How Bill Russell’s rare memorabilia took so long to reach the collectors market

PHONE CALLIt was five years earlier Boston Celtics legend Bill RussellPut together a treasure trove personal memorabilia up for auction. David Hunt, President of Hunt Auctions was asked how much the items in Russell’s teeming trophy box were worth and if he could appraise them.

Russell, 88 has one of most impressive resumes in the history of professional sports. Russell is a two time NCAA champion and an Olympic gold medalist. He has also won 11 awards. NBATitles in 13 seasons. Hall of FameBoth as a player, and as a coach. For decades, his signature and memorabilia were rare in the collecting world. The chance to own anything of his would interest hobbyists.

The query was a little heavier. Russell is not just an athlete. he is a civil rights icon. He was the first Black coach in major professional sports to lead a team and also the first Black coach to win an NBA championship. He marched along with Martin Luther King Jr.

Hunt, who held posthumous auctions for Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth and Roberto Clemente, stated that “it was not even about selling the objects at first.”

Russell and his team of archivists, who panned over more than 50 years worth of memories, made several phone calls following the initial call. Hunt advised them periodically and stated that they discussed items which might be of value to potential buyers. Russell was able to identify what he would part with and what he wouldn't, in any circumstances. Hunt stated that Russell had not decided whether or not he wanted to part with anything during the evaluation period.

Hunt was not at the maximum value of the items when he received his initial phone call. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country in spring 2020, Hunt realized that the items were not at their maximum financial value. sports cards and memorabilia market experienced a boom. Even vintage basketball, which had tended to be behind baseball in the hobby's popularity, has taken off.

A market perspective is that there has never been a better moment to sell. Anybody who is interested in civil rights history and sports would be interested.

Friday night, December 10, 2021 Hunt Auctions placed 429 lots up for sale inside TD Garden's Legends suite. Russell's items brought in $7.4 Million in combined sales. Proceeds went to two charities: MENTOR (a Boston-based non profit founded by Russell) and Boston Celtics United for Social Justice which fights racial inequalities and racial inequalities in the Greater Boston region.

Hunt stated, “There has not been a basketball collection that is comparable to this value, significance, player quality, media coverage, or close to it that I know.”

The second is online-only auction is scheduled for FridayIt will be smaller, but it is still a treasure trove of rare items. For example, a Celtics game-worn jersey and warm-up jacket from 1960s are expected each to fetch six-figure sums. Red Auerbach, Russell's mentor and coach, donated items to Friday's auction.

The Russell memorabilia sales — their history and meaning to collectors — have also been of interest to preservationists and others who manage museums. This includes museums that honor the achievements of Black athletes, Boston athletes, and Hall of Famers.

Richard Johnson, curator at The Sports Museum in Boston's TD Garden, stated that former director of The Museum, Dave Cowens, called Russell after he learned of the December auction. He spoke to Jeannine on behalf of the museum.

Johnson, who has held the same position since 1982, said that they had already sold everything to auction houses. “It was already done.”

FINDINGS FOR YEARSIt was hard to find Russell memorabilia. His time in the NBA was a time before shoes and jerseys were casually tossed around the crowds or sold at memorabilia events. According to industry analysts, even though there were vintage basketball products, the market undervalued them and didn't appreciate them.

Russell's memorabilia was scarcer after his contemporaries began selling their memorabilia. One appraiser called game-used Russell Jerseys “exceedingly uncommon” for their age. Russell's signature was also scarce. He was known for preferring to talk than sign his name, and this was true for decades.

Hunt was assigned the responsibility of placing value on valuable items. Russell's 1956 Summer Olympics gold medal in Melbourne was there. He wanted to compete in it so much that he missed two months of his rookie Celtics season. Russell's 1957 Topps rookie cards were signed. He also received his 50 Greatest NBA Players rings and autographed jacket. His jersey from the 1969 NBA Finals was the last time he wore it. These items were from his basketball career.

Hunt described other items in the collection as historical pieces that should be preserved “for future generations.” One related to the 1961 St. Louis Hawks vs. Celtics exhibition in Lexington. Russell and his teammates refused to play following a refusal of service at a restaurant by Black players. Jackie Robinson was so touched that he wrote Russell a note. Russell then glued the letter, along with any clippings, to a page in his scrapbook.

Robinson wrote Russell: “It is heartening to know that our athletes have as much pride as you do,” Robinson wrote. Your actions greatly aid in our fight for equal opportunities.”

That scrapbook page was Lot No. 96It was sold at the December auction. It sold for $94,000

His first championship ring was sold for $705,000. His 1956 Olympic medal was sold for $587,000. Russell's final Celtics jersey, five MVP trophies and his first NBA championship band were all sold. They totaled $3.13 million. Unless given permission, auction houses won't usually release the identities or buyers.

Only a few short months after the November auction, the December auction occurred. Russell listed his home on Washington's Mercer IslandThe property, which he owned for close to 50 years, was sold for $2.6million. The Puget Sound Business JournalRussell said he planned to stay in the region but downsize and that he had left behind his trophy case as well as an autographed ball for its next owner. Jeannine Russell was unable to be reached for comment Wednesday.

Hunt and MENTOR CEO David Shapiro declined to comment on the percentage going to MENTOR or Boston Celtics United for Social Justice. However, a former estate manager noted that auctions that benefit charities typically donate between 5% and 15% of the sale. This would mean that the $7.4million December night would have raised between $370,000 and $1,110,000 for charity.

Russell even came to the end to say goodbye. He posted photos of his goodbye on social media a few days later. cross-country road trip.

Hunt is responsible for the legacies and legends. Usually, however, Hunt has left. Russell, however, has been there every step of this process.

Hunt recalled that people were crying and thanked Bill for the night.[When]That's when I feel that we've done our job.”

Russell's collection still contains the never-evers. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011.

Hunt stated, “With the Medal of Freedom there's nothing else to talk about.” “God bless your heart for having it. I'm glad that you don't want it to be sold because I would give it back.”

Obama is so fondly in love with Russell, he later gave a speech embedded on a touch screen at Basketball Hall of Fame. He spoke of Russell's hesitation to assume control of the Celtics in exchange for Red Auerbach. He also mentioned the Olympic medal and titles in San Francisco and Boston. Obama's focus was not on basketball. He was focused on Lexington.

“[It was]Obama stated in the video that it was an act of civil disobedience which still echoes today. “I could not feel more honored to celebrate Bill Russell's contribution to the [way]He led the life he lived.

NINETY MILES SOUTHWESTNewly renovated Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield, Mass. Two of the most important figures in basketball history greet visitors at the atrium. The first is Michael Jordan, the second is Bill Russell.

A Russell locker is secured by a financial contribution. It includes an All-Star Game jersey, shorts, and two signed basketballs. These donations were made in support for the Hall's renovation which was completed last January.

Visitors are welcomed by a friendly staff at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C., when they visit the basketball exhibit. photo of Philadelphia 76ers center Wilt Chamberlain grabbing a rebound against Russell. There are four Russell items. Damion Thomas, museum's sport curator, stated that all Russell items have been either acquired or borrowed from collectors. Although the 1969 Finals jersey sold for over $1.1 million, it was not in the museum's price range.

Thomas stated that although athletes often get bad press for selling their stuff, he doesn't believe it's a problem. It's an opportunity for people to have these items. I don't believe art museums should own all the Bill Russell items.

“Hopefully all of the notable places have some kind of Russell representation.”

Russell's university, the University of San Francisco, houses “plaques and commemorative objects” in its Sport and Social Change Museum. The National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tenn. does not possess any specific artifacts, but it offers “digital/printed resources” that were created for the Freedom Award programming. This includes a biographical video.

The Sports Museum at TD Garden is a half mile long labyrinth devoted to New England sports history. You will eventually reach Bill Russell.

A portrait of Russell dribbling is found in an exhibit about the Celtics. It's framed and placed to one side of Kevin McHale. Russell appears on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Issue, 1968. Russell's signature is included along with other Celtics Hall of Famer on a piece of old Boston Garden parquet flooring. All items in the museum are either donated, or available on loan.

Russell items are displayed in relative sparse here. This is not because Russell isn't revered. Johnson, museum curator, claimed that Russell briefly met him at John Havlicek’s funeral.

He said, “I didn’t feel worthy to engage him.” “I mean, if the country gave out royal titles he'd have to be Sir Bill Russell.”

Russell was not treated like a king during his career. The racism he faced in Boston has been widely chronicled. Vandals broke into his residence and wrote racial epithetsThe walls. He wrote about racism in the city in his 1979 memoir, “Second Wind”, which was published in 1979.

Johnson was able to see Russell's memorabilia as it was being moved into the Legends suite 100 feet from the Celtics locker room in December. Johnson later stated that the sheer weight of all this history, back home in Boston, had overwhelmed him.

Johnson said, “I never begrudge anybody’s desire to share with their stuff and to monetize.” “My curatorial partner says, God, I wish that he had contributed some of these stuff to us. [but]I have the greatest respect for him. It was wonderful to see these crown jewels. [in TD Garden].”

The Sports Museum has a collection of statues honoring Boston's sports legends. These statues were carved from blocks of wood nearly two thousand pounds in weight by Armand LaMontagne, an artist from New England. Each took about half a full year to complete. Carl Yastrzemski is shown mid-swing with his eyes on Pesky’s Pole; Larry Bird during his famous shooting stroke; Bobby Orr cocked to take a slapshot; Ted Williams beaming after catching a fishing fish. Harry Agganis, a Lynn, Mass., star of the mid-20th century, is also there.

Bill Russell is the one notable absentee.

Johnson recalls the day Bird’s statue was unveiled in 1988. The museum was called irate by a local woman.

She shouted, “You have a Larry Bird sculpture,” but not Bill Russell!

Johnson replied, “Ma’am,” Johnson responded, “Ma'am, you preach to the choir.”

Russell declined politely to be photographed, despite Cowens and Auerbach trying their best to convince him.

The Smithsonian, The Sports Museum and the Hall of Fame have displays of art, photos and signatures. These objects aim to stimulate emotions. Obligations, whether it be a statue, a memorabilia item, or something else, help to document the history and bond with fans, educate the next generation, and also serve as a way for them to collect the memorabilia.

Johnson stated that “Everything we own has a story or two to it.”

“BUDDY. YOU DON’TKnow me, don't you? Stephen Michaels, the general manager of LJ's Card Shop, blurts when asked if the New Albany marketplace had won any pieces at the December auction.

Michaels shows the LJ's $598,000 items — more than 12% the auction's total — as a Showcase Showdown haul. Russell's final and 11th championship ring is dangling halfway up Michaels’ middle finger.

Its face shows “BOSTON CELTICS”, “WORLD CHAMPIONS”, separated by the year: 1969, Russell's last professional season. Michaels rotates the rings and sees etched names: “WILLIAM,” on one side, and “RUSSELL”.

“I can't even get it on my finger,” Michaels says. “That's just how small it is!”

It cost LJ $558,125.

There are however items that are far more avant-garde. Russell signed the hat on Michaels's head to commemorate Kobe Bryant.

Michaels mentions the faded, curved brim cap as “he wore this thing”.

Spending $600,000 per night may seem exorbitant. It's Russell.

Leo Ruberto was the owner of LJ's and gave Michaels a blank check for December.

Ruberto said that “we have the utmost respect” for Michaels, who showed off a selection Russell's Olympic items, which LJ's also won.

Ruberto laughs, “Really?”

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