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Burnside Shelter

GOLD SHOES. Who knew?

I’ve had such wild ride these last few months thanks to a pair of sneakers that were dropped down the donation chute at Portland Rescue Mission’s Burnside Shelter.

Earlier this year, a man who is in our long term shelter program was sorting through clothing and shoe donations. He noticed a bright gold pair of Air Jordan sneakers near the bottom of one of the bins which he set aside since they were in brand new condition. Eventually the shoes made their way to my office, and we could tell they looked identical to a custom pair of Air Jordans made by Nike designer Tinker Hatfield for Spike Lee to wear on the red carpet for the 2019 Academy Awards where he won his first Oscar.

Obviously they must be fakes, we thought, because why would the real thing end up in our donation bins? But I knew I should perform due diligence before putting the sneakers back on our distribution shelves, so I reached out to a friend of mine who knows sneaker head culture to figure out what to do with them (thanks, Josh). He directed me to a high end sneaker resale shop in downtown Portland to get an expert opinion. The store had limited hours, so I stuck them in the back of my minivan and then, temporarily, in the clean clothes laundry basket in my bedroom, until I could find time take them in.

When I finally made it to the sneaker shop, I explained where they came from, asking for their help to know how to identify that they were fakes. (Side note, if you want to feel your age like a punch in the face, walk into a cool sneaker shop.)
The clerk who helped me took them into the back room and was gone for a long time. Eventually he called the owner for help. After taking another long look, the owner returned and offered to buy them from me on the spot for $10,000 or to consign them in his store for a potentially larger return.

As you can imagine, I was shocked, but I tried to keep my cool. They explained that these were indeed part of a very small run of sneakers produced by Nike for Spike Lee, and that they are some of the most rare and collectable shoes on the market. These were not Spike Lee’s personal shoes, but they are one of 4-5 pairs total that were manufactured for him to give out to his inner circle. I asked for some time to think over his offer and then took them to a more secure location than my laundry basket until we could decide what to do next.

We found at least one other pair of these shoes that had been auctioned by Sotheby’s auction house in 2021 with global interest. I reached out to Sotheby’s, and they were very excited to include the shoes in a luxury sneaker auction coming up at the end of 2023, and they would sell them without a seller’s fee so that 100% of the profits would benefit PRM(!). We began making arrangements with them, knowing they would need the shoes in New York by the end of October.

Around the same time, I reached out to the designer, Tinker Hatfield, whose name is embroidered into the shoes alongside Spike Lee’s. He was excited to get involved, and he agreed to donate a previously unpublished Design Concept Board that was created in the collaborative design process between himself and Spike Lee before the sneakers were manufactured. He also donated a box for the shoes and agreed to come to PRM and autograph all of the memorabilia to contribute to value of the auction lot.

But here was the problem: Tinker was traveling internationally and would be back in Portland on October 31st. Sotheby’s needed the shoes to be in NYC by November 1st at the latest possible date to catalogue and include them in the auction. Insured mail was very expensive, and even the fastest shipping option would put them in NYC too late. So I booked a flight.
On 10/31 I boarded a red eye flight to NYC and arrived in Manhattan just in time for my 9:30 AM meeting with Sotheby’s on 11/1 where I dropped them off in person. Since that time, the sneakers have been photographed, authenticated again, certified, and readied for the international audience of sneaker collectors that has a chance to buy them this week.

Here’s the thing, this whole story is such a fitting example of what happens at Portland Rescue Mission every day, but with infinitely more precious treasures. So many PEOPLE are overlooked or even discarded in our community. I love working at an organization that notices the God-given value in each life, in each person who we have the privilege to serve. The lives of people struggling with homelessness, addiction, and mental health crises are the real overlooked treasures, and these shoes will multiply their worth by making an impact in these lives. That’s the real story here.

-Erin Holcomb

Check out the Auction Here: