PORTLAND, Ore. - Watching a countdown of the auction's final minutes on Monday, Erin Holcomb couldn't believe it: the sale price kept jumping for the rare, gold Nike Air Jordan 3s that were anonymously dropped in the donation chute of the Oregon shelter where she works in Portland.
"In the last five minutes it went up and up, and every time we saw that number increase, there were tears and people clapping," Holcomb, director of staff ministries at the Portland Rescue Mission, told The Associated Press.
The sneakers, one of just a few custom pairs that had been made for filmmaker Spike Lee, ultimately sold for $50,800 — more than double the high end of the predicted sale price. All proceeds will benefit the Portland Rescue Mission, which has served people struggling with homelessness, hunger and addiction since 1949.
"We couldn't believe it," Holcomb said. "The generosity of this moment has been a huge celebration for our whole organization."
Some two dozen people, mostly staff, gathered Monday morning to watch the auction live on a big screen TV in one of the shelter's conference rooms, Holcomb said. Among them was James Free, a formerly homeless man who found the shoes while sorting through donations and brought them to the attention of the staff. Free has lived at the mission for the past few months as part of its long-term shelter program, Holcomb said.
"I’m just so happy to be a part of this," Free said in a news release shared by the shelter after the auction closed. "I love this place, and I’m so glad to see this story shared."
File: Spike Lee (Best Adapted Screenplay for 'BlacKkKlansman') and Mahershala Ali (Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Green Book) pose in the press room at the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 201
The sneakers were on auction at Sotheby's. They were auctioned along with a replacement box and other Nike merchandise donated by Tinker Hatfield, who custom designed the sneakers for Lee in 2019.
Lee wore his pair to the Academy Awards that year when he accepted an Oscar for his "BlacKkKlansman" screenplay. The donated sneakers weren’t Lee’s personal pair, but were among a few made for him to give out to his inner circle, the Portland Rescue Mission said.
Hatfield visited the shelter and authenticated the shoes. Nike is based in nearby Beaverton, Oregon.
Holcomb said the money from the auction will help fund services at the downtown Portland shelter, which provides food and access to bathrooms and showers, as well as health care, housing and employment resources. It serves some 6,000 people and 300,000 meals every year, Holcomb said.
"That building is open 24/7, 365 days a year," she said. "It's a really beautiful, helpful gift and it is a piece of a much larger story of generosity in our community."
The identity of whoever donated the shoes remains a mystery.