COVID did some strange things to people (and I’m not just talking about Vladimir Putin). Take Sotheby’s. Their New Bond Street home used to be an auction venue. These days it’s a Showroom – ‘dedicated to showcasing exceptional luxury items, each one hand-picked by a Sotheby’s specialist or leading tastemaker, all available for direct purchase.’

When I first came to London almost fifty years ago New Bond Street was filled with art galleries. It was a pleasant area to walk around. Today New Bond Street has changed from Quaint Olde England to Corporate America. Is that really what we want? Oxford Street, with its throngs of tourists and tacky souvenirs, is bad enough.

Sotheby’s Café has two TV screens for you to watch the salerooms as you sip your morning coffee or have lunch. Fine. But look across the hall and you’ll see a display of things that have nothing to do with art. Cheap jewellery, trinkets – essentially junk. All of it for ‘direct purchase.’

Sotheby’s have become just another money-grubbing business. How low can they sink?




Sixteen Fathoms Deep. And falling. In an on-line auction ending February 3, ‘in collaboration with the Jordan Brand and the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation,’ Sotheby’s New York were ‘proud to present’ 23 pairs of sneakers.

Just who were they kidding? Basketball Sneakers?

These sneakers – dating, if I understand it correctly, from as recently as 2017 – were sold without reserves. Prices ranged from $13,860 to $32,760. What sort of nutcase buys sneakers for that sort of money? Why would you spend more than $300 on a pair of shoes unless you’re a stark raving lunatic?

Sotheby’s have appointed someone to deliver more and more of these crass degrading sales: Eric LiBassi. His title: Associate Specialist – Streetwear and Modern Collectibles. Just who is thus punk? What sort of job description is that? Are Sotheby’s going into low-end fashion?

You may think I’m joking. Sotheby’s… renowned for selling top-end artworks… flogging basketball shoes? I must sound mad.

I’m not. That sale was the tip of an iceberg. Take Sotheby’s on-line sale that ran through January 27, captivatingly entitled The One (and we’re still not talking about Putin).

This sale featured just 20 lots – what Sotheby’s called ‘an unprecedented selection of the finest products of human achievement in history.’ Lot 1 duly came with a $3 to $5 million estimate. What was it? A Monet? A late Picasso? A giant Ayvazovsky? A superlative item of imperial Fabergé? No Siree! It was a Miami Heat basketball jersey worn by LeBron James in the 2013 NBSA championships decider against San Antonio Spurs.


Sotheby’s, 27 January, Lot 1, LeBron James 2013 NBA Finals Miami Heat Game Worn Jersey


Are Sotheby’s out of their minds? A basketball jersey – ‘among the finest products of human achievement in history’? Do the finest achievements in human history include mass-produced basketball jerseys?

Sotheby’s are degrading their 280 year-old name. They’re bending over backwards to make a quick buck. What next? Are they gonna sell chicken-wings? Team up with Tesco’s to sell cheap T-bone steaks?

I don’t want to insult anyone, but just who is the moron who paid $3.68m (including commission) for a basketball jersey? Is the guy gonna wear it? I’ve no idea about this sort of market, but this buyer must have money to burn. Will those millions ever be recovered on the secondary market? Hell no! But those millions could have been used to buy food and clothing for homeless orphans, or better yet send Ukraine a few choppers or tanks to repel Russian orcs.


Sotheby’s, 27 January, Lot 15, Kobe Bryant 2014-2015 ‘Left Handed’ Los Angeles Lakers Game Worn Uniform


Want to know what other ‘fine products of human achievement’ were contained in Sotheby’s ‘unprecedented selection’? How about a jersey and shorts worn by Kobe Bryant? Was it a coup for Sotheby’s to be offering a jersey (4XL) and shorts (3XL) of non-matching size? Someone took a pot shot at this garish ensemble for a premium-inclusive $226,800 – well short of the premium-exclusive high-estimate ($250,000). Far be it for me to point out that, in 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado; the case was settled out of court for a seven-figure sum. Needless to say, he wasn’t wearing his 3XL shorts at the time.

Yet Sotheby’s made out this guy was some sort of hero! Did dying in a helicopter crash (in California in 2020) somehow turn him into a martyr?

Does anyone authenticate this soiled sportswear? Had it been washed ? Are these shirts and shorts signed and dated? Do they have certificates of authenticity, as is common practice for expensive items?

Why was his gear worth so much less than LeBron’s ? And how can we be sure that shirt WAS LeBron’s? Did Sotheby’s check his DNA? Kobe Bryant was no stranger to DNA testing – it was used to identify the blood stains on the T-shirt he was wearing the night he was accused of rape.




This earlier sale, too, involved some fancy footwear: a pair of Nike Air Force 1 sneakers, among the ‘most successful and iconic shoes ever created’ – produced by Virgil Abloh ‘on the occasion of the Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2022 runway show.’ I’m sick of all this stuff. Sotheby’s are crazy to offer this shit.


Sotheby’s, 27 January, Lot 3, Nike x Louis Vuitton “Air Force 1” & Pilot Case


The shoes were Size 7, I’m Size 12 – so no earthly use. They came with an eye-belting orange box – which Sotheby’s ludicrously described as a ‘pilot case in an iconic orange colorway.’ (I thought orange was the Hermès colour, by the way – not Vuitton’s?) This conflicted box had a ‘classic Louis Vuitton S lock closure in white metal finishing’ and ‘luggage tag in the shape of the Nike Swoosh.’ Fantastic! Just what I need for a Fabergé desk-clock or Tsarist necklace.

The box and its contents sold for $60,480. What sort of nutcase buys a box for 60,000 dollars – even with a couple of shoes inside it? What a waste! Has he or she nothing better idea what to do with their money? Are they utterly out of touch with reality?

If you thought Sotheby’s – as doyens of the Mayfair Establishment – could never be tacky or superficial, think again. This sale also included an item of zero historic or literary interest: a ticket to President Kennedy’s Birthday Party at Madison Square Garden on 19 May 1962 – one of at least 15,000 printed. It features a photo of President Kennedy and, say Sotheby’s, ‘is graded a PSA/DNA 5, making it the finest graded example by the organization.’ What the hell does that mean? Do Sotheby’s think they’ll impress prospective buyers with that sort of gobbledegook?

Sotheby’s, 27 January, Lot 13, “President Kennedy’s Birthday Party” Official Ticket


The ticket brought $94,500. It wasn’t even rare, there were 15,000 of them (most of them no doubt ended in the trash-can). What a waste of money! Whoever bought it has obviously got more money than brains. Plus, they didn’t even get to the party.

For years now auction firms have justified hotch-potch sales with talk of ‘cross-fertilization’ – as if salerooms were some sort of greenhouse or laboratory. Usually, the aim is to incite collectors with more money than brains to plonk an African Tribal Ancestor figure on top of their ormolu-mounted Louis XV mahogany commode, then hang some Warhol soup-cans on the wall behind. But this The One sale went to crazy extremes. Did Sotheby’s seriously suppose that whoever buys souvenir basketball shirts will also want a Bronze Age Disc from Denmark ($819,000), an Apostle’s Head from Alsace ($730,800) or a Female Renaissance Bust from Tuscany ($277,200)?

What a bizarre, ridiculous, mixed-up jamboree. What the hell can Sotheby’s have been thinking of? Why did they shove all this caboodle together? What kind of corporate meltdown is going on here?

Even more incongruously, the sale included three Russian icons – all with stellar pedigree, as they hailed from the Collection of Pennsylvania businessman George R. Hann (which I attended at Christie’s New York back in 1980). Mr Hann may or may not have been a basketball fan, but he’ll be spinning in his grave at the thought of his iconic masterpieces, with all their spiritual power, being presented alongside an orange shoe-box or a pair of sweaty shorts.

Sotheby’s, 27 January, Lot 11, A pair of icons of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, 15th century


A pair of 15th century icons depicting the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, whose ‘combination of raspberry red and spinach green is an indication that they were probably painted in Pskov,’ sold for $201,600 against an estimate of $70,000-90,000. Sotheby’s description made me wonder if their Vuitton shoe-box was apricot orange, satsuma orange, mustard orange or Zebedee orange.

Worshipping God, with the stimulus of ancient, icons is one thing – worshipping basketball players with the stimulus of smelly shirts and shorts is quite another. If you want a sale of sports memorabilia, fine, do it. Just don’t stoop to presenting serious works of art in the same sale. That’s shoddy, tasteless and verging on blasphemy.


Sotheby’s, 27 January, Lot 10, An important icon of the fiery ascent of the Prophet Elijah, 16th century


A larger 16th century icon from Novgorod (est. $100,000-150,000) sold for $252,000. That means that – as far Sotheby’s are concerned – an exquisite work of art, venerated for centuries, is worth fifteen times less than a discarded 21st century basketball shirt!

What an embarrassment! What a travesty!

The Novgorod icon was owned before 1918 by Alexei Morozov – cousin of the Ivan Morozov of Impressionist fame, whose collection was ‘recently exhibited at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris’ (as Sotheby’s reminded us in another Louis Vuitton plug). The icon shows the Prophet Elijah ascending into Heaven ‘encompassed’ (said Sotheby’s) ‘by a great colourful ball of stylized fire.’


Goodness! Gracious! Great Balls of Fire! as Jerry Lee Lewis put it, in one of my favourite songs about auctions.

You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain

You broke my will, but what a thrill

I chew my nails and then I twiddle my thumbs

I’m real nervous, but it sure is fun


The ‘fun’ here was purely at Sotheby’s expense: the sight of millions being chucked at meaningless, absolutely useless garbage.

It’s a sad (and boring) world when LeBron James is granted the same saleroom status, acclaim or even attention as Rembrandt, Rubens or Repin. Will anyone remember Mr James a century from now? A guy whose claim to immortality was being very tall, jumping very high, and throwing an orange ball into a hole again and again?

Sounds like a joke but it’s a sign of the times. The new auction reality. The disgrace and degradation of a once proud auction-house.

What kind of saleroom insanity can we expect next?

Welcome to the new Sotheby’s Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World….