Michael Fan’s basement is home to a sneaker collection worth well over a million dollars.
The Melbourne collector keeps about 700 pairs stacked neatly, each in its own see-through box, with about a dozen of the rarest on display, and the most valuable stored in a secure cabinet weighing almost a tonne.
Mr Fan’s collection began with his love of basketball and acquiring pairs worn by Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
“I used to see players walking onto court wearing Air Jordans and I thought they were really cool, so I started tracking how to find exclusive pairs,” he told AAP.
It grew into an obsession Mr Fan admits he spends all his spare money on, and he’s even written a book called For the Love of Sneakers.
He has a signed pair of Nike Air Uptempos worn by Scottie Pippen in the 1995-96 NBA season – that even came with the sock.
“There are so many stories behind the shoe and all the details on the shoe tells us more about the players and this is part of the sneaker culture,” Mr Fan says.
If you’re concerned about the security of the valuable collection in his suburban home, don’t be – the former security consultant has CCTV know-how.
Mr Fan is showing off 14 pairs from his collection – together worth an estimated $1.2 million – as part of an exhibition in Melbourne later this month.
They include a signed pair of Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan 1 Chicagos from the 1985-86 NBA season. The left shoe is a size 13 and the right a 13.5 to accommodate the star’s famously mismatched feet, and together they last sold for more than US$500,000 (A$680,000).
Mr Fan is well aware some of the pairs he owns have increased in value hundreds of times over but says he doesn’t think about them as an investment.
Yet sneakers have become a much sought product, with high-end pairs trading in a market that resembles the trade in coveted artworks.
Last year Sotheby’s auctioned a pair of Michael Jordan’s Nike Air Ships worn during the Chicago Bulls 1984 season for US$1.47 million (A$1.97 million).
In May 2021, a pair of Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers set a record US$1.8 million (A$2.41 million).
The exhibition will also feature a pair of College Dropout Bapestas 2007, the first sneaker designed with rapper Kanye West – before he made most of his $1.8 billion fortune through Yeezy.
Yeezy’s innovation designer Cesar Idrobo spoke to AAP from Los Angeles and says celebrity endorsement can be just as important as the product itself.
“Having an endorsement for your product gives you this credibility that your product is cool … these people have the recipe for success, they’re the ones who decide what’s cool and what’s not,” he says.
He believes it’s simply a way for people to connect with their idols.
“Not everyone can spend time with someone that they admire,” he says.
“But you can have different things that they have.”
Mr Idrobo grew up in Colombia, where he didn’t think much about sneakers – he had one pair for running and playing, and a nicer pair for special occasions.
After moving to the US at 17, he studied industrial design and then learnt traditional shoemaking methods, before launching into a world where coveted designs command stratospheric prices.
Mr Idrobo, who has created a Yeezy prototype for the Melbourne sneaker exhibition, says he makes a constant effort to preserve the qualities of his – or Kanye’s – original design ideas.
“I try to preserve the original lines and original shapes … like a very innocent child, a baby has just been born, and I want to take care of that child, I want to make sure I preserve the innocence and the purity,” he says.
From opposite sides of the high-end sneaker market, both Mr Fan and Mr Idrobo agree fakes being traded online are a big problem for true ‘sneakerheads’.
“Actually it hurts. It hurts the market of the shoes that are being replicated because you don’t know what is original or authentic,” Mr Idrobo says.
Mr Fan remembers spending up big on a pair of Air Jordan 11s in his earlier days as a collector, only to find they weren’t the real thing.
The upcoming sneaker show is designed to promote an eBay authentication service, whereby logos, leather quality, stitching and even smell are checked to prevent fakes.
The eBay Museum of Authentics sneaker show will be at Melbourne’s Neon Parc from April 29 to May 1.