April 16, 2024

When celebrating his first Oscar win in 2019, Spike Lee jumped into the arms of a beaming Samuel L. Jackson. On the “BlacKkKlansman” director and co-screenwriter’s feet — glistening under the Dolby Theatre stage lights — were a pair of custom Nike Air Jordans with the leather painted metallic gold to match the coveted trophy.

Drawn up by Tinker Hatfield, one of Nike’s best-known designers, only a few pairs of those custom Air Jordan 3s were manufactured for Lee to give to his inner circle. The sneakers were never released to the public.

Then earlier this year, one of the extremely rare pairs of shoes showed up in a donation bin at a homeless shelter in Oregon. Now, they’re up for auction with a value estimated at up to $20,000. And all of the proceeds will go to the Portland Rescue Mission, which runs the shelter where they were found.

In April, a formerly unhoused man participating in the mission’s long-term shelter program was sorting through piles of donations at the mission’s Burnside Shelter. The downtown Portland shelter receives thousands of pounds of clothing each year through its donation chute. But to the man, the size-12½ gold sneakers stuck out, according to a blog post on the mission’s website.

He brought it to one of the program’s directors, Erin Holcomb, and after some online investigation they quickly realized the shoes looked identical to Lee’s famous Oscar kicks.

“Obviously they must be fakes, we thought,” Holcomb recalled in the blog, “because why would the real thing end up in our donation bins?”

But the owner of a local shop specializing in collector sneakers who was invited to inspect the shoes suggested they were likely the real deal. The store’s owner said they were not Lee’s personal shoes (The director wears size 9½), but were one of four or five pairs ever made. He offered to buy them off Holcomb for $10,000.

But Holcomb had other plans. She found out that New York-based auction house Sotheby’s had previously sold off another pair of the rare sneaks in 2021, generating a lot of buzz and a huge sale of nearly $50,000.

Hatfield, the designer, subsequently authenticated the found shoes as genuine Spike Lee Air Jordan 3s. He also gifted the shelter with a new shoe box and a framed concept design for the shoe, which he signed.

“When we did find out they were authentic, it was shocking to say the least,” Holcomb told KATU, Portland’s ABC affiliate. “We were just absolutely floored. What an immensely generous gift, and we were so glad we had the opportunity to put them to work.”

Lee’s relationship with Nike and the Jordan line of shoes dates back to the early years of his career. In the 1980s, after two ad copywriters for Nike, Jim Riswold and Bill Davenport, watched Lee’s debut feature “She’s Gotta Have It,” they were drawn to Lee’s character in the movie, Mars Blackmon. The character — a sharp-witted, Brooklyn-loving, Air Jordan-wearing Knicks superfan — would go on to star in a slew of commercials for Michael Jordan’s sneaker line, still played by Lee.

In 2006, Nike released Lee’s own line of shoes, Jordan Spiz’ike. For the 2019 Oscars, where Lee won the Academy Award for adapted screenplay and later walked out of the Hollywood venue in disgust after losing best picture to “Green Book,” Hatfield and Nike gave Lee the custom Jordan 3 model, which the director debuted on the red carpet.

The shoes, which will be auctioned off at Sotheby’s on Monday, are valued at $15,000-$20,000, with the bid Friday afternoon sitting at $7,000. Another pair in the limited Oscar collection sold at Sotheby’s in 2021 for $47,880.

Sotheby’s is waiving its fee, so all proceeds will benefit the shelter, which has helped people struggling with homelessness, hunger and addiction since 1949.

The identity of the person who donated the shoes remains a mystery.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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