When a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card set the all-time sports card and memorabilia record at $12.6 million last month, industry experts quickly predicted that other pieces of record-setting sports memorabilia would soon follow.
They were once again spot-on as just two weeks later a game-worn Michael Jordan jersey sold for $10.1 million to set another sports collectible record.
“Cards are great and cards are still extremely popular … but when you see the card prices growing as much as they have the last few years, it only makes sense that the memorabilia will follow them,” Chris Ivey, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, said at the National Sports Collectors Convention in July.
“There are more people that collect cards than memorabilia, but it just makes sense that memorabilia, given the scarcity and uniqueness of it … I think there it is a symbiotic relationship and they only help each other. When a piece of memorabilia goes for a great number, it helps the cards, and when a card goes for a great number, I think it especially helps the memorabilia.”
Ivey and other experts were right on target again. Two weeks after the landmark Mantle sale, the NBA jersey worn by Jordan during Game 1 of the 1998 NBA Finals sold for $10.1 million at Sotheby’s on Sept. 15, becoming the most expensive piece of game-worn sports memorabilia ever bought at auction.
The jersey shattered the previous record for game-worn collectibles — a jersey worn by the late soccer player Diego Maradona during the 1986 World Cup sold for $9.28 million at Sotheby’s in May.
That record was toppled by the 1952 Topps Mantle card, which sold for $12.6 million at Heritage Auctions in late August, breaking both the sports card and sports memorabilia record.
The previous record for a game-worn basketball jersey was an autographed Kobe Bryant jersey from 1996-97 that sold for $3.7 million at Goldin Co.
The red No. 23 Chicago Bulls jersey was worn during Jordan’s “Last Dance,” the end of a run of six NBA championships that included the 1998 title and Jordan’s fifth league MVP award. Jordan retired to play baseball in 1999, only two return for two more seasons in 2001 before retiring for good in 2003.
The jersey was authenticated by MeiGray, which photo-matched it to images of Jordan wearing it against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. It attracted 20 bids, most coming in the final minutes of the auction and pushing the record sale well beyond the $5 million estimate.
In 2021, a pair of game-worn Jordan sneakers from his rookie season sold for nearly $1.5 million at Sotheby's.