By TOM TALBOT
—Autograph May 2010
Sometimes, you send out a shot-in-the dark request and forget about it. One of my friends from China brought me home a souvenir of a sports magazine written in Chinese. Karl Malone graced the cover and I remember thinking at the time, “Malone and Stockton are impossible through the mail.” The two best pick and roll gods of all time are also very stingy with the Sharpie in person. Then about a year ago I read that Malone was answering his fan mail. Karl Malone? The Mailman? No way, I thought. But I had to take the gamble. What better item to send out then a Chinese version of a U.S. sports magazine? I mailed out a wooden floorboard and the magazine to an address I found online. A year passed and I completely forgot about the request.
Out of nowhere I received a Priority Mail envelope with a signed floorboard. The problem was I had no idea who signed it. I couldn’t identify the return address so I scanned the floorboard and put a picture of it on the message boards of my Web site, Autographchaser.com. One of my military subscribers recognized the autograph right away. “Definitely Karl Malone….I was fortunate enough to get him to sign a basketball. He came over to Iraq on a USO tour. Nice guy!” So I’d identified the mystery autograph and was very happy to have the signature of the NBA legend. But then it dawned on me—he kept the magazine! Probably because it was a unique item he had never seen. That’s OK—I considered it a fair trade.
There’s nothing more honorable than a military serviceman. Serving our country and qualifying as one of the top 50 players of all time is quite a feat. I mailed out a Sports Illustrated to Navy Midshipmen David Robinson, hoping for the best. About a year later I got it back. The magazine was signed beautifully with his classic signature and “Hall of Fame ’09” inscription. It also came with an official letter from Shipmates apologizing for the long delay. When Autograph sent the image to its experts, they weren’t confident that Robinson autographed it himself. They thought the signature had a good feel, but the inscription and verse might be in a different hand. Robinson used an Autopen throughout his career, so his by mail autographs are often looked at suspiciously.
While the experts aren’t sure Robinson autographed it, I think he did, because it’s at least very close, and because of the letter from Shipmates. Either way, it was an unexpected surprise from one of the best centers of all time. Robinson was an NBA MVP once and a Champion twice over his 14 year career.
Manute & Curly Neal
I discovered a new auction site this month that is even more fun than eBay. If you frequent thrift stores like I do in search of autograph bargains, there is now a Web site that offers the best of what’s been donated to Goodwill across America. Shopgoodwill.com is similar to eBay, but the prices seem to be more reasonable. The only drawback is the higher than normal shipping fees.
I’ve won several cool items recently. One was a signed black-and-white photo of “Stick Figure” Manute Bol. It was inscribed to Todd, but that’s close enough to Tom. His autograph has been hard to come by since a 2004 car accident. Bol was 7-foot-7-inches tall and only 200 pounds during his playing days. The only player in NBA history to block more shots than points scored, Bol blocked 2,086 shots while only scoring 1,599 points.
Another unique item I picked up from the Goodwill site is a mini basketball signed by Harlem Globetrotters legend Curly Neal. When you think of the Globetrotters, Meadowlark Lemmon, Goose Tatum and Neal are just a few of the legends that come to mind. Curly has always been known as the Globetrotter’s premier ball handler and played in over 6,000 games in 97 countries. I bid and won an auction for a mini ball autographed by the bald-headed dribbling wizard for the pittance of $10.
My favorite time of the year is the NCAA Basketball tournament. Anytime I get to take half days from work and watch four basketball games simultaneously is pure hoop nirvana. Every year my family and friends have a tradition where we take vacation days for the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament, meet at the local sports bar and watch as much basketball as we can.
I usually send out quite a few college basketball requests early in the season, hoping to grab the autograph of the next NBA star. If you wait until they suit up in the NBA, you’ve probably waited too long. Many of today’s best college stars are one and done—they enter the draft after their freshman year in college. Kansas Jayhawk John Hall was answering his fan mail early in the year and hopefully is still sitting on the floorboard that I mailed to him. I know many collectors who have had success with him this year.
I launched another project last month to collect autographs from all the past Xavier University legends, many who went on to play in the NBA. David West, James Posey, Brian Grant, Derek Strong, and Tyrone “T-Time” Hill were in my first batch of letters.
Hill was probably the first big name Xavier player to excel in the NBA in the 1990s. He played for 14 seasons, six of them for Cleveland. I mailed out two floorboards for each Xavier player, hoping to make two displays when I receive the requests back; one for me and one as a gift for my brother. Hill is now the assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks and returned both floorboards in under a month. The only problem? He signed the boards on the back! Since there isn’t much I can do with them because every other floorboard I have is signed on the front, I seent them back and ask if he minded signing the fronts. If not, no big deal. He signed a couple cards, too.
I’m not sure why he signed the back. I know some players sign the backs of cards so a collector won’t sell them, but Tyrone Hill autographs are hardly a goldmine on the secondary market. I’m still glad he took the time to answer the letter and sign my items.