Not many Utahns have good memories of Michael Jordan’s visits to Salt Lake City for the 1997 and ’98 NBA Finals.
Preston Truman was one of the lucky ones. A Jazz ball boy at the time who was assigned to the visitors’ locker room, he famously came away with a pair of Air Jordan’s Air Jordans from each of those championship series.
In the more than quarter-century since, those autographed sneakers have become a collector’s dream. But Truman’s good feelings have subsided, and one of those pairs of shoes is now the basis of litigation.
He filed a lawsuit in Utah’s 3rd District Court against Maricopa County, Ariz.-based Grey Flannel Auctions, its Director of Operations Michael Russek, and five unnamed John/Jane Does, alleging that in May 2020, “Through a combination of high-pressure sales tactics, fraudulent misrepresentation, coercion, and implied threats, defendants fraudulently induced Plaintiff into entering a sales agreement with Defendants at an unconscionably low value.”
At that time, Truman sold those “Air Jordan XIII Breds” that the Bulls star wore during Game 2 of the 1998 NBA Finals for $215,000, in a transaction brokered by Russek and Grey Flannel.
Earlier this month, those same shoes were sold through Sotheby’s auction house, and went for $2,238,000 — the highest price ever paid for a pair of sneakers at auction by more than $700,000.
Truman, who says he parted with the shoes only due to “fraud, duress, and/or undue influence,” is seeking the return of the sneakers and monetary damages.
Truman’s attorneys and Grey Flannel Auctions did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Truman and Russek established a relationship back in 2013, when the former Jazz ballboy wanted to sell his other pair of famous sneakers — the autographed size-13 black and red Air Jordan 12s, worn during Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, the so-called “Flu Game.”
They were listed by Grey Flannel at a starting bid of $5,000, and after several weeks, wound up selling for $104,765.
Truman and Russek remained in contact over the years, and when ESPN’s “The Last Dance” docuseries came out in 2020, drawing massive ratings during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the auctioneer came calling again with an offer.
The lawsuit states that on May 16, 2020, around 11 a.m. MT, Russek called Truman, claiming to represent an unnamed private buyer from overseas seeking to acquire the 1998 Finals shoes and keep them in a personal collection, with a vow to never sell them. The offer was for $215,000, was said to be nonnegotiable and final, and came with a three-hour time limit to agree.
The suit states that Russek told Truman “that this was ‘the best offer’ [Truman] would ever get, and that the time was right then to sell the Game 2 Air Jordans,” so he agreed.
However, Truman alleges he developed serious misgivings within a day or two, and reached out to Russek wanting to cancel the deal, only to be given various explanations for why he couldn’t or shouldn’t, the lawsuit states, including “these are not the type people you mess with;” “the sale was final;” “there would be repercussions;” and “the money was on the way.”
The lawsuit alleges that the overseas private collector was effectively a work of fiction, and argues that Russek and the actual buyer(s) effectively convinced Truman to accept a lowball offer through the combination of taking advantage of his trust in Grey Flannel and inducing “panic” via a false three-hour time limit.
Truman notes that on May 17, 2020 — one day after the now-or-never offer was allegedly made to him — a Sotheby’s auction concluded in which a pair of autographed Air Jordan 1s from the player’s rookie season (less valuable shoes, by his account, owing to the condition and circumstances) went for a then-record $560,000. He claims that Russek, Grey Flannel, and the buyer(s) of the Jordan XIII Breds were aware of that Sotheby’s auction, and thus were preying upon Truman’s naiveté about the sports memorabilia market and his correlating reliance upon Russek’s experience by convincing him $215,000 was the most he could get, when they knew that to be incorrect.
“Plaintiff was, in fact, induced to enter into the Agreement as a result of Defendants’ representations, promises, and/or omissions and would not have entered into the Agreement had Plaintiff known that the representations were false,” the lawsuit states.