Collecting with Jeff
By Jeff Figler
The National Basketball Association is the youngest of the major professional sports leagues of baseball, football, and hockey, having been formed in 1946. In fact, a highly valuable lithograph was issued in 1996, which commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the NBA.
Of course, many of today’s players, such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and others, are known throughout the world. However, that’s because of the shrewd marketing of the NBA, and in particular, its former commissioner David Stern.
However, before the 1979 draft, which produced Larry Bird and Earvin (Magic) Johnson, and before the 1984 draft, which produced Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, John Stockton, Charles Barkley and others, there were some very good players. Many of those players are very collectible.
The most collectible basketball players who are not in uniform these days are: Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Pete Maravich, George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Bob Cousy, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, and Julius Erving.
There are others who are quite collectible as well, including Patrick Ewing, Elgin Baylor, and Bill Bradley, but are not at the same level as the aforementioned.
It should be pointed out that Julius Erving is a very collectible player, and some of his items have been among the most sought after of all basketball memorabilia. But Erving spent the first several years of his playing days with the American Basketball Association (ABA), showcasing his talents for the league’s New York Nets and Virginia Squires, before the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. His ABA Virginia Squires road jersey went for $190,000 and his 1974 New York Nets championship ring sold for $461,000.
Putting Erving aside, the retired NBA players at the top of the collectible list are Michael Jordan, Pete Maravich, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Jordan’s jersey from the 1991 NBA All-Star game has sold for $55,000. However, his 1983 game-used University of North Carolina jersey went for $95,000, and a pair of original Nike Air Jordan shoes has gone for over $31,000.
How about Pete Maravich? His popularity, as well as his iconic status, seems to be escalating every year. His ballhandling skills have been compared to those of the legendary Celtic Bob Cousy. But how about these auction prices? Maravich’s 1970-71 game-used Atlanta Hawks rookie jersey sold for nearly $51,000. A 1967-68 jersey that he wore while he starred at LSU went for $89,625. But the most striking Maravich item was a 1977 Pete Maravich-signed basketball from the game played on February 25, 1977. By that time Pistol Pete was playing for the New Orleans Jazz. On that February night, Maravich scored 68 points against the New York Knicks. So, how much did a signed ball from that game fetch? A cool $131,450. That’s right.
Oscar Robertson is another player whose popularity seems to have risen recently as well. Robertson spent his time in the NBA in the small market cities of Cincinnati and Milwaukee, but his brilliance was always recognized. Of course, collectors are often swayed by marketing hype, and playing in a small market does not usually provide that luxury. But lately, the values of his items have taken a sharp rise. Hey, if anyone can average a triple double for an entire year in the NBA, then his items should be valuable. And they are. The Big Oís 1963-1964 Cincinnati Royals jersey sold for over $57,000. His 1970-71 jersey with the Milwaukee Bucks went a bit higher, at almost $66,000. That jersey was worn during Milwaukee’s NBA championship season, the year that he teamed with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to bring the trophy to the team that had just joined the NBA a couple years earlier. A third Robertson jersey, this one from the ABA vs. NBA All-Star game in 1972, sold for over $31,000.
Bill Russell, the great defender of the Celtics, who also served the team as a player-coach, has been admired through the years, and his game duels with Wilt Chamberlain were legendary. Russell’s game-used Celtics jersey sold for $65,000, while his 1959 All-Star jersey was auctioned for $25,000. Even Russell’s 1957-58 Topps card in Mint condition fetched $16,730.
Wilt Chamberlain’s items have consistently sold for high amounts. He was considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, at least before Jordan entered the NBA. He was so dominating that, at various times, in his storied career, he led the league in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Chamberlain’s jersey from the 1967 All-Star game sold for $45,000, and his 1972 Lakers jersey went for $30,000.
Chamberlain’s iconic status can be reflected in some of his statistics. He averaged over 50 points a game in the 1961-62 season, the same year he averaged playing 48.5 minutes per game (remember, his Philadelphia Warriors team played in some overtime games). Actually, it was in that 1961-62 year that he scored his historic 100 points in a game. In the March 2, 1962 game against the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Chamberlain, who always had the reputation of being a poor free throw shooter, actually made 28 of 32 free throw attempts. A ball that was used from that game went for $48,000. There is a great deal of controversy about that ball, and is the subject of our next article.
By the way, Wilt Chamberlain’s rookie jersey from 1959-60, is worth close to $100,000, but has not been to auction for many years.
Of course, in a few years, some of the current stars, such as Kobe Bryant, may be retired, and their items will be highly collectible.
But for now, the collectibles of Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and other present-day stars will be discussed in an upcoming article on the most collectible current NBA players.
Jeff’s most recent book is Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia published by Krause Publications. You can learn more about Jeff by visiting his website www.collectingwithjeff.com. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collecting with Jeff