'Rarest Nike shoes ever' produced in 1981 hit auction Wednesday

Image of "The One Line" Nike sneakers. (Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions)

Sneakerheads looking for a new pair of kicks to add to their collection will have a chance to bid on a rare pair of Nike sneakers produced in 1981.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight created the classic blue-and-white sneaker to gain the upper hand in a feud with the U.S. government when the renowned sneaker company was getting off the ground between the 1970s and 1980s.

The sneaker company created what was described as a fake competitor brand called "The One Line," a knockoff version of the Nike Oceania running shoes from the 1970s and 1980s.

Nike quietly manufactured the knockoff shoes. The "One Line" kicks were released in limited supply and didn’t have the Nike branding or signature swoosh logos.

RELATED: Air Max Day: Nike's most iconic shoe celebrates its 32nd anniversary

According to Heritage Auctions, Nike was involved in a lengthy tariff battle with the U.S. Government’s Customs and Treasury departments that almost put the sneaker titan out of business.


Image of "The One Line" Nike sneakers. (Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions) 

The government agency used a Great Depression-era tariff called the American Selling Price of 1922 (ASP) to go after Nike by sending the company a bill for $25 million.

This bill was sent to Nike as a back payment for shoes imported from international factories years earlier that the shoe company couldn’t afford to pay. According to the ASP tariff law, the fake Nike sneakers had to be "like or similar" to real Nike shoes.

According to Heritage Auctions, Knight said Nike sold "a couple thousand pairs" of One Line shoes while managing to get the government to reduce its tariff bill to $9 million, which Nike could afford by 1980. The company’s revenue at the time surged to $140 million a year.

Through the years, Knight described the ordeal with the government over the sneakers as a "life and death" battle for his burgeoning Nike brand, according to Heritage Auctions.

Knight chronicled the battle with the government in his autobiography "Shoe Dog." In an excerpt from the book, Knight wrote: "We launched a new shoe, a running shoe with nylon uppers, and called it One Line," Knight writes in his book. "It was a knockoff, dirt cheap, with a simple logo...Now customs officials would have to use this 'competitor' shoe as a new reference point in deciding our import duty."


Image of "The One Line" Nike sneakers. (Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions) 

The owner of the sneakers, Mike Monahan, is putting the rare sneakers up for sale. Monahan, who runs a Los Angeles-based vintage shoe blog purchased the sneakers online for a few dollars in 2018. He kept the sneakers in a plastic box, and placed them in climate-controlled storage for nearly three years.

According to Heritage Auctions, Monahan bought the sneakers because they were odd and he wanted to document the unique history of the vintage running shoe for his blog and was intrigued by the backstory.

These vintage "One Line" Nike knockoff size 9 shoes are the first pair to hit the auction block. The auction was Wednesday at Heritage Auctions and the sneakers sold for $93,750 with the buyer’s premium, according to Heritage Auction. 

"We were honored to bring this piece of history to the auction block. This is the one known pair to come to market, and collectors responded accordingly," Taylor Curry, the director of Modern & Contemporary Art at Heritage Auction, said in a statement. 

Monahan told Heritage Auctions that he hopes his sneakers are sold to a Nike collector, or someone at Nike’s company who wants to take advantage of what he called his "happy accident." 

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.