Why Jordan Michael Geller Gave Up His World-Record Sneaker Collection

In 2009, Jordan Michael Geller got a threatening letter from Nike. The company said he was no longer allowed to shop at any of its stores.

"Please know that Nike's retail salespersons are not authorized to discuss this decision with you, so please do not seek to engage them in any way regarding the future sale or return of Nike products," wrote Nike's then-director of stores, Jon Auerbach.

Geller wasn't a shoplifter or a corporate spy.

The 38-year-old Nob Hill resident was perhaps the greatest shoe collector the world had seen since Imelda Marcos. He has an entry in Guinness World Records 2013 to prove it, touting his collection of 2,504 pairs of Nikes.

In August 2011, he opened the world's first sneaker museum, the ShoeZeum, on the Las Vegas Strip.

But to amass his collection, he spent eight years buying Nikes from outlet stores and reselling them on eBay. Nike didn't like that.

AIR JORDAN: Jordan Michael Geller holds his favorite shoes. (Thomas Teal) AIR JORDAN: Jordan Michael Geller holds his favorite shoes. (Thomas Teal)

"I had this idea that I could sell off all that inventory and use the money to curate the world's greatest sneaker collection," he says. "I wanted to show Nike who they'd banned."

Sneakers weren't the first thing he collected. Baseball cards were. Then it was Garbage Pail Kids. Later, Snapple caps and pencils. But his true romance was always Nike sneakers.

From the time he was in fifth grade, he wanted Air Jordans, but they were too expensive for his family to buy. As soon as he was financially independent, he bought his first pair.

Geller says he loves Nikes more than anything else in the world. He notes that his first and middle names are Michael Jordan reversed, and that the randomly assigned number he received when he passed the California State Bar exam after law school, 234523, combined the two jersey numbers (23 and 45) Jordan made famous.

But Geller says he is done collecting now. Although he's been able to support himself with his shoe collection, it also represents a dark underbelly of obsession.

"It is crazy. Definitely crazy. Because I'm wired to be like that, so all or nothing—I can't even dabble in buying shoes," he says. We are sitting in a seemingly unused conference room on the bottom floor of his luxury apartment building along Couch Park, where he now lives with his wife, Natalie.

But at one point he had to rent an entire apartment in Las Vegas solely to store his shoes.

Geller knew that owning a pair of every shoe Nike ever made was near impossible, but figured he could own enough of them to accurately curate their history. For a year and a half, Geller says, he was obsessed—a word he often uses to describe himself.

SLAM DUNK: Jordan Michael Geller’s collection of shoes designed by patients at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. (Thomas Teal) SLAM DUNK: Jordan Michael Geller’s collection of shoes designed by patients at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. (Thomas Teal)

"I did it in complete secrecy. I didn't tell one person what I was doing because I thought that people would think it's insane," he says. "I became completely obsessed with it, to where everything I saw in the whole wide world reminded me of an exhibit or a shoe."

After he opened the ShoeZeum, it brought on a new kind of obsession. Jordan and Natalie Geller lived across the Strip, and even though they hired an overnight security service, Geller would wake up at 3 in the morning and cross Las Vegas Boulevard to check on his shoes.

"People are coming in and know exactly where the good stuff is," he says. "If they wanted to come in and take it down, they could. We could get hurt along the way. It was super-duper dangerous."

The Gellers decided to close the ShoeZeum in November 2012, and moved to Portland last year. But despite moving to Nike mecca, Geller decided it was time to stop collecting. He has instead been selling them—which has become a full-time occupation for the couple.

One of Geller's collections is a complete set of shoes designed by patients at Doernbecher Children's Hospital at OHSU. He has priced the collection at $50,000.

He went from three large storage lockers to two—and then one. He still has 200 to 300 pairs left, which are kept at Natalie's parents' house, in a storage unit and in a safe deposit box.

"It's been an emotional decision for Jordan to stop," says Natalie. She says the attachment comes partly because his father used to run marathons in Nikes.

There are a few sneakers he'll keep: a pair of game-worn Michael Jordan 1985 Air Jordan 1s, a pair of Air Jordan 11s customized for him by legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, and an original Nike waffle shoe that was dug up from Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman's yard, to name a few.

His days of scouring eBay and camping out at shoe releases, however, are over—although he says Nike has lifted his ban from local outlet stores.

"I just think it's time to move on," he says. "I think it's been healthy for sure. I don't need all of this stuff, and I've already done it, and I have the memories of it. They're not even out and being enjoyed. They're just boxes of things I've become afraid of."


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