The personal basketball memorabilia collection of Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Muhammad Ali’s fight-worn trunks from Ali vs. Frazier – “The Fight of the Century” — highlight SCP Auctions’ spring auction set to begin this Friday. Some of the proceeds from Erving’s memorabilia will benefit the Salvation Army.
Other historic pieces that make up the 763-lot offering include Lou Gehrig’s 1938-39 bat used to hit his last home run in a Yankees uniform, Mickey Cochrane’s 1934 American League Most Valuable Player trophy and the only known autographed photo of 19th Century baseball icon Mike “King” Kelly. Bidding will conclude on Saturday, Nov. 19.
“On behalf of Julius Erving and his family, we are proud to offer what is certainly the most important and comprehensive basketball player collection ever brought to market,” said SCP President and CEO David Kohler. “The collection is being offered in two parts with part one highlighting our November 19 sale. Part two of the collection will be featured in our December Monthly Auction. We share in the Erving family’s wish that fans and collectors will cherish and preserve these items as they have for many years.”
Erving left an indelible impression on the game of basketball. His dazzling style of play largely facilitated the merger between the ABA and NBA in 1976. An all-star in every season of his 16-year professional career, he was the first to bring the field of play “above the rim” and, in doing so, changed the face of the game forever. The auction will include part one of the collection of basketball legend Dr. J, including significant championship rings, important awards and game-used items.
“I am very excited to work with SCP auctions to offer my personal collection of memorabilia to collectors and fans,” said Erving in a news release. “It is my hope that the buyers of these items will derive much pleasure from their ownership. I also hope these treasures initiate much discussion inside and outside of basketball circles that help to preserve my legacy. It pleases me to support my lifelong charity, the Salvation Army, with a portion of the proceeds. My family and I thank all of the fans for their continued support throughout the years.”
Some of the marquee items from the collection include Erving’s 1974 and 1976 New York Nets ABA World Championship ring; 1983 Philadelphia 76ers World Championship ring; 1996 NBA’s 50 Greatest Players ring; MVP trophies from 1975-76 (ABA) and 1980-81 (NBA); 1977 and 1983 NBA All-Star game MVP trophies; 1979, 1981 and 1985 Eastern Conference All-Star game-worn uniforms, 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers game-worn road uniform; and his final game-worn jersey from Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference playoffs.
Also of significance is the offering of Ali’s iconic blood-red velvet trunks worn during his first fight versus Joe Frazier. The fight was billed as the “Fight of the Century” and, in retrospect, it probably was. It may have been Ali’s best fight, despite the fact he lost for the first time in his career. He out-punched Frazier 3-1. But his braggadocio, and taunting style, coupled with the 14th-round knockdown by Frazier, resulted in a decision for Smokin’ Joe.
Ironically, the loss, while proving the brash young heavyweight to be mortal, actually increased Ali’s popularity and made him the crowd’s favorite for the rest of his career. The trunks originally belonged to the estate of Drew Bundini Brown. Brown was a long-time assistant of Ali’s and was present for the historic fight.
Another prime baseball item is what auction officials say is “the single finest piece of Gehrig memorabilia they’ve handled in the company’s 32-year history”‘; a bat said to be used by Gehrig in 1938-39. The bat originates from the estate of well-known actor Bing Russell, whose long and varied association with baseball included spending eight years of his childhood working and traveling with the Yankees during spring training. Russell, father of actor Kurt Russell, received the bat directly from Gehrig immediately after Gehrig’s last big-league clout. SCP officials describe the bat as
Along with the Gehrig bat, a 1941 Joe DiMaggio game-used bat autographed by the 1941 Yankees team and a Babe Dahlgren 1938-39 game-used bat from the Russell estate are also featured in the auction. The bats, obtained by Bing in his childhood directly from the players themselves, were heirlooms passed through three generations of the Russell family. The auction company says Jill and her brother, actor Kurt Russell, can recount many memories of their father proudly discussing the origin and importance of the bats, including how the Baseball Hall of Fame persistently contacted Bing about donating them to the museum. Each bat is accompanied by a letter of provenance from Kurt Russell, Jill Franco and Bing’s grandson, former Major Leaguer Matt Franco.
Cochrane’s 1934 American League Most Valuable Player trophy highlights a collection of items from the estate of the Hall of Fame catcher. Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack didn’t wish to part with Cochrane when he started to disassemble his team for financial reasons after the conclusion of the 1932 campaign, but he finally relented when his catcher expressed a desire to manage the following year. Mack sold Cochrane, the backbone of the A’s mini-dynasty, to the Detroit Tigers prior to the start of the 1934 season. The receiver proceeded to lead his new team to the American League pennant in his first year as a player-manager.
Other items from the Cochrane collection include his personal team-signed 1929 Philadelphia Athletics panoramic photograph and a four-page handwritten letter and related telegram from Ty Cobb to Cochrane referencing Coca-Cola franchising.
Also offered is an extraordinary 1897 Mike “King” Kelly autographed banquet program, which SCP officials say is “possibly the greatest 19th Century baseball autograph find in hobby history”. Kelly was the hard-living, hard-drinking son of a Civil War veteran whose skills at baseball and infectious charm turned him into the game’s first hero, and a symbol of what it meant to be a celebrity in America in the 1880s and ‘90s. It has been estimated that the number of authentic “King” Kelly autographs known to exist can be counted on two hands, with most exemplars being on contracts or other documents. The program carries the only known “King” Kelly autographed photograph. It has resided for years within the collection of a curator of Elks Lodge memorabilia, with more consideration for that genre, than for its revelation as one of the finest treasures ever to surface from America’s national pastime.
Each of the more than 750 items is featured in the SCP Auctions’ website at www.SCPAuctions.com. For more information on how to participate, visit www.scpauctions.com or call (800) 350-2273.