By ERIC FIELDS SR.
—Autograph April 2010
I’ve heard it said a thousand times: NBA players are the toughest of all sports players to get autographs from. I thought so for many years, until I found out how easy it really is to get the autographs of the players I watch and admire. I’ve seen the top players in the game sign, including the likes of Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard and fan favorite Chris “Birdman” Andersen.
The Indiana Pacers, Central Division of the Eastern Conference, happen to be my favorite NBA team. I’m a season ticket holder and a devoted fan. They may not be headed for the playoffs this year, but the Pacers organization is bringing in a lot of young talent and the fans are excited about seeing these players bring success to the team in the near future.
I was able to meet some of the Pacers at the Indiana Pacers Fan Jam. The Pacers put on a terrific Fan Jam each year, which gives the fans an up close and personal look at the team and the outlook for the upcoming season. Activities included player introductions, a player knockout game and a fun Simon-Says session with the fans, players and members of the Indiana Pacemates. As always, the Fan Jam was capped off with player autograph sessions.
I began my quest to obtain a full teamsigned basketball at this year’s Fan Jam and received autographs from Brandon Rush, Troy Murphy, AJ Price, Luther Head, Josh McRoberts, Solomon Jones, Mike Dunleavy, Roy Hibbert and TJ Ford. I decided I wanted the signatures of all the players in navy blue paint pen, since the pacers team colors are navy blue, gold, silver and white. I used an Elmer’s paint pen, but the color just didn’t come out as bright and sharp as I’d hoped. Since I started the ball this way I wanted to finish it with the same pen, but in the future I’d recommend a DecoColor Silver paint pen for better contrast.
If you’re looking to attend a Fan Jam or Fanfest for your favorite team, check the team’s Web site. Many NBA teams are beginning to understand the benefits of fan interaction, so your chances of finding an event are good. If there is no information on the team’s Web site, call the team’s front office or venue and ask for the media relations department to find out about player appearances.
Another perfect way to meet some of your favorite players is by visiting the team hotel. The NBA team hotels in Indianapolis are very accommodating, allowing fans to stand outside the hotel behind a roped-off area and wait for the players to exit the building and board the team bus before going to the stadium. If a game begins at 7 p.m., the best time to arrive at the team hotel is around 4 p.m. The bus usually begins loading around 4:30 and the last bus leaves around 5:15. This gives me plenty of time to get some ’graphs, then head to the game.
I’ve gotten signatures from many NBA players and legends at the team hotels. Even though I wasn’t lucky enough to personally score a signature, I’ve seen Lebron James sign at the team hotel. As a matter of fact, I even saw Lebron give his game-worn shoes to a little girl after a game.
One of my favorite autographs I’ve gotten at the team hotel is that of Adrian Dantley. Dantley played college basketball at Notre Dame, where he was a unanimous First Team All-American basketball player in ’75 and ’76. Before entering the NBA, he led the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games. Adrian received the NBA Rookie of the Year award, held two scoring titles, averaged over 30 points per game each season between 1981 and 1984, and was a six-time NBA All-Star, finishing his career with 23,177 points. He retired in ninth place on the NBA all time scoring list. Adrian was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. He was nice enough to stop and sign for the fifteen or so people waiting at the team hotel. He signed a basketball for me with his HOF inscription.
Before the Game
I always try to arrive at the venue lobby an hour and a half before game time. This gives me plenty of time to secure a spot in the front of the line before the doors open. At Conseco Fieldhouse, the doors open one hour before game time, allowing fans the opportunity to roam the halls or make their way down to the court for the chance to see the players warming up. This is a perfect time to obtain some autographs.
I stake out a spot in the stands on the visitor side of the court along the player’s tunnel. Many players will stop after warm-ups and sign for those fans waiting. Some will sign anything and everything for anyone and everyone, while others sign for only two or three people. I always have my item out and ready to be signed, paint pen or Sharpie in hand. There is no time to be reaching for items to be signed; the players simply don’t have enough time.
In 2009, my favorite pre-game autograph was that of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. You may remember him by his nickname “Human Highlight Film,” a reference to his spectacular ability to dunk the ball. Wilkins won the Slam Dunk Championship in 1989 and 1994, was a nine-time NBA All-Star and was elected into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2006. Currently he is the Atlanta Hawk’s Vice President of Basketball and the team’s analyst for the Hawks broadcast network.
During the Game
Obviously, it’s not a good idea to ask a player for an autograph during the game. However, other celebrities are often attending the games and if the timing is right you just may walk away with an autograph or two.
Larry Bird is a legend in the basketball world. He currently works for the Indiana Pacers as the Pacers President of Basketball Operations and attends most, if not all, of the Pacers home games. Bird has made it a practice over the last several years to sign autographs during full time-outs. The only stipulation: he will sign your game ticket but no jerseys, basketballs or other items. I’ve seen Bird sign hundreds and hundreds of game tickets this season alone. It is a gesture that I think is outstanding coming from one of the best ever to play the game.
After the Game
Some autograph sessions are held after the game. While some are for season ticket holders only, others are held for those who fill out All-Star ballots or for other special occasions. I was able to get both Danny Granger, 2009 NBA All-Star, and Tyler
Hansbrough, 2009 NCAA Champion North Carolina Tar Heels, to sign my team autographed basketball at such an event.
Sometimes others sign as well. For instance Sarah Fisher, the youngest female to start at the Indianapolis 500 at age 19, signed after a game this season during military appreciation day. Those individuals who purchased tickets and showed their military IDs were given a wristband to attend this special event. Even if you’re not part of the special designated group, it is sometimes possible to obtain a pass to attend one of these events. Find the information booth or the season ticket kiosk, and ask if there are any extra event passes. You may be surprised what you can get.
There are many opportunities to meet your favorite player out and about in the community. Teams and the players themselves have sponsors or endorsement contracts, and those sponsors host events throughout the season. This year I was able to meet Mike Dunleavy at an in-store appearance at Verizon Wireless. TJ Ford appeared at a local area Dick’s Sporting Goods. These events are jam packed with fun for the autograph hunter and the family. There are usually prize giveaways, appearances by members of the dance team and, of course, the player autograph opportunity. It’s not unusual to score some free tickets at one of these events.
I finally finished my team signed basketball by getting Earl Watson, Jeff Foster, Travis Diener, and Dahntay Jones. This season I’ve attended 15 games and have received over 175 autographs. The thrill of collecting never seems to go away, and the excitement of watching your favorite team in action is a rush.
Collecting NBA player autographs can be challenging, but it’s easier than you might think. It just takes a little knowledge, time, and patience but the rewards are an autograph collector’s dream.
College Basketball’s Legendary Coaches
By Patrick Douglas
The best coaches aren’t just coaching the ins and outs of basketball fundamentals, they’re also teaching the ins and outs of living a productive life. College coaches like John Wooden, Dean Smith and Jim Valvano have shaped hundreds of men through the decades, during the most formidable years in a young man’s life.
“Many great coaches were never the best players, but were outstanding teachers,” said basketball historian, collector and former coach, Chuck Peterson. “The purity of playing the game for the love of it, as opposed to using it to make millions, makes college coaching, collecting and watching NCAA much more appealing to me.”
Because college sports are seen as being a tier below the professional ranks, college coaches are more approachable than their pro counterparts. If you’re looking to start a collection of some of the most important head coaches in college history, you can’t go wrong starting with the ones who laid the foundations.
John Wooden will turn 100 this year and his contributions to basketball as a sport can be matched by no other. The first person ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and then a coach, Wooden won a staggering 10 national titles in 12 years with UCLA, a feat that is almost comical in its glory, considering how difficult it is to win just one.
Despite his legendary status and because of his generous nature, Wooden items start at a mere $20 for signed index cards to $60 for signed photos. “His apparent agreeable and approachable persona has actually affected the autograph market negatively,” said Peterson. “That’s hard to say about my favorite college coach, but the market is saturated with Mr. Wooden’s signature. We all want Mr. Wooden to live forever, but when he passes, I don’t see his signature immediately having much change in value.”
While he didn’t coach nearly as long as Wooden, Jimmy Valvano left his mark on the sport as an inspiring source of motivation and courage. He led North Carolina State to a national championship in 1983 in what is still considered one of the biggest surprises in the history of college basketball. His subsequent battle with cancer produced one of the most rousing speeches a coach has ever given, this one at the 1993 ESPYs just weeks before he passed away at the age of 47.
Valvano’s signatures are harder to come by and collectors generally ask between $150 and $350 on eBay for items ranging from authenticated cards to signed magazine covers. Beware of fakes—Valvano signatures generally have a distinctive curl at the end of the V, and the J is almost always consistent. Peterson cautions about any autographs dated after the ESPY speech. “I haven’t personally seen anything. He was obviously quite frail at the time.”
His name isn’t as recognizable as Wooden or Valvano, but Howard Cann’s contributions to early college basketball were vital. For 35 years, he coached the NYU basketball team, compiling an undefeated season in 1933-34. He also coached the NYU football team in 1933, finishing with a 7-7-1 record.
Cann’s autograph is listed in Sanders Price Guide at $120 for a signed photo. You can also commonly find a 2×7 card with a photo and a list of his accomplishments that usually commands around $50, with signed index cards going for between $20 and $30.
It’s rare to find a category in sports memorabilia collecting so infused with class and dignity as basketball, and so rich in honorable people and inspiring stories.