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A legendary track and field coach at the University of Oregon, Bowerman crafted the white “waffle spike” shoes especially for John Mays, one of his runners at the school. It is the only pair of Bowerman’s handmade shoes ever to go up for auction, according to Sotheby’s.
“Often times, Bill would talk to me about a new company he was involved with,” Mays said in a statement. “I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time. One day, he asked me to help test a new sprint spike shoe he was designing. Of course, I agreed and was excited to be chosen. He took measurements of my feet and started building the shoe, and in about a week he had the shoes ready for me.”
Manufactured in the early 1970s, they were modified in 1974 to add the “waffle iron,” a key innovation in Nike’s history. Bowerman invented the design after he was inspired by his wife’s waffle iron.
The shoes still have their original laces, housed in holes that were hand-punched by Bowerman during production. Bowerman’s original note to Mays is included in the auction lot.
Bowerman partnered with former Oregon runner Phil Knight to found Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964. The pair renamed their company to Nike in 1971, jumpstarting a business that would eventually dominate the global sports apparel marketplace.
Sotheby’s said the Bowerman shoes are among the most valuable ever offered at one of its auctions. Bidding began Wednesday and turn through June 26.
A pair of NBA legend Michael Jordan’s game-worn, autographed Nike Air Jordan 1s sold at auction for a record $560,000 last month.