An Oregon man has sold what is believed to be one of the first prototypes of a Nike shoe to one of the world's biggest shoe collectors.
Jeff Wasson, who says he was given the shoe in 2010 by Tom Bowerman, one of the sons of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, sold it for $1,500 to Jordan Geller, who owns hundreds of original Nike shoes housed in his ShoeZeum in California.
The shoe, Geller said, is a prototype of the Moon Shoe, the first Nike shoe made under the company's previous name, Blue Ribbon Sports. Nike handed out pairs of the shoes, named for their waffle-patterned soles that looked like the marks made by the boots of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they roamed the surface of the moon three years before, at the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore.
The shoe features a "fat belly" swoosh, which is the original look of the logo designed by Portland State graphics design student Carolyn Davidson in 1971 for a fee of $35.
"This is the first real prototype that I've ever seen come to market," Geller said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime find for someone like me."
Wasson, who works for an Oregon utilities company, frequently visited the house of Phil Knight's business partner Bill Bowerman, who died in 1999, for meter readings. In 2010, he was asked by Tom Bowerman to help take down some trees around the property. It was on that day that Tom found in one of his father's buried trash piles one of the original waffle irons his father used to devise Nike's first soles.
The property, located close to the University of Oregon's Eugene campus -- Bowerman was a coach for the Ducks' track team -- is on a steep hill that standard garbage trucks could not climb. So Bowerman, with help from his neighbors, would burn what he could and toss smaller items in the backyard.
When Wasson asked to own a piece of corporate history, Tom obliged. The rest, including about a dozen shoes and the waffle iron, went to Nike's historical archives.
"I showed the boss when I got back to the truck, and he wasn't impressed," Wasson said.
The filthy, tattered shoe made its home in Wasson's car for a few years before it was moved to a shelf in his garage. It might have stayed there forever had a neighbor not felt it necessary to show off his new Nike Tailwind shoes, a reproduced version of what Nike first made in 1979.
Wasson's retort was to show him the original that he owned.
"He couldn't believe it," Wasson said.
Wasson and the neighbor said they made various attempts to contact Nike officials, to no avail.
Wasson said he had considered trading in the shoe for a set of Nike golf clubs for his son. But when his neighbor saw Geller being featured on the show "Pawn Stars," he knew whom Wasson could sell the shoe to.
Coming to terms on a price was difficult, Geller said, since there really wasn't any precedent -- especially because it was a single shoe. Geller said he paid $7,100 for a pair of leather Michael Jordan-autographed Converse shoes, of which only 23 pairs were made. He paid $3,383 for a pair of Nikes designed for Steve Prefontaine for the 1976 Olympics. Prefontaine died in a car accident a year before.
Wasson said he was OK parting with the piece of history. At least he'll remember the short conversations he had with Bill Bowerman in his final years of life.
"I'll never forget his stories about Prefontaine and how he was so hard to control," Wasson said.
Despite Bowerman being a millionaire many times over by the end of his life, Wasson said he was struck by how simple of a man he was.
"He was always out in his field, feeding his cows bales of hay, driving around in an old Suzuki Samurai," Wasson said.
As for Geller, who has pared his shoe collection from 2,500 to 500 in recent months, buying the shoe was an easy decision. He already has it in a frame on the mantel above his fireplace.
"This shoe is really special," he said. "Not because Drake or Kanye wore it but because Bill Bowerman made this from his hands. I almost want to go back to his house, with a comb and toothbrush, and go through his backyard myself."
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