Updated: Oct 30
The jersey worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during his first two NBA seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks is now up for auction at Heritage. The jersey is expected to fetch a high price, as it is one of the most important pieces of Milwaukee Bucks memorabilia in existence.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Rookie Jersey Debuts at Heritage
DALLAS, Texas (Oct. 25, 2023) – In 2018, Kareem Abdul Jabbar penned an open letter to that year’s NBA Draft class in which he welcomed them to the “rollercoaster ride that is your rookie year.” Abdul-Jabbar, as accomplished a writer today as he was a scorer during his basketball career, warned the newbies about the “rush of confusing paradoxes, conflicting emotions, competing options, and dubious advice from crusty been-there old-timers. Like me.”
At which point, Abdul-Jabbar turned his attention toward his rookie season in 1969, when the 22-year-old still known as Lew Alcindor out of UCLA was drafted first overall by the last-place Milwaukee Bucks thanks to the flip of a coin.
“I found that the best way to deal with the jitters was for me to focus on setting personal goals rather than think about the expectations others put on me,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “And, man, were there a lot of expectations: I’d been the first person drafted and the media directed intense attention at me about what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. All the hype left me thinking that this was mine to screw up.”
Of course, Abdul-Jabbar did anything but screw it up: During the 1969-70 season, he led the Bucks to second place in the Eastern Division and was named Rookie of the Year. One season later, he was the league’s scoring leader; the Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals; and Abdul-Jabbar was named the Most Valuable Player for the regular season and in the Finals – of which served as prelude to a legend, as both a Buck and a Los Angeles Laker.
For the first time, Heritage offers in the Nov. 16-18 Fall Sports Catalog Auction a road Milwaukee Bucks jersey worn by Abdul-Jabbar during those historic seasons when the center snagged a league championship and a scoring title – each, the first of many to follow. Photo-matched by multiple third-party experts to crucial moments throughout Abdul-Jabbar’s days as a legend-in-the-making, the jersey serves as a thrilling offering in an auction abounding with palpable reminders of historic achievements and magical memories shaped by titanic athletes.
Bill Russell's 1969 NBA Championship Ring Up for Auction
Resolution Photomatching confirms it was at least worn during an April 1971 Western Conference Finals versus the Lakers and an April 1971 NBA Finals game against the Bullets. Sports Investors Authentication turned up likely matches to several regular season and post-season games, dating from March 18, 1970, to the Game Four title-clinching contest against the Bullets on April 30, 1971. It is graded a MEARS A10 and also comes with a letter of provenance from Patrick McBride, a former Bucks equipment manager.
The jersey is joined in this auction by the 1969 Look Magazine College All-America Basketball Team ring presented to Alcindor in 1969. It hails from The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Collection.
Here, as well, is more jewelry awarded to another pro-basketball great in 1969: the NBA Championship ring Bill Russell received when his Boston Celtics won their 11th title in 13 seasons. Auctioned by the two-time NCAA champ and Olympic gold medalist shortly before his death last year, this was the final title ring of Russell’s storied 13-year run as the Celtics’ center (and, for a while, player-coach), earned when the Boston basketball squad entered the Finals as underdogs to their arch-nemeses Lakers (featuring Wilt Chamberlain, natch) and emerged victorious after seven heated hardwood tussles.
It’s a wonder to behold: ESPN once marveled at the “colossal jewel” at its center and noted how “BOSTON CELTICS and WORLD CHAMPIONS are separated by the year: 1969, Russell’s last as a professional.” The words “WILLIAM” and “RUSSELL” are etched on opposite sides of the prized piece.
Heritage to Auction Sandy Koufax Game-Worn Jersey, Cy Young Signed Card
“With the opening of the basketball season upon us, we are delighted to offer these incredible pieces from the greats of the game,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “And it doesn’t stop with these two pieces, either: Here are Michael Jordan’s 1984 Olympic game-worn Converse sneakers and one of the nicest examples of one of the rarest cards, a Wilt Chamberlain 1961 Fleer rookie bearing a Mint 9 signature. This auction is one hell of a tip-off to the new season.”
Among the auction’s other top tops, you’ll find a 1958 Los Angeles Dodgers white home flannel that throws nothing but heat: Sandy Koufax’s game-worn jersey dating to the team’s first year in the City of Angeles. The Left Hand of God also signed the gamer, into which Rawlings stitched “Koufax 58” below the manufacturer’s label.
Koufax was the first three-time winner of the award named for Cy Young, who is represented in this event by a card that needs little pitching: a twice-signed 1893 cabinet card from the hard-throwing righty’s collection. The card was made by Pifer & Becker, among Cleveland’s most renowned photo studios, which counted among its clients Young’s Cleveland Spiders. Only six of their cabinets have been to auction.
“This relic is an absolute unicorn,” says Heritage’s Executive Vice President of Sports, Joe Orlando. “The provenance is remarkable, as is the rarity and quality. There has been a massive surge in the popularity of signed cards, but signed cards from this era are so few and far between.”
There are the modern icons and gems here, too, among them: card No. 41 of the 100 signed Tom Brady rookies from the Playoff Contenders series issued in 2000; the only 2017 Panini Contenders Patrick Mahomes II Super Bowl Ticket Autograph rookie card, graded BGS Mint 9 and Auto 9; and the one-of-one 2011 Bowman Chrome Bryce Harper Prospect Autograph-Superfractor, graded BGS Gem Mint 9.5 and Auto 10. They’re the chase cards of which young collectors’ dreams are made.
So were these once: Topps’ limited run of cards made for the Venezuelan market and aimed at that country’s profoundly passionate baseball fans. They existed for a short time – seven years, on and off, between 1959 and 1968 – and looked like their American counterparts, save for the darker, rougher and less shiny stock.
The numerous websites devoted to the subject all say the same thing: You almost have to hold the cards to tell the differences. But they are decidedly rare, and the more than 110 offerings in this auction – including a 1959 Venezuela Topps Mickey Mantle graded PSA Excellent 5 and a 1960 Venezuela Topps Carl Yastrzemski Sport Magazine Rookie Star) graded PSA Excellent+ 5.5 – are decidedly impressive, especially since finding these cards in a high grade is challenging, at best.
This offering, though, is impossible to find anywhere else: a photograph of Babe Ruth he signed on June 28, 1947, and gifted to a young ballplayer named Paul DeKovessey. Ruth had been diagnosed with throat cancer the year before, and Paul’s mother was the Yankees legend’s nurse. When Ruth signed that photo, he was undergoing experimental treatments at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital using an anti-cancer drug made from brewer’s yeast. This photo comes from the DeKovessey family’s collection.
Here’s another family heirloom with a New York baseball legend connection: Jackie Robinson’s 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers equipment bag, which he gifted to a would-be Dodger during a 1964 tryout – in this case, our consignor’s father.
Heritage Auctions Fall Sports Catalog Auction Abounds with Extraordinary Stories
Dodgers scouting director Al Campanis invited 19-year-old Mike Mathwig to a Dodgers Rookie Stars of Tomorrow tryout on June 23, 1964, at John Galvin Field near Los Angeles. The teen carried with him a glove, his shoes and a uniform. Robinson saw the kid without an equipment bag and offered him his – a blue Dodgers bag upon which was stenciled one of the sport’s most famous numbers, 42. Before becoming a high school coach, Mathwig played eight years in the minors, including six seasons in the sun as a Dodgers prospect. In time, the bag made its way to Mathwig’s garage, where it sat for decades until his son-in-law discovered it in 2013.
Mathwig was asked where it came from. His response, according to a letter provided by his daughter and the bag’s consignor, Sarah McKay: “Oh yeah, Jackie gave that to me.”
This auction is rife with stories like this – footnotes deserving of whole chapters. Look no further than the bat Ty Cobb signed in 1947 for Juanita Jennings, the mother of Babe Ruth’s daughter Dorothy. For decades, Dorothy was introduced as Ruth’s adopted daughter with his first wife, Helen. But in her 1988 biography My Dad, The Babe, Dorothy revealed she was, in fact, his biological daughter – the result of Ruth’s affair with Jennings in 1920. As the catalog notes, Cobb knew nothing of this backstory, only that Jennings was a close friend of Ruth’s.
From the world of horse racing comes another marvel with a backstory provided by Hall of Fame jockey Ángel Tomás Cordero Jr., the first Puerto Rican inducted into the United States Racing Hall of Fame: his “magic saddle,” which he used to win eight Triple Crown races. As Cordero says in a lengthy missive accompanying the saddle, which he signed, it was made specially for the jockey in 1978 and was first used “in winning the 1978 Stuyvesant Handicap on Seattle Slew in what was the last race of his career.” He used it until 2020, by which time, Cordero writes, it had become “the most famous saddle in horse racing history.”
The Nov. 16-18 Fall Sports Catalog Auction abounds with extraordinary stories like that. Our advice: Saddle up.
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Robert Wilonsky, VP, Public Relations and Communications