Last summer, shortly after claiming his third NBA title, LeBron
James said he was still chasing Michael Jordan
and his six championship rings. But James is also chasing Jordan in the world of signature shoe sales — a realm still dominated by the Air Jordan
line 13 years after its founder retired.
and James are trying something new with their newest release, the LeBron
14, to build extra buzz. Instead of a standard rollout on Nike’s website or at retailers, a small batch of the shoes
is going directly to a secondary marketplace before a wider release — the sneaker world’s equivalent of an initial public offering of a stock.
released 23 pairs of the LeBron
14, along with 23 pairs of his signature shoe from his rookie season, on Friday evening to the highest bidders on StockX, an online sneaker resale marketplace where shoe prices rise and fall like share prices.
The limited release of the 46 pairs — called Cavs Court SPO — come with special features including a hardwood box made from the Cleveland Cavaliers home court from last year’s championship season and a version of the championship rings that the team gave to its employees (which are different from the players’ rings).
The chief executive of StockX, Josh Luber, said there was no way to accurately predict how much the shoes
might sell for, but he said estimates among his team ranged from $3,000 to $25,000 per pair.
That would be a significant bump from James’s recent releases, which have not been embraced by collectors. The LeBron
13, released in September 2015, has been especially disappointing to hard-core sneaker enthusiasts, with some deadstock models — unworn shoes
in the original box and packaging — selling for less than the original $200 retail price on secondary markets.
Whether the special release will help James close the gap with Jordan remains to be seen. Air Jordans still dominate the resale market and account for about half of such transactions, according to StockX, thanks to a steady stream of retro releases of models introduced in the 1980s and 1990s. Shortly after the introduction of LeBron
signed James to a lifetime deal, hoping to replicate the enduring popularity of Jordan’s sneakers even after his retirement.
released black and red Air Jordan
1 high-tops in September with the original Nike
Air logo on the tongue — unlike the recent models that carry Jordan’s Jumpman logo — the sneakers sold out in a matter of minutes and were almost immediately selling for more than double the $160 retail price in the secondary market.
James and Nike
are hoping to tap into a similar nostalgia with the reintroduction of James’s rookie-year sneaker, the Air Zoom Generation, the first sneakers Nike
made for James. James is one of the few players, including Jordan, to get a retro release of his own shoe line while he is still playing.
“There is more inherent demand for LeBron’s retro shoe than any of his shoes
in the last three years,” Luber said.
Neil Schwartz, vice president at SportsOneSource, a market research firm for athletic footwear and apparel, said LeBron
was the most popular basketball shoe frontman among active players, ahead of Kevin Durant (Nike), James Harden (Adidas) and Stephen Curry (Under Armour). But James is nowhere near being the king of basketball shoes.
is not approaching Jordan in popularity,” Schwartz said. “He’s not even close.”
Luber said Nike’s willingness to release a high-profile shoe like the new LeBron
sneakers on a secondary marketplace underlined the increasingly important role played by resellers in stoking demand for big-ticket sneakers.
© 2017 The New York Times News Service