Oscar Robertson will auction off MVP trophy
Since Bob Pettit hoisted the first one in 1956, there have been 57 NBA MVPs handed out to 29 men. Only two are known to have ended up in the hands of private citizens.
Soon, there will be a third.
Former Boston star Bob Cousy sold his 1957 trophy at auction in 2003 for $51,673, and Philadelphia legend Julius Erving got $177,632 last year at auction for his 1981 award. Now, fellow Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson will be selling the 1964 trophy he won with the Cincinnati Royals.
Robertson is going through SCP Auctions, the same company that sold the Cousy and Erving trophies. SCP president David Kohler predicts Robertson’s award should fetch about the same as Erving’s in the online auction that will run Wednesday through Dec. 1.
“A lot of (sports stars) are selling a lot of items,’’ Robertson said by phone from his Cincinnati home when asked why he’s parting with the only NBA MVP he won in his legendary career, which spanned from 1960-74. “I don’t feel that I need to keep it, to be honest. I haven’t seen it for 40 years. It was sitting in the attic.’’
Still, it’s an MVP award. And one could say Robertson is the greatest basketball player ever to put such a trophy up for sale.
“I know what I did in basketball,’’ Robertson said. “I don’t need that to remind me. If there’s an opportunity for somebody out there to get more enjoyment from it, that’s fine.’’
The latest SCP auction includes nine other items put up by Robertson, including the jersey he wore for the 1960 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, and memorabilia from a variety of sports. Kohler said the marquee item is a circa 1922 Babe Ruth New York Yankees sweater that could garner as much as $500,000.
There also is memorabilia from baseball star Ozzie Smith, Muhammad Ali trainer Angelo Dundee and football hero Paul Hornung. In addition to Robertson, basketball stars who have put items up for sale are Hall of Famers David Thompson and Sam Jones, once Cousy’s teammate on the Celtics.
Among 18 pieces Jones is selling are 1959 and 1969 Celtics title rings. Thompson, who starred at NC State before playing in the ABA and NBA from 1975-84 is parting with 49 items, including his 1974 Wolfpack national championship ring.
“I never really wore the ring and a lot of this stuff was just sitting in my parents’ house in Shelby (N.C.),’’ Thompson said of the house once occupied by his now-deceased parents in his hometown, an hour from where Thompson now lives in Charlotte. “I had talked to some guys like (former NBA and ABA stars) George Gervin and Bobby Jones, and they had sold some stuff. A lot of guys are trying to do some retirement planning, so I thought it was a good idea.’’
Other items Thompson is selling include a 1978 NBA All-Star Game ring, his high school jersey and a red-white-and-blue game ball from the final ABA All-Star Game in 1976 that includes about 40 signatures from the greatest players in the league’s history.
Robertson is also parting with his 1997 ring to commemorate the 50 greatest players for the NBA’s first 50 seasons, his 1959 Pan-American Games jersey, some Cincinnati Bearcats and Milwaukee Bucks gear and even a 1960s game-worn protective face mask.
“It’s exciting,’’ Kohler said. “Oscar is highly thought of, and none of this stuff has really come out before (that he’s selling).’’
When a former athlete puts up memorabilia for sale, there often is a perception the athlete is in financial trouble. Robertson has been a successful businessman, but he doesn’t deny money is a factor.
“Everybody has financial problems,’’ Robertson said. “This is America. These aren’t the best of times. One of my companies is doing well and the other not so well. The money is important. Money is always important. Let’s just get real. People get sick, people retire. Money is important in the country we live in.’’
Robertson wouldn’t elaborate further on his financial situation. It was reported in September that one of Robertson’s companies, Orchem, a specialty chemical supplier and manufacturer, is facing foreclosure and has unpaid taxes, charges and penalties totaling more than $194,000.
Robertson could fetch more than $500,000 in the auction. Along with the MVP trophy, the most sought-after items likely will be the 1960 Olympic jersey and the top-50 ring. Erving, who grossed more than $3 million from a sale last year that also included his 1983 NBA championship ring, got $115,342 for his top-50 ring.
Robertson said he’s willing to part with his 1960 jersey because he said most important is the memories he has of time spent with his Olympic teammates. But he did draw the line at least for now on auctioning off his gold medal from those games in Rome.
“You got $10 million?’’ Robertson, who might have another auction later with SCP, said when asked if he ever would sell the medal. “I’ll give it to you for $10 million.’’
Thompson, who had been talking with SCP for several years before deciding to sell some items, also wasn’t willing to auction off all his best stuff. He said off limits are his 1996 Hall of Fame induction ring and trophies for being the only man ever named MVP of both an ABA (1976) and NBA (1979) All-Star Game.
When news first surfaced that Thompson was auctioning off memorabilia, especially his NCAA title ring, he said there were a lot of people wondering about his finances. But he insists he’s doing fine.
“I realized that when I put the items up,’’ Thompson said of the perception of financial trouble. “There was a lot of buzz on radio stations in Raleigh about it. But that’s not the case. I’m doing fine. Everybody can use the money for retirement. But that wasn’t the reason that I put them up for sale that I needed the money.’’
Thompson said will donate some of his proceeds to Boys & Girls Clubs in North Carolina and to the National Diabetes Association. His wife Cathy suffers from the disease.
Thompson never won an NBA MVP, his best finish being third with the Denver Nuggets in 1978. Had he claimed one, Thompson said it would be “awfully tough’’ to sell.
Cousy grappled with whether to part with his in 2003. Cousy said he ultimately decided to do it because he wanted to provide his two daughters, who have education jobs that aren’t high paying, with as much money as he could.
“I’ve never been a yesterday person,’’ Cousy once told FOX Sports Florida. “I don’t dwell in the past …. Most of (the 2003 stuff sold) was just sitting in the cellar …. That was tough (selling in the MVP trophy). I was the first point guard to win the MVP. The MVP trophy was my favorite …. But if somebody had told me back then that all the stuff (Cousy) sold was one day going to be worth all this money, I would have said, ‘Take him away. He’s loony.’ ’’
Cousy, who also sold a 1957 Celtics championship ring, a President Kennedy signed photo to Cousy and a number of other items, said he grossed about $500,000. He said the auction house got 12 percent and the tax man about 20 percent, leading to his daughters, Marie Collette Cousy and Mary Patricia Cousy, each getting about $160,000.
Kohler said there is greater demand in the market since Cousy sold his memorabilia, one reason Erving’s MVP trophy eight years later sold for more than three times what Cousy’s did. Kohler is especially excited about the sale of Robertson’s goods.
“I think the 1960 Olympic jersey is really going to be hot,’’ Kohler said. “And the MVP trophy is so large. We have a photo of it being given to him at the All-Star Game in St. Louis the next year. That trophy obviously will bring six figures.’’
Unless you’re Kevin Durant, who has the best chance of unseating three-time winner LeBron James to win this year’s award, Robertson’s sale might be the best opportunity for anybody who wants an NBA MVP trophy.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson