The auction house takes another step into the sports memorabilia market by auctioning the jersey James wore for his championship-winning game during the 2013 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, a back-to-back championship win for James and the team. The item is billed as James’ most valuable game-worn jersey to appear at auction and is estimated to be worth between $3 million and $5 million.
“In terms of rarity, when you get a championship-clinching item—items that were worn in a game where an athlete wins a championship—the smallest, rarest and most coveted population exists there because if you think about the number of championships that players have versus the number of games they play in their career, you can play 100 games and have a few championship titles,” said Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of streetwear and modern collectibles. “Those jerseys among collectors are really the most coveted, and this is a great example of that.”
During that memorable game, James had 37 points and 12 rebounds, which helped result in the Miami Heat winning 95-88 against the Spurs in a repeat championship win.
The auction will take place during Sotheby’s inaugural “The One” showcase on Jan. 27 in New York, which is timed to James possibly surpassing basketball icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
“The concept of ‘The One’ is to bring together really exceptional objects that showcase amazing works in crafts, amazing works in endeavor or amazing moments in history and predominantly three-dimensional objects,” Wachter explained. “What you have here is obviously not a work of art, but something that shows an amazing moment in terms of endeavor, in terms of LeBron building his career, building his legacy and becoming recognized as one of the greatest to ever play the game.”
Sports memorabilia has become an important category for Sotheby’s in the last year, and one that the auction house is seeing increasing interest in. The auction of James’ jersey comes on the heels of Sotheby’s record-breaking sale of Michael Jordan’s game-worn 1998 NBA Finals jersey, which sold for $10.1 million in September, making it the most valuable basketball jersey ever sold. Sotheby’s previous record in sports memorabilia was the sale of Argentinian soccer player Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” jersey, which auctioned for $9.3 million.
Wachter explained Sotheby’s is planning on hosting more sports memorabilia auctions “with a greater cadence and more frequency” in 2023.
“The truth is there’s actually quite a large market event when you think about objects in the $50,000 to $500,000 range, which we could do a lot more [of],” he said. “In that sense, if you call that the kind of mid- to high-end market, we could build a lot more scale, which is something we will look to do in the next year.”