A 35-year-old pair of Air Jordan basketball trainers fetched a record-breaking US$560 000, at an online auction at the weekend, in a graphic illustration of the immense power of the business of sport.
It also provided a reminder of how African football, in general, and Zimbabwean football, in particular, lags behind the real world where the business of sport has transformed itself into a multi-billion dollar industry.
The pair of autographed shoes were used by Michael Jordan, considered by many as the greatest basketball player of all time, and one of the world’s finest sports-persons ever, during his rookie season in the National Basketball Association in 1985.
Jordan later turned into an inspirational leader, regarded by some as a freak of nature, who dragged the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in a career in which he defied gravity and touched the heavens.
The sale, conducted by auctioneers Sotheby’s was expected to fetch between US$100 000 and US$150 000, but ended up smashing the record for a pair of sports shoes.
Nike also held the previous record after a pair of their 1972 Moon Shoes was sold for US$437 500.
Jordan’s grand exploits with the Chicago Bulls have been brought back into the spotlight through the hugely popular Netflix documentary series “The Last Dance.”
It is largely focused on what was happening behind-the-scenes, including some spectacular fallouts at the establishment, as Jordan and his Bulls chased their sixth NBA title.
It follows him from his time as a kid, his family, the influence of his father on his career, how the tragic death of his dad badly affected him and his brief flirtation with baseball.
The series has been a phenomenal commercial hit around the world and, at the beginning of this month, it overtook the Tiger King as the most in-demand documentary around the world.
Selling the pair of the 1985 Air Nike shoes, at a time interest in both Jordan and the Bulls has again soared around the world -propelled by the documentary — was a master stroke.
One of the shoes, the left one, is a size 13 and the other, the right one, is a size 13.5.
That the pair of shoes fetched more than half a million dollars underlined the sheer power of the business of sport.
And, it is also a reminder of how football, on the continent and in this country, trails far behind in tapping into this thriving industry.
The statistics and comparison make for some grim reading:
That pair of Nike trainers fetched US$322 500 more than the money given to each of the 16 participants at the 2019 AFCON finals, including the Warriors, by CAF to help them prepare for the showcase.
Each of the participants got US$237 000, towards the tournament, with CAF saying it represented half of the amount to be received by the teams which would finish bottom of their groups in Egypt.
This means that each country was guaranteed US$475 000, for taking part at the tournament, which was US$85 000 less than what the pair of the Air Nike shoes was bought for.
Finishing third, in the group stages of the 2019 AFCON finals, earned a country US$620 000, just US$60 000 more than what the pair of Air Nike shoes was bought for.
Qualifying for the Round of 16 at the 2019 AFCON finals earned a country US$670 000, which was just US$110 000 more than what that pair of Air Nike shoes cost.
Qualifying for the quarter-finals earned a country US$800 000, which was US$240 000 more than what that pair of 1985 Air Nike shoes fetched at that auction.
Winners Algeria received US$4,5 million, which was just eight times more than what the pair of Air Nike basketball shoes fetched at the weekend.
FC Platinum will, in the coming days, receive US$550 000, for a CAF Champions League campaign that took them to Malawi, Mozambique, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan.
The amount which the Zvishavane side will get for their gruelling campaign, after CAF decided to disburse the prize money earlier because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is US$10 000 less than what the Air Nike pair of shoes was sold for.
It could even have been worse if the matches were shown on SuperSport with clubs like FC Platinum getting about half their share given a huge chunk of the amount would have gone into settling television production bills which are taken care of by the clubs themselves.
However, a fallout between CAF and French marketing firm, Lagardere, in November last year, led to the cancellation of their deal and SuperSport pulled out because they had acquired the rights from the company.
An Egyptian court had fined CAF US$6.2 million for signing that deal without going into an open tender while the Competitions Commission of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa ruled the agreement infringed competition rights.
“Given the above developments, CAF had no choice but to terminate the agreement,” CAF said.
“Termination of the agreement is the legal consequence of the judgments of Egyptian courts and the recommendations and imminent decisions of the CCM (Commission of the Common Market).”
The tale of the pair of Nike shoes even gets more interesting when one brings domestic football into context:
FC Platinum received $400 000 (about US$16 000 on the interbank rate used in March), for winning the Castle Challenge Cup and this was 35 times less than the cost of that pair of basketball shoes,
Highlanders received $225 000 (about US$14 331 at the prevailing interbank rate in November) for winning the Chibuku Super Cup, which was 39 times less than the cost of that pair of Nike shoes.
With the domestic league sponsorship pegged at US$700 000 last year, about US$40 741 at the interbank rate which prevailed in December, it means the cost of those pair of Nike shoes would have sponsored the league for about 14 years.
Joel Ngodzo’s $12 000 cheque, which was about US$715 then, for winning the Soccer Star of the Year last year, would have seen him needing to win the award 783 times for him to pay for that pair of Nike shoes.