Preston Truman, a ball boy for the Utah Jazz from 1996 to 2000, is suing an auction house over his decision to sell a prized possession: Air Jordan sneakers worn by Michael Jordan in the second game of the 1998 NBA Finals. Jordan gave the sneakers to Truman after the game.
Truman, now 45, claims that Michael Russek, an auctioneer for the Arizona-headquartered Grey Flannel Auctions, used “high-pressure sales tactics, fraudulent misrepresentation, coercion and implied threats” to make Truman believe he should sell the sneakers for $215,000 in 2020. This occurred not long after ESPN aired its award-winning docuseries The Last Dance.
As The Salt Lake Tribune reports, these sneakers recently sold at Sotheby’s auction house for $2.24 million.
Truman’s 12-page complaint, which was filed in a Salt Lake City trial court on April 5, accuses Russek and Grey Flannel Auctions of receiving stolen property, engaging in fraudulent inducement, breaching fiduciary and good faith duties and related transgressions. Truman says they owe him at least $2 million in damages. He also wants the sneakers back.
The complaint describes Russek as “befriending” Truman over a period of years, and helping Truman sell, via an auction, another pair of Jordan sneakers in 2013 for $104,765.
When Russek approached Truman in 2020, he said he represented an interested buyer, whom Russek did not name. Russek described the buyer as a private collector from overseas who would “never” sell the sneakers.
But it was a take-it-or-leave-it offer set to expire within three hours. Feeling pressured and assured by Russek the price was high, Truman agreed to sell.
In the following days, Truman reconsidered and realized he made a “huge mistake.” During this time another pair of Air Jordans sold for $560,000, a sale the defendants—Truman claims—knew about and knew would substantially increase the value of Truman’s sneakers.
Truman contacted Russek, who—as Truman tells it—told him it was too late to back out. Russek supposedly offered ominous warnings, too, including “these are not the type people you mess with”; “the sale was final”; and “there would be repercussions.”
Russek and Grey Flannel Auctions will answer the complaint and seek its dismissal. Expect them to dispute the narrative offered by Truman and insist his recollection is wrong. Also expect the defendants to argue that even if everything Truman claims is true, no laws were broken.
As the agent for the buyer, Russek’s professional duties were with the buyer and his employer. The fact that Russek might have been Truman’s friend, or worked with him in the past, doesn’t mean he had to prioritize Truman’s interests—especially not to the disadvantage of his own client. Within reason, courts permit agents and other professionals to use “sales talk,” puffery and other bargaining techniques that rely on exaggeration and hype. Expect Russek to insist he breached no duty and crossed no line.
Also, though Truman says he felt he was under extreme pressure to make a decision, he knows he didn’t have to accept the offer. Truman acknowledges he didn’t know the value of the sneakers but placed his trust in the buyer’s agent. Hindsight is 20/20, but Truman could have declined, sought an appraisal by a neutral expert and then tried to sell the sneakers without or without representation.
Truman also had prior experience selling Air Jordans, as evidenced by the 2013 sale. He is arguably more sophisticated than an ordinary person who has never sold memorabilia and perhaps should have been more scrutinizing.
Other aspects of the case face hurdles, too. If Truman was worried about backlash from “the type of people you [don’t] mess with,” he could have contacted law enforcement. And whether the buyer reneged on a pledge to “never” sell the sneakers is arguably irrelevant. Unless the contract said otherwise, once the sneakers were sold to the buyer, the buyer could do with them as they saw fit.