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'These are really special': Rare Nikes worth over $10K donated to Portland Rescue Mission

The golden sneakers, one of a few custom-made for director Spike Lee, are now up for auction. The money raised will go to the Portland Rescue Mission.

PORTLAND, Oregon — A Portland homeless shelter stands to raise thousands of dollars after someone dropped off a pair of rare sneakers in their donation bin. They were one of just a handful of pairs custom-made for film director Spike Lee.

The gold Nike Air Jordan 3 Nikes are now part of Sotheby's Emergence Auction, which closes Dec. 18. The shoes were listed with an estimated value of $15,000 to $20,000. The proceeds will go to Portland Rescue Mission.

“The shoes are very auspicious,” said Erin Holcomb, director of staff ministries for the Portland Rescue Mission. “They are really gold.”

Holcomb said that's why the shoes stood out when someone dropped them down the donation chute in the lobby of Portland Rescue Mission’s Burnside Shelter last April. At first, no one knew what to make of the shoes. 

James Free was serving in the donation room at the time and first noticed the shoes. He figured they had to be worth something and alerted leadership. Holcomb took the shoes to a sneaker expert, who agreed.

“They immediately authenticated them and said, ‘These are really special, please take care of them!’” Holcomb said.

She soon learned the size 12.5 Nikes were one of just four or five pairs custom-made for film director Spike Lee. Lee and his party wore them to the 2019 Academy Awards, the same night he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for "BlacKkKlansman". Lee had commissioned famed Nike shoe designer Tinker Hatfield to customize the Jordan 3 sneakers. 

Holcomb said she reached out to Lee's company to see if anyone was missing a pair of the golden shoes, but never heard back.

“So we have no idea who donated them and we're not sure how to find out,” Holcomb said. “But whoever did it, we know that they must really care about the people we're serving and wanted to do something special.”

Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Spike Lee poses with the award for best adapted screenplay for "BlacKkKlansman" in the press room at the Oscars on Feb. 24, 2019, in Los Angeles.

The Portland Rescue Mission also reached out to Hatfield, who was happy to help the nonprofit increase the value of the shoes. He donated a few other items to create an auction lot including a design concept board illustrating the shoe’s origin. He also donated a Jordan shoe box on which he autographed his name in gold, to match the shoes.

“I’m thrilled the shoes ended up here,” Tinker said in a statement he shared with the Portland Rescue Mission. “It’s a happy ending to a really great project.”

As for Free, the man who first noticed the shoes in the donation room, he’s thrilled that money raised will go towards helping others who come to the shelter. Free himself is in an addiction recover program with the Portland Rescue Mission after living on the streets.

“Let someone help you,” Free said. “It is truly remarkable how everybody here wants to help”

Holcomb said she sees a parallel between Free and the golden shoes he discovered in the donation bin.

“He’s been a really special part of the whole story,” Holcomb said. “It's a story about him, ultimately, and it's a story about so many people we serve, whose lives get rescued.”

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