It’s a place where you’ll find some of the greatest players ever to lace up a pair of sneakers but an event that not many collectors and sports fans know about.
On the third Monday in March, The Legends of Basketball brings basketball greats to Naples, FL to raise money for a good cause. Produced by All Star Events of Naples, this year’s gathering was the third of its kind. It was held at the Hilton Naples Hotel ballroom and featured basketball Hall of Famers Kevin McHale, Earl Monroe, Rick Barry and Artis Gilmore.
The event raises funds for Pick up the Ball of Fort Myers, which mentors young men in low-income high-risk areas to provide them opportunities designed to raise their level of expectations, increase their chances of success, and improved understanding among all communities. Several young people who are in the the program were in attendance once again this year and the Hall of Famers made a point to address them numerous times during the night’s proceedings.
Legends of Basketball can best be described as a combination of “living the good life” and basketball fan nirvana. In addition to meet and greets and autographs with the players, program sponsor Porsche Naples made new models of the sports car available to attendees to test drive. My wife took full advantage of this, cruising around the streets in a new sports car.
There are cigars, great drinks and enjoyable appetizers, but the real appeal was the presence of basketball royalty in the form of Hall of Famers McHale, Monroe, Barry and Gilmore.
This year’s representatives spent an enjoyable hour signing autographs and talking basketball one-on-one prior to the main event with VIP guests. Tickets for this portion of the event cost $250. VIP tickets granted direct access to the four basketball legends and was accompanied with a custom gift bag which included an autographed ball signed by all four Hall of Famers and special commemorative 8 x 11 autographed one sheet.
The legends were in good spirits, talking with guests as well as each other. It was great to see former teammates and opponents interacting with each other, reminiscing about their playing days as well as talking about today’s players. The VIP tickets were sold in small numbers which lent itself to providing the attendees an extended amount time with each player.
The main event, which costs $125 to attend, lasted for over two hours and featured a raised main table comprised of the four legends at the front of the room. The night was emceed by event organizer Michael Byrd of Naples All Star Events. Byrd moved the event along asking the players questions about their careers and what inspired and motivated them during their climb to greatness. A special video montage was shown, with highlights of each player’s career. This year the organizers also paid a special tribute to recently passed Boston Celtics’ legend and basketball Hall of Famer Sam Jones who attended last year’s event. Jones’ son gave a touching tribute to his dad and told some funny stories about him.
Kevin McHale shared a piece of advice his dad gave him as a youngster that drove him to earn a scholarship and success as a professional player, Rick Barry mentioned the joy he gets watching his sons play professional basketball. Artis Gilmore talked about his decision to choose the ABA over the NBA (he loved red, white and blue ball, among other things) and Earl Monroe talked about his time in Baltimore and New York as a member of the “Cadillac Backcourt” with Walt Frazier.
Audience members were also able to ask questions of the Hall of Fame panel and there were plenty of raffle prizes and auction items up for grabs including a golf bag signed by the four players and a chance to play a round of golf with Rick Barry at an exclusive Naples course. My wife was lucky enough to win a framed autographed program by Sam Jones from last year’s event in one of the raffles.
At the conclusion of the Q&A session, the four Hall of Famers graciously stayed and signed autographs for all those that wanted for no additional charge. People brought cards, magazines and basketballs to be signed. There was also an event program that the All Stars gladly signed.
I came home with a bag full of great autographed items from each player and some great memories of meeting each of them, having a few laughs and hearing some great stories from the world of pro basketball.
Next year’s event date has not been scheduled. Check back with the event’s website for 2023 event information and to purchase tickets. Naples in late March is outstanding and The Legends of Basketball event makes it that much more fun.