The Holiest of Grails: The Mythical 'Friends and Family' Jordan 1 from 1985
Recently we received a tip-off that a pair of vintage Jordans had been found in a charity shop for $10. And not just any old pair, this is the mythological ‘Friends and Family’ black and gold Jordan 1 that has eluded the biggest vintage hunters for decades and caused many an argument over whether they even exist. If verified, this could be one of the greatest single sneaker finds of the past 30 years.
We have been asked not to name the store, or even the city where they were found, nor reveal the owner’s identity, but we are thankful they did agree to write about their experience. What we can say is that they are very open-minded about their find, and are definitely as curious as we are about the history of the shoes. Given their potential value on the open market, the fact they trusted Sneaker Freaker enough to send us the shoes to document them is very cool indeed. Enjoy the tale and turn the page for our verdict...
A friend recently showed me a Facebook post of a white OG Air Jordan 1 with a metallic red Swoosh. The guy who’d posted it commented, ‘What a beautiful shoe, just as rare as the mythical leather black/gold 1s. Oowwiieee’. I giggled like a kid. Why you ask? Do you have a minute or two to spare? Allow me to tell you my tale.
As a small kid I recollect getting kicks as gifts regularly from my parents and relatives. Other than wearing Vans as a teenager riding BMX and skateboards in the 80s, I took up basketball as my main sport after watching Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics battling it out in their Converse Weapons like Roman gladiators at the Colosseum.
One day in 1986, the Cool Kid at school showed up on his Mongoose BMX wearing the OG black and red Jordan 1s. And boy, I couldn't take my eyes off them Jays! The sheer feeling of envy completely overtook me. That summer I worked at McDonalds, mowed lawns and sold some of my kicks to friends just to get the money to purchase the same pair for myself. That’s how I caught the sneaker bug.
I was a possessed teen. All my spare time and weekends were lost checking out new kicks while foaming at the mouth, with my appetite growing by the day. Of course I couldn't buy every single new release on my meagre wage, so I occasionally sold some old kicks at markets and to buddies just to buy new ones. I developed my own 'sneaker map' after visiting major sports chains, factory outlets, thrift stores, markets and garage sales.
Things have changed so much over the past decade, with the Internet providing an endless feed of information on upcoming sneakers and the ability to purchase without even leaving the house. I still line up at stores from time to time, but I've come to the realisation that I'm not able to relate to the concept of ‘limited’ releases. The new world order makes me feel like the odd man out floating in a sea of young people. I'd get these colourful kicks on my feet, but it’s like the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, all style but no substance. I'd lost the passion and the feeling, and I wanted it back. One weekend, I went back to my trusty old sneaker map.
Some people may have heard about the 20 pairs or so of Air Jordan 1 patent leather black/gold given to Michael Jordan’s family and friends. The story starts at the factory in Italy that Nike used to craft their premium Air Jordan 2. At the same location,
Nike made a few pairs of a non-patent leather black and gold Air Jordan 1 mid-cut sample. These were reportedly scrapped before they made it to the mass production stage, after which time Nike decided to make the patent leather black and gold hi-cut family and friends edition. I've also heard that a few reproductions were made in Taiwan in 1991 as a special order for someone in France who wanted to take advantage of Japanese demand.
THE TEN DOLLAR SHOP
A few months back I was well into my weekend routine of sneaker mapping and enjoying it once again. I never have any expectations when I'm visiting these spots. Often I find nothing. For me it’s all about the whole experience of going there, talking to the pedlars at the markets, shop owners at thrift stores and even the young kids at the outlets. Finding something is a bonus. But when I see an old used pair, my pupils dilate, it’s like seeing my first crush all over again. Not only do I become nostalgic and think about what I was doing and where I was at when they were originally released, but I also imagine the stories of the previous owner and how they might have arrived at this particular location. When I look at the deep creases on a pair of beat-down Air Force 1, it's like gazing at the face of an old man who's lived a full life.
One weekend, while everyone was camping for the limited releases, I walked into a charity shop. From a distance I immediately spotted a gold Swoosh. Thinking it was a pair of Nike Vandals, I walked closer, my eyes soon drifted away from the gold Swoosh to a golden Air Jordan wings logo! I casually grabbed the pair and handed over the ten dollar asking price. On my way home, I didn’t think much of it as I concluded that it was most likely a fake pair of sneakers, which is quite the norm in some of the spots I visit. I stopped at Maccas, bought a coffee and inspected my score. Inside the collar I found a faded series of numbers which included an 8 next to a 5, just like the original Jordan 1s had. My heart skipped. Could it be from 1985? No way! But, how? Why here? So many questions raced into my mind. The shoe is really vintage so it can't be a recent fake. Is this one of the 20 long lost pairs? I sipped my coffee.
Deep down this is really no different to any other shoe I have found for a few bucks. It has a backstory. A great one no doubt, and more than anyone else out there, I desperately want to know all about it, though I'm not sure I ever will. My faithful sneaker map guided me to 'the mythical leather black/gold Jordan 1s'. Oowwiieee!
Considering they are close to 30 years old, the shoes are in average condition. They have a few scuff marks, and the internal plastic heel counter is bent out of shape, but the vulnerable material in the ankle collar has survived remarkably well. Usually on shoes of this vintage, the first sign they’re breaking down is when the materials turn sticky, which hasn’t happened here. The black leather material is unlike anything we have seen on a vintage Jordan before. In comparison to our legit red/black/white pair of Jordan 1s from 1985, this black material has an unusual glossy finish that pops under direct light and has a cracked texture. It’s also considerably lighter, thinner and much more supple than the super thick hide used on sporting shoes in the 80s. In case you’re wondering, it’s definitely not a plastic ‘patent’ PVC, which is what was used on the black/gold Jordan 1 retros from 2003. Given the original myth mentions patent black leather, it is possible of course that these shoes once had a hard, polished ‘patent’ surface that has decomposed over time to become shimmery and butter soft, but this is pure speculation.
2003 AJ1 with patent leather
Given the nature of their construction, it certainly would be possible to wear them without a blow-out happening. In line with their vintage, there’s no barcode inside the shoes. The all-important ‘85’ code printed on the ankle collar lining next to the shoe’s size is faded, but clearly still visible, which of course indicates that the shoes were manufactured in 1985.
The tongue labels are almost identical. Whilst the red/black/white Jordan 1s have ‘Made in Rep. Of Korea’ on the rear of the label, the black and golds have no country of origin listed. Depending on whether you’re a sceptic or a true believer, this may or may not tally up with the myth that they were made by hand in Nike’s Italian factory, which the Swoosh were certainly using in the late-80s to make shoes such as the Jordan 2.
THE EBAY AUCTION
Online research revealed slim pickings, though one eBay listing for a vintage black and gold Jordan 1 is still cached from back in 2012. Four unsuccessful offers were made and it was ‘Ended by the seller because there was an error in the listing’, which suggests a sale was made outside the Bay. The $19,999 Buy It Now price is sky-high, but it doesn’t seem ludicrous to test the market with a sticker price close to $20k, especially since the only real comparison is an undocumented blog rumour that a pair reportedly sold for $45k, as noted by theShot.org.
Who knows what this eBay pair eventually sold for? Given the condition of the shoes, the lack of the OG box, coupled with the absolute rarity of the item, a definitive value is impossible. Let’s just say that they are worth... what any collector with deep pockets is prepared to pay! The eBay pictures and our shoes definitely match up, so it does seem they are from the same manufacturing batch. Interestingly, both pairs are a size 9, possible further proof that the only pairs made are samples.
Our sleuthing also uncovered a story from the Japanese magazine, Street Jack, showing a mint pair of 1985 black and gold Jordan 1s, though it’s hard to glean much even after the text has been translated. Are these pairs all from the same source, or is the pair in Street Jack one of the mysterious pairs apparently sold in Japan?
Being hardened cynics, our first reaction to the initial email we received was to shout ‘Counterfeit!’, but after scrutinising the photos closely, we weren’t so sure. Now that we’ve seen the shoes, and having taken into consideration all the theorising and banter, rung everyone we know (including Nike high-ups) to ask their opinion, our verdict is in. Unless someone proves otherwise, we are prepared to state that these are the 100% real deal. The black and gold Jordan 1 myth is well and truly busted!
There’s no doubt that the shoes are 100% legit Nikes. Every detail from the sole to the labeling checks out. The ‘85’ print inside the heel is the most compelling evidence that they are indeed from 1985. We’re not going to make any conclusions about the Italian factory, because it’s equally possible that they were sampled at Nike’s HQ (in New Hampshire at the time), or even at the Jordan factory in Pusan, Korea.
On the other hand... is there a master craftsman in Guangzhou carefully knocking-up one of these beater badboys every few years to flip on the Bay and make fools of us all? Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction...
This crazy story was first published in Sneaker Freaker, Issue 30, 2014.