Sports Guru: Thrift Store Jackpot


Featured in Autograph March 2009

Bobby Hurley signed photo

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.

Feild of Dreams Certificate of Authenticity

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.

Bo Jackson signed photo with engraved nameplate plaque

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.

Larry Bird signed photo

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.

Charles Barkley signed photo

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.

Framed and matted photo of James Worthy

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.

Andre Reed signed plaque photo

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.

Sports Guru: Basketball Floorboards a Slam Dunk

Featured in Autograph January 2009

Bob McAdoo.

Wood flooring sections are the new index card of modern day basketball collecting. For the past several years, roundball fans have been buying up blocks of floorboards at their local Home Depot and carving them up into 6×6 inch tiles; perfect for your favorite player’s autograph. They work effectively for theme pieces and are convenient for both in-person and through-the-mail opportunities.

I still miss the classic days of the autograph hobby, and there are some indications that the autograph community is going retro. Back in the day, a full ink signature on a snow white index card looked spectacular and was a true unadulterated autograph. But in the past 20 years or so, it’s no longer good enough to own just a signature. It has to be on a glossy 8×10 photograph, on a ball, even on a sneaker. The use of index cards has waned, since players refuse to sign them—identity theft has made players wary to sign their signature where it can be easily duplicated. In the last few years, signed cuts have become all the rage with insert cards. Often they are simply a signed index card that has been cut out and mounted inside a card. Because there’s such high demand for the cards, there is also high demand for the index cards used to create them.

Dell Curry.

Where am I going with this? The signed floorboard is similar to the old index card—it’s just a plain piece of wood that displays an autograph. No sports company produces them (yet), they are available at most home improvement stores and only your imagination can limit you as to how you display them. Some collectors have fashioned them into tables, some use them for bar tops, others just snap them back together and decorate an entire wall.

There are a few ins and outs to the floorboard game. Take a seat on the bench for a minute and I will instruct you on how to properly amass your own floorboard collection.

The tiles I use are called “Classic Parquet” and are packaged in a block of 10 square feet; each square-foot board can be broken into four equal sections. So a $15-$20 package of floorboards gives you 40 convenient 6-by-6-inch pieces. Some collectors prefer to keep an entire square-foot board as one piece and get a team to sign it. I do the majority of my floorboard collecting through the mail, so my first plan of attack is to split them up.

Splitting the Wood

Jim Boeheim.

It’s a bit tricky to get the floorboards to separate correctly. Remember, it’s cheap wood and you have to have patience. I broke my fair share of boards in the first box I purchased. The boards are tongue and groove, so when split correctly, and assuming that the signature is facing the same way on each of the boards, the sections can be snapped back together which makes for an awesome display.

First you need to break out the wife’s powerful hairdryer without her knowing. Turn that bad boy up to its most powerful, hottest setting. You are now ready to heat up the dried glue that holds the four sections together. It takes about five minutes to heat the glue effectively. Once it’s hot, use an exacto knife or screwdriver to peel the glue from the crack. It will usually come out in a few long pieces. Once all the glue is out, try to split the pieces apart—first in half, then in half again. You almost need to pull it apart with your hands and keep working it until what remains from the glue gives up. Don’t bend the board at the crack—the tongue and groove wood will break. After wiggling it back and forth, and applying the hairdryer over and over, it will come loose. Sometimes it splits right away, other times it takes forever. For the real stubborn pieces, place half on a flat table and the other half hanging over the edge. This will allow you to wiggle the one half without the other half breaking.

Mailing Them Out

Jerry Tarkanian.

I have received more than 50 floorboards back in the mail. When sending them out I use two standard large yellow envelopes and about $2 worth of stamps on each envelope. Some collectors prefer using the bubble envelopes—I go with the cheaper flat ones. Black or blue Sharpie look great on the boards and stand out well. I did send a black bold paint pen in my request to John Wooden to see how it would look. It came out decent, but the paint tends to smear if it’s not dry and the signature was almost too bold for the size of the item. Go with the standard Sharpie.

Who to send to?

Stephen Curry.

NBA ballers are notoriously tough signers. They are paid such a ridiculous amount of money that many are spoiled and not real fan friendly. There are always exceptions to the rule, but of the four major sports I would say the NBA autographs are the toughest to obtain. But there are still plenty of opportunities in the wide world of basketball.

Legends. My advice is to start with the legends. Many appreciate their fans and respect the game. Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden is a must for any basketball collection. He’s 98-years-young and is starting to slow down—so if you haven’t received Wooden’s sweet signature yet—time is not on your side. Of all my basketball autographs, my Wooden autographs are the most cherished. There are also many Hall of Famers that are happy to sign. Bob McAdoo added his “NBA M.V.P. 1975 Hall of Fame 2000” inscription to his signature.

Detlef Schrempf.

Foreign Players. Some of the overseas players in the NBA are great signers, the best current NBA star being Dirk Nowitzki. Foreign players of the past, such as Detlef Schrempf, are also great signers.

Coaches. Whether its college or the NBA—coaches are almost always willing to respond to autograph requests. Two recent autographs I received via the mail are longtime Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and UNLV legend Jerry Tarkanian.

NCAA Hoops. There’s nothing like March Madness to get the college fans all fired up. Before they are pros, they have to play at least one year of NCAA ball. Last year when Stephen Curry was lighting up the floor with the Davidson Wildcats, I mailed a floorboard to him in care of their Athletic Department. I also mailed one to his old man, Dell Curry. It looks like sharp shooting runs in the family, and father and son both returned a signed floorboard to the Talbot Sports Wall of Fame.