By TOM TALBOT
Local thrift shops are unsuspecting places to find sports and autograph items. But recently I took the cake! On my way home from work, I usually make a stop at a Goodwill store. I’ve even become good friends with one of the workers since I see him nearly every day. He knows I’m a diehard collector and alerts me to any donations that may have come in.
In December I was chatting with him when another worker came up and said, “We just had a guy drop off a bunch of signed sports stuff.” My friend told him to bring it out from the storeroom so I could take a glance.
It was my lucky day. Six items were donated and priced at $10 each. They were all signed photos; a few were on plaques. I was thrilled when I saw a Certificate of Authenticity included with a photo of former Duke University basketball star and NBA player Bobby Hurley. The C.O.A. was from Field of Dreams, a sports memorabilia company that operates in many malls. Hurley’s in-person signature compared to the one from Field of Dreams looked very similar. The photo features Hurley in his Sacramento Kings uniform and it’s signed in silver paint pen.
I had the chance to meet Hurley several years ago when he conducted a youth basketball clinic. He was a great teacher and the kids seemed to get a lot out of the experience. I did too when he signed a basketball for me that day. Hurley’s NBA career didn’t last long after he was in a serious car accident during his rookie year, but he will always be remembered as one of the great Duke Blue Devils. In his four years at Duke, he led his team to the Final Four three times and won it twice.
One more of the six items was authenticated by the same company: a signed Bo Jackson Kansas City Royals plaque with the engraved nameplate that reads “Bo Knows Baseball.” Jackson has always been a tough autograph since his two-sport days, playing left field for the MLB’s Kansas City Royals and running back for the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders. An all-star in both sports, Bo owned the endorsement market with his Nike “Bo Knows” campaign. Not only could he play baseball and football, but he also ran track in college and tinkered in hoops, playing for a minor league team in Los Angeles.
Jackson does do quite a few shows, but his autograph commands more than a hundred dollars. As a kid during the “Bo Knows” days, I’m thrilled to score an authentic signature for a 10 spot.
A couple of other hoops legends were included in my stack of bargains: “Larry Legend” Bird and “The Round Mound of Rebound,” Charles Barkley. These two guys couldn’t be further from each other in personality, but they both have one thing in common—they were phenomenal basketball players.
Both photos came with a C.O.A. from Daniel Enterprises Marketing out of Chino, Calif. I have never heard of the company and couldn’t find out any information on the store. Both signatures appear to be genuine, though collectors have to be careful, especially with Bird. His mail has been ghost signed forever and he’s not a big fan of signing autographs. Bird proved his dominance again and again, winning three NBA titles.
The photo of Bird is from the early ’90s—which is good news. It seems there are many more photos forged today than during Bird’s playing days. Back then a signed photo was worth maybe $30-$50. Today, it’s worth much more, so it’s logical that it’s tougher to secure a legitimate Bird signature unless you’re willing to break open the wallet.
Barkley is the polar opposite of Bird, and continues to entertain today as a broadcaster. His stories could fill a 10-volume series. There was the time Barkley got in a bar fight and decided it would be a good idea to remove the guy from the bar via the plate-glass window, or the time he lost $2.5 million playing blackjack. And have you seen this guy’s golf swing? He’s terrible. However, he’s never one to turn down a good charity golf outing—Barkley routinely tees it up with guys like Michael Jordan, and never fails to leave everyone rolling on the putting green. You would think a guy that plays that much golf would be competitive. He’s not. But it’s sure fun to watch.
On the hardwood, Barkley was a dominating power forward, earning the NBA’s M.V.P. Award in 1993. He also won two Olympic gold medals as part of the first two Dream Teams.
Last but not least for hoops autographs was a framed and matted picture of Los Angeles Lakers legend “Big Game” James Worthy. It’s not the best signature I’ve ever seen, but for $10, I’ll take it. It almost looks like it was signed twice, or maybe the Sharpie wasn’t working well. My fear is that the real autograph started to fade and some joker decided to trace the signature over the top to “restore” it to its original beauty. I guess we’ll never know.
Worthy will always be recognized as one of the true gamers. He played his best ball in the playoffs, and was part of three championship teams with the Lakers. He also won the NCAA championship in 1982 with UNC as a junior. Worthy used to be a great signer through the mail, but those days are over. Today he hosts the Lakers pregame and postgame shows, and is the CEO for his company, Worthy Enterprises.
The lone football autograph in the bunch is Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed. A 2008 finalist for the Hall of Fame, I think it’s only a matter of time until he will be sporting one of those awful yellow suit coats. Reed has always been a great signer and still answers his fan mail. But I’m guessing that may end when he gets the call from Canton. Reed was a crucial piece of the Bill’s Super Bowl days in the 1990s. They never took home the hardware, but they did make it to four straight.