BOSTON – Basketball fans hoping to pick up something from Bill Russell’s memorabilia collection should expect some big-name competition.
Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley say they are interested in auctioning items that Russell – a civil rights icon and most decorated champion in team sport history – is selling remove. An online auction of 429 lots began last week and will culminate in a live event at TD Garden on Friday.
“I wanted to get some of that out of their hands,” O’Neal said on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” Tuesday night. “To be able to have all of those 11 rings, no one appreciates that one more than me.”
In fact, Russell only sells two NBA championship rings – his first and last ring – along with his Hall of Fame ring, one commemorating his two NCAA titles, another for the NBA’s 50th anniversary team and one for the league awarded to him for winning the most titles in professional team sports history.
Also on the block were his Olympic gold medal, his last Celtics jersey, his honors degree from Harvard – along with the cap and gown he wore to the ceremony – and a scrapbook page signed by Jackie Robinson thanking Russell and four Black teammates for refusing to play at a 1961 show in segregated Kentucky.
“What he’s done for citizenship in this country is unmatched,” Barkley said on the broadcast. “He and (Muhammad) Ali will always be my heroes to this day. It’s so easy to be a social justice now when you have $100 million you’re making $30-40 million a year, but those people did all the heavy lifting back in the day. day. I thought I might look at that auction and bid on something.”
The items, with an estimated total value in the millions, include signed shoes, shorts and shirts that Russell amassed during a career in which he won 11 NBA titles – two. eventually as the first black player-coach and head coach in any major US professional sport.
The most valuable item – already over $400,000 in online bidding through Thursday afternoon – is expected to be the jersey Russell wore in his last game, in the 1969 NBA Finals. with the Los Angeles Lakers. But there are also more quirky items like a signed box of Wheaties, dozens of canceled checks, seats and parquet flooring from the original Boston Garden.
“There is no question that this is one of the most important athlete collections ever put up for auction,” said Hunt Auctions President David Hunt, who has also worked with the collections. episodes of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Roberto Clemente said. “We have been very fortunate to work with a number of icons in the sport. There’s no question about Bill in that group. “
Russell, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, won two NCAA titles with San Francisco and a 1956 Olympic gold medal as well as 11 NBA championships. in 13 seasons.
But he also left a legacy as a civil rights pioneer, marching with Martin Luther King Jr., and supporting Ali when he refused to join the Vietnam War. Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011; it’s not in auction, nor is it a signed photo of him with President Barack Obama.
“You can clearly understand what that piece was worth to him,” says Hunt. “Once you’ve won everything imaginable, you can keep everything and still sell a lot. It’s a blessing to be as accomplished as him. “
Hunt said he went through the collection with Russell and was surprised to see Robinson’s letter.
“Being able to sit there with Bill and let him tell the history of these pieces – not only taking part in sports history, but also some of the most important moments in American history – that is what especially, for me,” Hunt said.
“You think about Jackie at that time in the country’s history, and Bill will stand by that, at a really tumultuous time in the country’s history,” Hunt said. “When you look at such a page, you take a minute and process what you are looking at. If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what to do.”
An unspecified portion of the proceeds will go to MENTOR, which connects young people with mentors who can connect them to opportunities they might otherwise miss.
“Potential is evenly distributed; Chances are zero,” said Russell. “The work that MENTORs do holds a special place in my heart and I am honored to be supportive in some way.”
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