Muhammad Ali’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’ Shorts Could Fetch $6M at Auction

Amid growth in the sports memorabilia market, Sotheby's is introducing a Sports Week series.

Black and white photo of two boxers fighting in the ring
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier during their world championship bout in Manila in September of 1975. Nik Wheeler/Corbis via Getty Images

On October 1, 1975, heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met in Quezon City, Philippines, for a match that would go down as one of the greatest in boxing history. Nicknamed the “Thrilla in Manila,” it marked the third and final bout between the bitter rivals.

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The satin trunks worn by Ali, who went on to win the brutal matchup, are now expected to realize between $4 million and $6 million at auction. They will headline Sotheby's Sports Week, an inaugural sale series with more than 350 sports collectibles ranging from iconic milestones in sports history to items fresh off the court.

The auctioneer’s new initiative will take advantage of a burgeoning market for sports memorabilia that is expected to reach $227 billion by 2032, according to consulting group Market Decipher. “The market for unique sports artifacts has been enjoying unprecedented growth as collectors continue to chase the best-of-the-best objects, with a particular desire to acquire those that are ‘fresh to market,'” said Brahm Wachter, Sotheby’s head of modern collectibles, in a statement.

Sotheby’s has hosted several major sports sales in recent months, including the $7.8 million sale of Lionel Messi’s game-worn 2022 World Cup final jerseys in December and its February auction of Michael Jordan’s $8 million sneaker collection. In November of last year, it entered a multi-year partnership with the NBA to offer game-worn items at auction.

White satin shorts with black stripes down sides
A pair of satin trunks won by Muhammad Ali will lead Sotheby’s inaugural Sports Week. Courtesy Sotheby's

Also up for auction are iconic jerseys from Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

The Ali-signed “Thrilla in Manila” shorts are one of many high-profile sports collectibles that Sotheby’s will offer up through six auctions between March 27 and April 12. Another highlight will be Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers jersey from Game 1 of the 2009 NBA finals. With an estimate between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, the jersey was worn by Bryant as he scored 40 points to secure the highest-scoring NBA Finals performance of his career.

Other Los Angeles Lakers items consist of a jersey worn by Lebron James during another record-setting game. James wore the shirt in January of 2023 when he became the second player in NBA history to surpass 38,000 career points while playing against the Philadelphia 76ers. It is expected to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000 and, alongside Bryant’s jersey, will be included in Sotheby’s Los Angeles Lakers Capsule Collection, which will see a portion of sale proceeds benefit the Los Angeles Lakers Youth Foundation.

Back of yellow Los Angeles Lakers jersey embroidered with "Bryant" and the number 24
The auctions will include a Kobe Bryant jersey from the 2009 NBA Finals. Courtesy Sotheby's

Basketball fans will additionally have the opportunity to pick up a selection of memorabilia worn by Michael Jordan. His “Shattered Backboard” jersey—worn during the 1985 exhibition game where Jordan dunked the ball with so much force that it broke the glass backboard—is expected to fetch between $500,000 and $700,000. A pair of Air Jordan 11s worn by the basketball player during Game 5 of the 1996 NBA Finals for the Chicago Bulls have an estimate of between $200,000 and $400,000. Jordan initially gifted one shoe each to two ball boys for the Seattle Supersonics, who reunited the pair for auction.

The sale series will also include more recent memorabilia, such as the jerseys worn by Stephen Curry and Sabrina Ionescu during a 3-point shooting contest at the 2024 NBA All-Star Game which have respective high estimates of $8,000 and $50,000. They will be sold alongside a jersey worn by James during the first half of the All-Star Game and a uniform donned by Victor Wembanyama during his first-ever All-Star appearance.

Historic moments from football, tennis, hockey and racing are also represented in Sotheby’s Sports Week offerings.  The Chicago Cubs jersey worn by baseball player Ernie Banks as he hit his 500th career home run in 1970 is expected to realize between $300,000 and $500,000. And Wayne Gretzky’s St. Louis Blues Jersey from the 1995 to 1996 NHL season could bring in between $400,000 and $500,000. “We’re excited to bring an entirely new series to this passionate community, which is curated with a focus on a broad range of game-worn collectibles from the most memorable moments in sports history and the athletes—both past and present—that have made a noteworthy impact on their sport,” said Wachter.

Muhammad Ali’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’ Shorts Could Fetch $6M at Auction