Iowa City clothing store owners hold rare piece of sneaker history

IC store Vice currently has in its stock a rare Player Exclusive Jordan 1 shoe.



Vice’s Jordan 1 Player Exclusive sample shoe is seen in an alley on Monday, June 24, 2019. (Wyatt Dlouhy/The Daily Iowan)

Wyatt Dlouhy, Photojournalist

Owners of an Iowa City streetwear and vintage clothing store discovered in August 2018 that the singular faded black and red Nike shoe in their possession was a rare piece of sneaker history: a Player Exclusive sample model of the first Air Jordan sneaker ever created.

The Jordan 1 sample model was sitting in a retired Nike salesman’s shoe rack in Iowa, gathering dust when owners of Vice, the local store, found the rare item.

“It was just kind of sitting there, dusty, and we immediately all locked eyes,” Vice co-owner Tony Casella said. “[The salesman] started telling a story, but we were all focused on the shoe.”

Casella, Demetrius Perry, and Peter Krogull — the Vice owners — received an email with nearly 100 pictures of vintage posters, office supplies, enamel pins, and even directors’ chairs from a customer helping the salesman unload memorabilia.

The one gem that caught their attention at the time wasn’t even the rare shoe. The three were drawn to one of three custom mirrors only made for top sales representatives in three regions in 1981.

Within a week of receiving the email, Perry, Casella, and Krogull made the trip to the salesman’s house. The chance to see this much original vintage Nike merchandise is enough to make any sneaker aficionado restless, Perry said.

“I remember Peter said something like this could be what changes our lives,” Casella said. “We were all so excited.”

Their sights were set on the mirror with some hope for vintage shirts that could be worth thousands of dollars, but there was no apparel in the house.

“Originally we were mad that he didn’t really have much clothing, but it turns out the stuff he had is more sought after,” Casella said.

RELATED: Iowa City’s Vice launches podcast about fashion, culture 

Air Jordans are one of the most famous shoe brands in the world, and people have been clamoring for them since the first shoes came out.

Jordan was the third pick in the 1984 NBA draft. In his first year, Jordan’s absolute ferocity on the court earned him the Rookie of the Year award while playing for the Chicago Bulls and a spot among the top talent in the NBA: an All-Star starter.

Jordan quickly became one of the most marketable players in the NBA, giving him more options for signing with sneaker companies.

According to the New York Times, at the time Reebok dominated 26.7 percent of the athletic-shoe market, while Nike controlled 23.3 percent. With Reebok possessing only a slightly more share of the market, Nike officials knew they needed to secure Jordan.

Not only did Nike offer Jordan $500,000 per year for five years — the company also wanted to create a custom shoe. The Air Jordan 1 launched in 1985 and retailed for $65.

Before the Jordan 1 model launched, it’s unclear how many sample shoes were created.

One of the first colorings of the model mimicked the unique, controversial coloring of the Nike Air Ship that resulted in Jordan paying fines of $5,000 a game for breaking the league’s uniform rules. This incident also gave Nike remarkable free advertising and spawned an ad campaign that made wearing the shoe an act of rebellion.

“It’s not even about basketball. [Jordan’s] one of the greatest athletes ever,” Casella said. “To own a sample of his first-ever shoe is wild, and the [fact that] Jordan 1 is the most popular Jordan shoe to this day is mind blowing. It still seems a little too good to be true.”

While the owners were excited about the vintage shoe, they were unaware of just how rare it was.

It wasn’t until there was talk of buying the entirety of his collection that the former salesman decided to sell the shoe. He decided to match the price of the other shoes and tossed it in for a mere $50. The owners had no idea that they had just struck gold.

“My first Jordan ever was a Jordan 1, so it’s crazy,” Perry said. “It’s arguably one of the most iconic sneakers.”

After arriving back at the store with the new loot, Krogull went live on Instagram to do a haul video. Some of his 6,715 followers who also collect memorabilia made the video go viral, immediately offering to buy the shoe.

The owners almost accepted one of the first offers before they conducting more research. It’s currently listed on their eBay page for $30,000 or best offer.

“It’s still kind of hard to wrap my head around the fact that we own something like this,” Krogull said. “Not only is it a piece of sneaker history, but I feel that’s it’s a piece of history in general. That shoe alone changed the world in my eyes.”