

"And then he also did such an amazing job of marketing himself and his skills in a way that continues to operate. I say this without any disrespect to David Beckham, but MJ is a sort of combination of Beckham with Lionel Messi's skills.

"He is definitely a looming figure over the sport in an Ali, Pelé, Babe Ruth kind of way.

Michael Jordan's high-profile within the NBA has been maintained by his role as owner of the Charlotte Hornets ©Getty Images
Michael Jordan's high-profile within the NBA has been maintained by his role as owner of the Charlotte Hornets ©Getty Images

"What has made him different in terms of his lasting power was that he was one of the first people in the States and to some degree globally to be known as much for all the things off-field, in terms of the brands he became associated with.

"He took this running shoe company that barely had a blip in the world of basketball, and instead of going with Converse or Adidas, which is what most of the people had done in the past – Converse for example had Larry Bird and Magic Johnson – this small company in Oregon named Nike became this global phenomenon with the Air Jordan shoe.

"And he was somebody too that, when you go back and you look at him, not only did he win a title in each of his last six full seasons, which is impressive in its own right, but he was this person that was beyond basketball in one way with the Nike and the Gatorade and the sort of global sponsor icon status.

"But he was also – and this helps – the best basketball player that ever lived.

"He did things that, from a sport perspective, were never done before and haven't been done since. In that he would be both the leading scorer in the NBA and also the defensive player of the year. It just doesn't seem to be possible.

"It wasn't that MJ was bigger or stronger than anyone else. He just seemed to have, and it really comes across in the ESPN documentary, this will to just work harder and win and beat anybody at anything.

"Right at the peak of his career it was pre-social media, at least in the States – but it was when everybody started to have cable TV and satellite television. So it meant the whole country could see him.

"The era before MJ, when Magic Johnson was a rookie and the LA Lakers were playing for the NBA title, it was on tape delay after the 11pm news broadcast on CBS. They weren't even showing it live.

"So Jordan arrived in an era where everybody in the country could watch, and then he capitalised in a way through very savvy moves on the sports sponsorship side.

"When I recall watching him, what really stood out for me was his ability of body control. He was not only able to jump high, but in the middle of being in the air he was able to switch the ball from hand to hand and was able to change, seemingly – which is against the laws of physics – the trajectory of his jump in the air. And his ability was not just jumping, but when to jump."

The ESPN documentary, which used many hours of previously un-aired footage taken on and off court with the Chicago Bulls during their 1998 season, evoked a wide range of reaction.

The film takes its name from a comment by Bulls coach Jackson who called the 1998 season the "last dance" as it would be the final campaign before general manager Jerry Krause broke up the team.

"I watched it of course," said Sandusky. "Especially as it was at the peak of quarantine. 

"So I watched it as a fan and also as somebody who was working for the Knicks. I watched it through the eyes of a teenager and as an adult. I didn't learn a lot that was new, to be honest, because when you were in Chicago it was covered exhaustively. It was like living in Manchester at the time of George Best.

In 1999, Michael Jordan was named the 20th century's greatest North American athlete by ESPN and was second to Babe Ruth, pictured, on the Associated Press list of athletes of the century ©Getty Images
In 1999, Michael Jordan was named the 20th century's greatest North American athlete by ESPN and was second to Babe Ruth, pictured, on the Associated Press list of athletes of the century ©Getty Images

"But I think it was very illuminating for those outside of Chicago who didn't know that he had such an acrimonious relationship, say, with team management.

"But it was great nostalgia, it was amazing to watch. I think you under-appreciated, in retrospect, that other than Scotty Pippen, who was one of the greatest number twos in NBA history, MJ did it year after year with what was seemingly a new cast of characters."

Sandusky has not been remotely surprised to see the continuing value of MJ items in auction houses across the US.

"He had the first, at least in the States, the first real iconic shoes," he said. "Everybody knew it was Air Jordan. And they changed every year. Everybody knew it was a different pair, a different style. And I think there's a lot of nostalgia for that.

"The stuff that is really expensive is the stuff that he had worn, obviously. But even just the retro lines go well.

"The amazing thing about MJ, having worked for the Knicks, which was his biggest rival, is there is nobody – even passionate Knicks fans who 'loathe or hate' the Bulls – none of them would tell you that MJ wasn't the best. 

"They wish he played for the Knicks. But there is no acrimony. It is universally just accepted that he is the greatest of all time. There's no denying it. You see that with Knicks fans, Lakers fans, all basketball fans."