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The First Shoes handmade by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman to appear at auction achieve $162,500
The pair of waffle spike shoes was hand-crafted by Nike co-founder and legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman in the early 1970s. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- A pair of Waffle Spike Shoes handmade in the early-1970s by Bill Bowerman, the co-founder of Nike and legendary University of Oregon track coach, sold for $162,500 to an anonymous buyer in their 40s, in a dedicated online auction that concluded today at Sotheby’s – surpassing their pre-sale high estimate of $150,000.

Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s Director of eCommerce Development, commented: “Today’s great result speaks to both the legacy of Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman, and the continued strong market for historical Nike items. The shoes themselves are an incredible example of an item made prior to and during the infancy of Nike, and we believe their importance will only continue to grow over time. It’s been such a pleasure to have been entrusted with these historical shoes by John Mays, who plans to donate a portion of the sale proceeds to Portland’s Albina Roadrunners Track Club, where he first developed his love for the track and where he sits on the board today. We have some amazing things planned in the sneaker space for the remainder of 2020, and can’t wait to share those plans with the world.”

Bowerman created the Handmade Waffle Spike Shoes exclusively for John Mays, a runner on Bowerman’s University of Oregon track team, and have remained in Mays’ possession ever since. One of only a handful of pairs known to exist, these shoes were the first and only pair hand-crafted by Bill Bowerman ever to appear at auction. Another known pair of Bowerman shoes are in the Special Collections and University Archives of the Knight Library at the University of Oregon.

The legendary Oregon runner, Phil Knight, and Bill Bowerman partnered together and started Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, which was rebranded as Nike in 1971. Bowerman crafted the present shoes in the early 1970s during the Blue Ribbon Sports era, but later modified them in 1974 with Nike’s first major innovation, the waffle soles. As such, these shoes uniquely straddle the formation of the world’s largest athletic brand.

The present shoes are among the most valuable pair ever offered at auction, following Sotheby’s record-breaking sale of Michael Jordan’s Game Worn Autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s from 1985 that achieved $560,000 at Sotheby’s just last month. The Air Jordans established a new world auction record for any pair of sneakers – surpassing the previous auction record of $437,500, set at Sotheby’s in July 2019 by the Nike Waffle Racing Flat ‘Moon Shoe’.

The present shoes were produced in the early 1970s for University of Oregon track runner, John Mays. They were later adjusted in 1974 by Bowerman, after which they were never used again. The shoes have their original laces, and the aglets are frayed from wear. The lace-holes were hand-punched by Bowerman, and there are a total of 14 of them on each shoe. On the heels, the shoes say “MAYS” in Bill Bowerman’s handwriting.

Notably, the soles on these shoes do not match one another. The right shoe demonstrates a beautiful example of Bowerman’s need to innovate, displaying a design he thought might be effective for Mays – incorporating a waffle sole that is absent on the left shoe. The waffles of course, represent an important moment in the history of footwear, as Bill invented the design after being inspired by his wife’s waffle iron. The spikes do show wear, but the waffles and the back half of the right shoe appear mint. The reason for this is that Bowerman was constantly tinkering and modifying his shoes, and he added the waffles and a strip of white material to the right shoe for Mays to test in 1974.

Though Mays never tested the modified shoe with the waffle sole, the pair is elemental to the genesis of Nike, and represents Bowerman’s legacy as an innovator.

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