When Nike co-founders Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman set out to design and sell sneakers in 1964 (then under the name Blue Ribbon Sports), they never thought about creating enduring pieces of pop culture, art and history. They just wanted to make the best performance track and field shoes they could.
55 years later, Nike has evolved to not only the largest performance apparel brand in the world but as a chief curator of art and culture. Nike has collaborated with everyone from the world’s greatest athletes, to its most popular musicians, to its most creative artists, creating timeless sneakers which fetch unconscionable sums of money on secondary markets and at charitable auctions. Not unlike paintings or sculptures, it has conceived pieces of wearable art that sell for thousands upon thousands of dollars. What separates these uber-elusive products from your standard “hype” release or an annual signature basketball sneaker is the perfect concoction of timeless design, necessary demand and a rare sneaker’s most valuable resource, scarcity.
Waffle Racing Flat “Moon Shoe”
The 1972 “Moon Shoe” is arguably the most important Nike shoe ever made and a true sneaker relic–a modern fossil. Bill Bowerman, famed Oregon University track coach and Nike co-founder, crafted the running shoe for the 1972 Olympics. The revolutionary waffle traction pattern on the shoe’s sole was inspired by his wife’s waffle iron, which he poured rubber in to create the original prototype. Only 12 of these were ever made, and the only known pair sold at a Sotheby’s auction in July 2019 for an incredible $437,500. It was purchased by sneaker collector Miles Nadal, who will put the sneakers on display at his private museum in Toronto. The only known pair in existence, this is a genuine piece of sneaker history and the holiest grail of them all.
In 2016, Nike released just 89 pairs of the Nike MAG sneakers, made famous by Marty McFly in the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II. It wasn’t the first time Nike produced the cinematic artifact, however, with 1,500 pairs originally releasing via charity eBay auctions in 2011. The main difference between the 2011 pairs and this 2016 iteration? The 2016 pair features the futuristic self-lacing technology made famous in the movie. Released in hyper-rare quantities, the 2016 MAG was available exclusively via an online raffle with proceeds benefiting Michael J. Fox’s foundation for Parkinson’s Disease.
Travis Scott x Air Jordan IV “Purple Suede”
Houston rapper and current sneaker power player Travis Scott released an insanely popular pair of blue Jordan IVs in 2018, but it’s this pair of purple nubuck IVs that really has the community buzzing. Only 1,000 purple pairs were produced, all of which went to Scott’s friends and family. So unless you’re someone who’s tight with Travis Scott, like, say, Drake, good luck getting your hands on a pair.
Eminem x Carhartt x Jordan IV
This exclusive collaboration between workwear brand Carhartt, Jordan Brand and Detroit rap legend Eminem released in 2015 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Eminem’s Shady Records imprint. They were designed solely for friends and family of Eminem, with additional pairs auctioned off on eBay. Proceeds from the auctions went to The Marshall Mathers Foundation. One of the rarest collabs in existence and a holy grail among avid collectors, these Jordan IVs feature a black Carhartt twill upper and silver lace tabs, with Eminem’s backwards E logo and Jason Voorhees mask on the heels.
Nike Dunk High “Wu-Tang”
Way back in 1999, Nike re-released the iconic “Be True” Dunk collection for its first retro run. Dozens of collegiate-coloured Dunks hit the market, with Iowa’s “Goldenrod” black and yellow Dunk being the ideal sneaker to tinker with for a Shaolin-inspired collaboration. The iconic Wu-Tang “W” logo was printed on the heel and tongue tag and the rest is history. Nike would go on to produce this pair of Wu-Tang-inspired Dunk Highs exclusively for friends and family of the revolutionary rap crew from Staten Island.
Parra x Patta x Nike Air Max 1 “Cherrywood”
Patta and Nike have collaborated on a slew of successful sneakers, but it’s this Cherrywood Air Max 1 designed by Dutch artist Parra that is the rarest of them all. It was the final release from Patta and Nike’s five sneaker collaboration spanning from 2009 to 2010, commemorating Patta’s five-year anniversary. It features a luxurious burgundy suede upper with chenille accents. Only 258 pairs were released to the public and remain incredibly sought after almost 10 years later.
Air Jordan I “Craig Sager”
Craig Sager, the beloved “NBA on TNT” sideline reporter known for his outlandish style who passed away from a battle with leukemia in 2016, was the inspiration for these ultra-rare Jordan 1s. Only two pairs are rumored to exist (with one belonging to DJ Khaled), and the sneakers pay homage to Sager’s trademark style with loud patterns and an icy sole that says “Sager Vision.”
Air Jordan III & VIII “Kobe Pack”
During the 2002-03 NBA season, Kobe Bryant was a sneaker free agent. Since he had such a good rapport with his idol, Michael Jordan, Jordan Brand kept him laced with Jordan PEs throughout the year, most notably Jordan IIIs and VIIIs in Lakers-inspired colourways. Those two pairs were re-released by Jordan Brand in 2016 in honour of Kobe’s legendary 20-year career. The “Kobe Pack” never released to the public, as only certain family and friends were able to get their hands on this historic collaboration.
Air Jordan XI Premium “Derek Jeter”
In 2017, Jordan Brand released a super-limited premium Jordan XI for Yankee legend and Jordan Brand athlete Derek Jeter, just in time for his retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium. One of the rarest sneakers on the list in terms of actual pairs produced, it is rumored that only five pairs exist. They were only made available via lottery at a pop-up shop across from Yankee Stadium. Decked in navy suede and with Jeter’s white number “2” stitched on the heels, these are as close to impossible to track down as you’re going to get.
Air Span II “GW”
In 2018, Nike released a special limited edition take on the Air Span II, inspired by world-renowned sneaker journalist and connoisseur Gary Warnett, who passed away the year before. The sneaker was rebranded from the “Air Span II” to “Air Span GW” and the release coincided with Warnett’s 40th birthday. A giant in the sneaker community, these were limited to just 40 pairs and made exclusively for Warnett’s friends and family.