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more than just a shoe

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Michael Fan’s basement houses a collection of sneakers worth over a million dollars.

The Melbourne collector keeps around 700 pairs neatly stacked, each in its own clear box, with around 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 the acquisition of pairs worn by Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

“I used to see players walking onto the court with Air Jordans and I thought they were really cool, so I started researching how to find exclusive pairs,” he told PAA.

It’s become an obsession that 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 – which even came with the sock.

“There are so many stories behind the shoe and every detail on the shoe tells us more about the players and it’s part of the sneaker culture,” Fan said.

If you’re concerned about the safety of his suburban home’s valuable collection, don’t be – the former security consultant has CCTV expertise.

Mr Fan is displaying 14 pairs from his collection – with an estimated total value of $1.2 million – at an exhibition in Melbourne later this month.

They include a signed pair of Michael Jordan Air Jordan 1 Chicago from the 1985-86 NBA season. The left shoe is a size 13 and the right a size 13.5 to accommodate the star’s mismatched feet, and together they last sold for over US$500,000 (A$680,000) .

Mr. Fan is well aware that some of the pairs he owns have gone up in value hundreds of times, but says he doesn’t view them as an investment.

Yet sneakers have become a highly sought-after commodity, with high-end pairs trading in a market that resembles the trade in coveted works of art.

Last year, Sotheby’s auctioned off a pair of Michael Jordan‘s Nike Air Ships worn during the Chicago Bulls’ 1984 season for US$1.47 million (AU$1.97 million).

In May 2021, a pair of Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers set a record fetching US$1.8 million (AUD$2.41 million).

The exhibit will also feature a pair of 2007 College Dropout Bapestas, the first sneaker designed with rapper Kanye West – before he made most of his $1.8 billion fortune from Yeezy.

Yeezy innovation designer Cesar Idrobo spoke to AAP from Los Angeles and said celebrity endorsements can be just as important as the product itself.

“Having an endorsement for your product gives you that 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 thinks it’s just a way for people to connect with their idols.

“Not everyone can hang out with someone they look up to,” he says.

“But you can have different things they have.”

Mr. Idrobo grew up in Colombia, where he didn’t think much about sneakers – he had a pair for running and playing, and a prettier pair for special occasions.

After moving to the United States at 17, he studied industrial design and then learned traditional methods of shoemaking, before embarking on a world where coveted designs command stratospheric prices.

Mr Idrobo, who created a Yeezy prototype for the Melbourne sneaker expo, says he makes a constant effort to preserve the qualities of his original design ideas – or those of Kanye.

“I try to preserve the original lines and the original shapes… like a very innocent child, a baby has just been born, and I want to take care of this child, I want to make sure to preserve the innocence and the purity,” he says.

From opposite sides of the high-end sneaker market, Mr. Fan and Mr. Idrobo agree that counterfeits being traded online are a big deal for real “sneakerheads.”

“It actually hurts. It hurts the market for shoes that are replicated because you don’t know what’s original or authentic,” Idrobo says.

Mr. Fan recalls spending a lot of money on a pair of Air Jordan 11s in his early 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, in which logos, leather quality, stitching and even smell are checked to prevent fakes.

The eBay Museum of Authentics sneaker exhibit will take place at Melbourne’s Neon Park from April 29 to May 1.