Offered is a lot which reflects both ample basketball success and colossal social relevance and
is accompanied by first hand provenance from the surviving ball boy that obtained the prize.
Attributed to one of the earliest known teams that Wilt Chamberlain was a team member, this
game used, autographed, Championship Basketball foreshadowed the great career that lay
The Championship game was played during an era where the ugly shadow of segregation was
broken by the sunny promise of integration. During 1947, not even a decade earlier, segregation
in professional sports was still practiced until Jackie Robinson broke the status quo with the
Brooklyn Dodgers. The country was reforming, but the practice of segregation still affected
many African American communities, and the basketball courts of their youth.
During the 1940s until the integration of the NBA in 1950, black basketball teams were known
as the “black fives”, a reference to the starting lineup of a squad. Most all black teams were
sponsored by churches, athletic clubs, social clubs, small businesses, or the YMCA.
During 1953, Chamberlain played for his hometown Philadelphia Christian Street YMCA.
The Christian Street YMCA, founded in 1889, was found at 7th Street and Christian Avenue
in Philadelphia. Completed in 1914 with assistance from the Rosenwald Fund, Rev. Henry L.
Phillips, and other prominent individuals. The Christian Street YMCA was the first African-
American YMCA in the U.S. to be contained in its own building. It continues to provide
educational and recreational opportunities such as swimming, basketball, boxing and dancing.
Basketball legends Zac Clayton, Tarzan Cooper and Fats Jenkins of the New York Rens and
Frank Washington of the Harlem Globetrotters developed their skills at the Christian Street gym.
As a Philadelphia resident growing up in the black section of town, it was almost given Wilt
would find his way to the local YMCA basketball program. As a 6-10, 10th-grader, Chamberlian
led Christian Street to the YMCA national title. His team was the runner up the previous year.
Due to segregation, the entire basketball team consisted of a Philadelphia All-African American
team. Accompanying image (digital copy) of the 1953 team included in this lot description. The
Philadelphia based YMCA team was to play the all white High Point, North Carolina YMCA
Championship team. The game was played in High Point, North Carolina.
High point resident, author, and African American historian Glenn Chavis recounted in a
newspaper article (copy enclosed) that during 1952-53, blacks were not allowed in the doors of
the High Point YMCA, he had to attend the cross town black YMCA. When playing in High
Point for the Championship game, Chamberlain wasn’t allowed to stay at the area hotels. The
team had to be housed at homes throughout the black community. Although not as vocal as the
great Jackie Robinson, these conditions may have spawned the championship desire which drove
Chamberlain’s future achievements.
Regarding the man, the following online biography reads, “Wilt Chamberlin was born on
August 21, 1936, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Known as “Wilt the Stilt” for his 7′ 1″ frame,
Chamberlin was a Harlem Globetrotter then joined the Philadelphia Warriors.
Leaving college in 1958, Chamberlain had to wait a year before going professional due to NBA
rules. He chose to spend the next season performing with the Harlem Globetrotters before
landing a spot on the Philadelphia Warriors. In 1959, Chamberlain played his first professional
game in New York City against the Knicks, scoring 43 points. His impressive debut season
netted him several prestigious honors, including NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA Most
Valuable Player. Also during this season, Chamberlain began his rivalry with Celtics defensive
star Bill Russell. The two were fierce competitors on the court, but they developed a friendship
away from the game.
Chamberlain’s most famous season, however, came in 1962. That March, he scored his first
100-point game. By season’s end, Chamberlain racked up more than 4,000 points, becoming the
first NBA player to do so, scoring an average of 50.4 points per game. At the top of his game,
Chamberlain was selected for the All-NBA first team for three years in a row—1960, 1961 and
Chamberlain stayed with the Warriors as they moved out to San Francisco in 1962. He continued
to play well, averaging more than 44 points per game for the 1962-1963 season and almost 37
points per game for the 1963-1964 seasons. Returning to his hometown in 1965, Chamberlain
joined the Philadelphia 76ers. There he helped his team score an NBA championship win over
his former team. Along the way to the championship,
Chamberlain also assisted the Sixers in defeating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division
Finals. The Celtics were knocked out of the running after eight consecutive championship wins.
Crowds gathered to watch the latest match between two top center players: Chamberlain and Bill
Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968, Chamberlain again proved that he was a competitive,
successful athlete. He helped the Lakers win the 1972 NBA championship, triumphing over the
New York Knicks in five straight games, and was named the NBA Finals MVP.”
Much memorabilia has survived from the career of Wilt Chamberlain. After checking auction results, past auction catalogs, and interviews with fellow collectors this lot represent the earliest piece of Chamberlain material known and is also the earliest known and documented artifact that commemorate an African American Championship basketball team. It is also the earliest Chamberlain autograph we have encountered.
This basketball also has major league baseball ties. The consignor’s grandfather was Richard
Broadus Culler, Sr., who was born January 15, 1915, and lived most of his life in High Point,
North Carolina. Richard Broadus was a professional baseball player for approximately eight (8) seasons; playing with the Philadelphia Athletics (1936), Chicago White Sox (1943), Boston Braves (1944-47), Chicago Cubs (1948) and New York Giants (1949). He primarily played shortstop while in the Major Leagues and retired from the game in 1949.
Then after completing his years as a professional baseball player, he returned to
High Point, North Carolina, to continue to raise his family and coach young athletes.
During 1953, Richard Broadus was coaching the defending YMCA National Champions,
the High Point YMCA Basketball Team (they had won the Title in 1952). As a result of that
victory, the 1953 YMCA National Tournament was played in his hometown, High Point,
North Carolina. Since Broadus coached the defending champions, and the games were in his
hometown, our consignor’s father was permitted to be a ball boy for the High Point YMCA
during the tournament.
Our consignor’s father, noted that the star of the 1953 YMCA National Tournament was a
sixteen-year old teenager by the name of Wilt Chamberlain, who was already about six (6)
feet eleven (11) inches tall at the time, and was the star of the home team’s main competition,
the Christian Street YMCA basketball team from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sure enough,
the tournament came down to Wilt Chamberlain’s team facing the guys coached by Richard
The Championship Game was played on March 28, 1953. In an article penned by Glenn Chavis
(copy enclosed), coaches and sports writers deemed this the greatest tournament ever. The
Christian Street Team won the Championship. Playing before a mixed sellout crowd of more
than 800 people, Chamberlain led Christian Street to an 85-79 victory over High Point.
Author Chavis also noted the social relevance which surrounded the game. In his column he
writes, “…there were human interest stories that have never been published. The one I like best
has to do with overcoming racial barriers… A fan named Oscar Ellington invited the High Point
and Philadelphia teams to dinner at his grill after the game. Oscar told the coaches that he didn’t
care what people might have to say about black and white players breaking bread together after
doing battle on the court.” There was definitely a racial overtone to the game.
In his autobiography, “WILT”, MacMillan Publishing Co, 1973, page 30, Chamberlain recalled
the game and stated, “When my teams, the Christian Street “Y”, won the championship,
three guys on the team were named to the All American Team, everyone else was already in
college- so you can imagine how proud we were!” Claude Gross was a teammate and fellow All
American. His printed signature also appears on the ball, thus supporting game used by the 1953
During the same time period, Chamberlain was a star at Overbrook high school. This ball is
eliminated as possibly being used in a regular high school game since YMCA teammate Claude
Gross played for the rival Benjamin Franklin high school team which beat Chamberlain’s club
that season. Chamberlain and Gross were only teammates for the 1953 YMCA tournament.
As previously stated our consigner’s father was a ball boy during the game, a benefit of being the
coach’s son. Immediately after the game, Richard Culler Jr, the ball boy, being impressed with
the giant Wilt Chamberlain and awed by the Christian Street YMCA’s victory, removed a game
ball and proceeded to have the visiting team autograph it. Several teammates signed the game
used basketball, including Claude Gross and Wilt Chamberlain. It may have been the very first
basketball Wilt was ever asked to autograph.
In a notarized Affidavit from the State of Carolina, County of Guilford, in the General Court
of Justice, District Court Division, Richard B. Culler Jr. deposes the following facts pertaining
directly to the original and authenticity of the basketball:
(Paraphrased, actual document published online)
“After the game ended, Wilt Chamberlain signed one of the balls used during the Championship
Game, along with a number of the other players from the Christian Street YMCA Team. Wilt
Chamberlain signed the ball in the presence of the consignor’s father (the ball boy), and the team
agreed to let him have the ball even though it was one of the balls they had brought with them
The offering of a game ball was a significant gesture that may or may not have been understood
by the YMCA staff and Wilt Chamberlain during the day of the gift. Lack of funding and fiscal
constraints plagued YMCA programs throughout the country. Equipment such as basketballs
were carefully inventoried, and expected to be used until a replacement was absolutely
necessary. The valued balls were not to be frittered away or given as souvenirs; the replacement
costs were just too great.
When Richard Culler Jr. (ballboy) retrieved the game ball from the private stock of the visiting
YMCA team, did the Christian Street staff simply ignore the consequences of a game ball that
would go missing from their inventory? Or, were the Philadelphia coaches aware of what had
just taken place, the significance of an All Black team beating an All White basketball team on
the road in North Carolina, a town that would not allow them to eat or sleep with the white team
from High Point? Either way, the exception was made and Richard Culler Jr. was allowed to
keep this historic game ball.
Although it was obvious that Wilt Chamberlain was a new breed of basketball player, no one
had any idea just how much of a force he would be in the history of basketball. At the time, our
consignor’s father was just delighted to have one of those basketballs balls signed by members of
the 1953 YMCA National Championship Team.
The Affidavit continues with:
“I can confirm that the ball I have kept all these years, and given to my son, is one of the balls
that were used during the Championship game in which I served as a ball boy. Wilt Chamberlain
used his own hand to “pen” the block signature that is easily discerned on the ball. The ball has
been in my family since it was given to me by Wilt Chamberlain and his team members back
in 1953. The Article from the Greensboro News & Record, authored by Glenn Chavis, of High
Point, North Carolina, is also accurate to the best of my knowledge; especially the part where my
dad’s team lost to Christian Street YMCA in the Championship Game on March 28, 1953.”
Regarding the physical ball, it was evaluated by the expert staff of MEARS Auctions. The ball
appears to be supplied by the Reach Company, and sports a faded, period logo. Although worn,
the Reach logo is still visible enough to compare to examples in the MEARS database and
confirm the manufacture and 1953 dating.
Although being phased out, this example is the 8 lace model. Available research shows these
balls were still available in sporting goods dealer catalogs, as evidenced by the 1954 Odell
Sporting Goods Co. catalog, D&M example, again supporting the 1953 dating.
Regarding the names that have been written on the basketball, 5 portions of names can clearly
be seen. Additional names may be present. Of the 5 names, WM (William) Kine, Sonny
Lloyd, Claude Gross, and Wilt Chamberlain are identifiable. Although no official roster was
published for the 1953 Christian Street team, Chamberlain, Lloyd and Gross are documented
as Philadelphia basketball legends. In an online article by Pro Basketball, dated 2/8/2002, when
discussing famous Philly playgrounds, an early league was mentioned. The article read,
“ The Baker League, the first summer pro-am league in the USA, began here in 1960 with
four teams. NBA players Chamberlain, Guy Rodgers and Scott, and Philadelphia legends Hal
Lear, Sonny Lloyd and Claude Gross were among the original participants.”
It is a safe assumption that Lloyd and Gross were members of the 1953 YMCA
Championship Team. The name of the defeated High Point basketball team roster is
included in the accompanying article by Glenn Chavis, and none of those names appear on
the examined basketball.
The ball was sent to JSA for authentication. Due to the fact the signature was printed and no
early exemplar exists, the team at JSA declined to issue a letter and deemed the Chamberlain
autograph “inconclusive”. This basketball will not be sold with a JSA letter, but will come with
the notarized Affidavit from the ball boy that obtained both the game ball and autograph from the
16-year old Chamberlain.
Judging by the scrawled nature of the printed signature, this evaluator feels is probable and most
likely an early signature attempt by Wilt Chamberlain.
In sum, here is the chain of ownership:
• Christian Street YMCA brings game balls on the road to the North Carolina Tournament.
• Richard Culler Jr., serving as ball boy, takes possession of the basketball immediately
following the end of the game.
• Richard Culler Jr. personally hands basketball to Wilt Chamberlain to autograph along
with several teammates. This fact is verified by a signed Affidavit.
• Richard Culler Jr. gifts the ball to his son, our consignor.
In summary, based on newspaper accounts, testimony by the original owner, additional research,
physical examination of the ball, and comparison of the basketball to period sporting goods
catalogs to verify dating of issuance for use, MEARS Auctions is confident in attributing this
as “1953 Wilt Chamberlain National Basketball All-Black YMCA Championship Team Game
Used Basketball with early autograph”.
LOA Troy R. Kinunen / MEARS Auctions, Notarized Letter Richard Culler Jr., accompanying
newspaper articles and photos.