Game used jersey prices have been really soaring over the past few years. Over one hundred thousand dollars for a game used jersey from the 1940’s. A 1979 shirt brought 18K plus 20-25% depending on if you were live, on phone or bidding on eBay. A 1978 shirt sold for 16K plus. A killer 1967 brought 45K plus and a very rare 1970 sold for 20K plus. I could go on and on listing prices that would have been unheard of a couple of years ago. Whose shirts you ask, a 1940’s Ott or Greenberg? That 1979 had to be Munson from his last season. The 1976 for 16K was probably a Bench or Rose and that 20K 1970 would have to be a Clemente, right? Well, if you think these prices were shelled out for some incredible baseball game worn jerseys, you couldn’t be more wrong. Were talking basketball here. Yep, BASKETBALL. Never figured you see a game worn basketball hit that 100K mark (actually, at last years event, a Dr. J Nets shirt sold for almost $142,000), 1970’s shirts topping 20K, commons selling for 4-6K. How about some from the 70’s selling for over 5K. What has happened?
The big shirt of the day was a 1947-48 George Miken that sold for $92,000 (hammer prices without buyer’s premium). A Sam Jones Celtics hammered at $14,000, a 1959 Bill Russell All Star jersey $25,000, a Bob Cousy Jacket $12,000, a 1962 Connie Hawkins Pittsburgh Renaissance Jacket $14,000 (known as Rens, this league was called the American Basketball League and only existed two seasons from 1961-63), a Nate Thurmond Cavs jersey $25,000, and a 1979-90 Dave Cowens Celtics jersey $18,000 (for complete list of prices realized, go to the www.greyflannel.com website)
This was the second time that I made the trip to Springfield Mass for the live Grey Flannel second annual Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Auction held on Sept. 8th 2007 and I have to admit that after two straight years, I was floored by the prices and I, along with most of the baseball collecting fraternity, never thought I would see these kind of prices on anything but baseball game worn jerseys. Sure, there have been a few record setting prices in both the basketball and football fields, it just didn’t seem that aside from a few anomalies, that the prices across the board would be so strong. So what is happening?
I have some opinions on this (bet that’s a surprise). First, you have to look at sheer numbers. Basketball has a 12 man roster versus a 40 man baseball roster; forget trades, inactive list etc and just look at standard total. Now figure in two homes and two roads (probably only one each on earlier basketball) given a max of four shirts for each player that computes to 48 shirts a year for basketball and 160 for baseball, or about 28% of the baseball totals. As more and more collectors start the search for nice game worn basketball shirts, they have an almost 4-1 difficulty level just based on the original supply.
Next, you have the ABA factor, a defunct league (1967-76) of which simple styles now have become extremely popular. Some of the prices for these unusual and rare pieces were equally impressive. A 1967-68 New Orleans Bucs Jessie Branson shirt hammered at $2800 (1967-70, 3 seasons). A 1960’s Dallas Chaparrals warm up jacket $2662 (1967-73), a 1971-72 Skeeter Swift Pittsburgh Condors jacket $2800 (1970-72, two seasons), a 1971-72 David Lattin Memphis Tams jersey $3500 (1972-74), a 1972-73 Rick Mount Kentucky Colonels jersey $3000 (1967-76 , the entire run for the ABA) and a 1974-75 Memphis Sounds #16 jersey (?) $3500 (1974-75 single season). Other defunct teams represented were the Washington Caps (1969-70, single season), Miami Floridians ( 1968-72, first as Miami, then simply Floridians), and the Virginia Squires (1970-76). For a complete list of every ABA team and their history, a great website can be found at (www.remembertheaba.com)
Equally strong prices were hammered on any defunct NBA team as well such as the San Diego Rockets( 1967 expansion team thru 1971 when they moved to Houston) and Ft. Wayne Pistons (NBL, joined NBA in 1948, played as Ft. Wayne from 1941-57, moving to Detroit in 1957). It seems as if in the early days of basketball, teams moved around much more than baseball creating many now defunct teams. Anytime something is around for just a few years, given the low original numbers of jerseys issued for these teams, you will have very few surviving examples and as competition increases for the acquisition of the few remaining examples, the prices have nowhere to go but up. (The NBA was actually formed as the BAA in 1946 and renamed the NBA in 1949) Following is a list of actual defunct NBA teams that did not move to another city (i.e. San Diego and Ft. Wayne).
• Anderson Packers (1949-1950)
• Baltimore Bullets (1947-1955)
• Chicago Stags (1946-1950)
• Cleveland Rebels (1946-1947)
• Denver Nuggets (1949-1950)
• Detroit Falcons (1946-47)
• Indianapolis Jets (1948-1949)
• Indianapolis Olympians (1949-1953)
• Pittsburgh Ironmen (1946-1947)
• Providence Steamrollers (1946-1949)
• Sheboygan Redskins (1949-1950)
• St. Louis Bombers (1946-1950)
• Toronto Huskies (1946-1947)
• Washington Capitols (1946-1951)
• Waterloo Hawks (1949-1950)
Many game worn items of the short lived teams listed above, are virtually impossible to obtain. Who has ever seen a Toronto Huskies jersey or a Providence Steamrollers or a Cleveland Rebels? Given the theory that only one home and road were made for each member plus (3) inactives would lead one to believe that only about 30 jerseys were produced for the one season teams. It would probably take two lifetimes to acquire one each of the above listed defunct NBA jerseys. Even the basketball HOF itself does not have examples of most of the above listed teams, that should tell you something about rarity.
Given all of the increasing collector interest, the relatively low supply and the number of defunct teams, it simply figures that game worn basketball jerseys, uniforms, jackets and shooting shirts will probably continue to increase in value. They are colorful, rare and the leagues were peppered with stars.
All in all, I really learned a lot about basketball attending these last two live Basketball Hall of Fame auctions. The venue was first class and if you havent been to the Hall of Fame, you are really missing something. The new facility is state of the art and there is a great steakhouse attached so you don’t even have to leave. Keep your eye on vintage basketball game used items and if you feel it’s something you really want to collect, I wouldn’t drag my feet as the pricing for even vintage commons seems to be on a steadily increasing path and there is never no time like the present. There is a lot of history there waiting for you to discover it and presenting a challenge for even the most ardent hunter.
Until next time,