Thanks to the recent ESPN documentary, “The Last Dance,” interest in Michael Jordan memorabilia has never been higher. An autographed 1986-87 Fleer rookie card of Jordan sold for $125,000 in May. Another autographed Jordan rookie could fetch a higher price in SCP Auctions’ Summer Premier Auction that begins Aug. 2.
This MJ rookie card earned a 9 from Beckett Grading Services, while Jordan’s autograph also grades out at 9. By comparison, the Jordan rookie that sold in May was graded 8.5 with an autograph grade of 10.
Fresh, newly graded ’86 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC! Could be most valuable Jordan card to surface! Better condition than record $125K example sold last month. #Jordan #Fleer pic.twitter.com/KyrWoGg0YJ— SCP Auctions (@SCPAuctions) June 21, 2020
The consigner is Tim Gallagher, who has collected autographs for more than 50 years. Several items from Gallagher’s collection sold during SCP’s Spring Premier Auction, which ended in early May. One big-ticket item was a 1984-85 Star Co. autographed card of Jordan, which sold for $42,955.
Gallagher, 62, whose Twitter account includes “Today’s Treasures” to showcase his vast collection, was living in Phoenix when the 1986-87 Fleer set was released. That was when Gallagher was “pretty relentless” in collecting and he compiled 130 autographed cards from the set.
Gallagher was waiting for the Bulls at the Hotel Westcourt in Phoenix. Chicago would face the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 5, 1986, and the home team would squeeze out a 114-112 victory. Unlike today, not many fans were hanging out in the lobby to ambush players when they walked to the team bus. Gallagher, who began collecting autographs as a fifth-grader, was well-schooled in etiquette and knew that being polite would usually help him score autographs.
“At the hotel it was very minimal,” Gallagher said. “People who worked at the hotel knew me and would feed me information. I know that’s unheard of now.
“In those days, Jordan was still good about signing. He had a really cool signature. He was not quite the rock star and was somewhat accessible.”
Today’s Treasure from my collection: In honor of the just concluded “Last Dance” series here are two vintage Michael Jordan signatures I obtained in early 80’s. How many players have you seen before or since use the side of the backboard for mid-air balance? pic.twitter.com/zkRW8nZsHI— Timothy Gallagher (@timgall13) May 18, 2020
Gallagher admits he was not looking at future values when he got the Jordan signature.
“It wasn’t with the foresight that, ‘Hey, someday this is going to be valuable,’” he said. “I’m as interested as much in the obscure guys as the stars.”
Through his friendship with Chicago Bulls player John Paxson, a fellow alum from Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, Gallagher was able to get plenty of Bulls autographs.
“John had joined the Bulls (in 1984) and it was kind of my custom to send him a package — with cards of all players — once a year,” Gallagher said.
Today’s Treasure from my collection: “Hey, Matt… I think #23 might be open”… I always liked this photo from the ‘82 NCAA title game and wondered how Matt Doherty was being quadruple teamed when I assume Jordan, Worthy & Perkins were also on the floor for North Carolina? pic.twitter.com/qDIwWBZnvE— Timothy Gallagher (@timgall13) June 16, 2020
Taking the initiative was a Gallagher trait, dating back to elementary school.
In 1969, Gallagher, a fifth-grader at Incarnation School in Centerville, Ohio, wrote to Cincinnati Bengals running back Paul Robinson and requested an autographed photograph. When a signed photo showed up in Gallagher’s mailbox a week later, he was hooked. He and classmates Jack Zimmerman and Vince Martin began sending self-addressed, stamped envelopes to athletes.
An obsession was born.
The first basketball autograph Gallagher got back in the mail was a 1969 Topps card of Cincinnati Royals forward Tom Van Arsdale.
“I still have that card,” Gallagher said.
By the time Gallagher was a high school sophomore, he had received 3,500 autographs through the mail.
“When I first started, I’d take my parents’ stamps, and they’d let me do it because they thought it’d just be a passing thing,” Gallagher told the Dayton Journal Herald in February 1974. “But then I kept using them all the time and they got pretty mad. So I had to start buying my own.”
It was well worth the investment.
Today’s Treasure from my collection (Father’s Day): There would be plenty more winning, and conflict with the NCAA, ahead for Coach Jerry Tarkanian & son Danny, who one day would be Tark’s UNLV PG. This photo, signed by both, captures the joy of the early Long Beach State years. pic.twitter.com/LHsaSOfYI0— Timothy Gallagher (@timgall13) June 21, 2020
Gallagher and his friends would look at basketball magazines that previewed the upcoming season and would mail requests to the top 50 players listed.
“We put in three index cards (in our envelopes) and if we’d get one back, I’d give one to Jack and give one to Vince, and they would do the same for me,” Gallagher said on the Wax Museum podcast earlier this month. “So we divided and conquered, I guess.”
Gallagher traces his love for basketball to when he was 8, and if you lived in the Dayton area your hoops hero was most likely Don May. May led Dayton’s Belmont High School to the 1964 Ohio state title, and in 1967 he helped the University of Dayton reach the Final Four, where the Flyers lost to UCLA.
“I get goosebumps thinking back to those days,” Gallagher said. “Don May walked on water.”
While at Dayton, May was dating a girl who lived two doors away from Gallagher.
“We were too shy to come up to him, but we’d find out when he was showing up for a date and we’d crouch in the bushes so we could see him get out of the car,” Gallagher told Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon in 2005.
Gallagher later confessed to May about his “Peeping Tim” episode, Archdeacon wrote, and both men had a good laugh.
“He was the most humble guy,” Gallagher said. “He would deflect any praise.”
By then, Gallagher had collected more than 20,000 autographs. Very few were bought; Gallagher did all the legwork, either through the mail or in person.
Today’s Treasure from my collection: At their peak as Warriors teammates I thought Rick Barry & Clifford Ray were the Bruce Springsteen & Clarence Clemons of basketball… “When Scooter [Barry] and The Big Man [Ray] bust this city [SFO] in half”… Tenth Avenue Freeze Out lyrics pic.twitter.com/vChzNg2QrD— Timothy Gallagher (@timgall13) May 8, 2020
As an adult, Gallagher no longer needed to filch stamps from his parents. He had the means to go to major sporting events like the Final Four to get autographs in person.
At times, Gallagher would trade to pick up some tough signatures. He swapped 70 autographs with John Davis, a collector from Topeka, Kansas. In exchange, Gallagher received autographs on index cards of actor Chuck Connors, college basketball coaching legend Phog Allen, and the elusive Bill Russell.
“I met (Davis) at a Final Four during the 1990s,” Gallagher said.
As a bonus, one of the signed index cards, which were procured during a college all-star game in Kansas City, included an autograph of Jim Paxson Sr., who played in the NBA with Cincinnati in 1957-58.
Getting Russell’s signature has always been a chore for collectors, as the former Boston Celtics great refused to sign for many years, preferring instead to simply shake a collector’s hand.
But Gallagher’s penchant for being in the right place netted him a Russell autograph that will also be part of SCP’s Summer Premier Auction. Russell’s signature is part of a 1957-58 Celtics team photo that includes Tom Heinsohn, Sam Jones, team owner Walter Brown and coach Red Auerbach.
Gallagher returned to Ohio during the 1990s for a family funeral and ran into his childhood dentist, Wilbur Johnston, who played basketball for Ohio State in 1945-46. Johnston was a college teammate of center Arnie Risen, who played 10 seasons in the NBA with the Rochester Royals and Boston Celtics. Johnston would meet Risen annually at a reunion. Gallagher, who brought a 1957 Topps card of Risen with him, asked Johnston if he could get his former teammate to sign it.
“Some time goes by, probably months,” Gallagher said. “I just figured it (card) got lost in the shuffle.
“Then I get a package from Arnie Risen, with a signed card in a Sharpie. And he also sent, as a ‘consolation,’ a signed 1957 Celtics team photo.”
“As late as one month ago I assured Wil (Johnston) I had sent your card back autographed,” Risen wrote. “Much to my embarrassment I found it with other neglected items yesterday.
“Hopefully, the enclosed autographed Celtic team (1957) will be of some consolation.”
Risen is standing to the right of Russell.
“Having the Arnie Risen card was more meaningful to me than the Celtics photo,” Gallagher admitted.
Other times, Gallagher got a tip that helped him in a big way. In the late 1970s, he attended an Indiana Pacers game and was waiting in the hallway outside the locker rooms.
“The security guy came up to me and said, ‘Hey, if you’re collecting autographs, you need to get the autograph of that blond-headed boy leaning against the wall over there,’” Gallagher told the Wax Museum. “I said, ‘Well, who is he?’ and he said, ‘That’s Larry Bird, and he’s going to play for Indiana State next year.’
“I’d never heard of Larry Bird. Didn’t know who he was,” Gallagher said. “But I went over and had him sign an index card.”
A second meeting with Bird was not as fruitful, Gallagher remembers. It happened at the Hyatt Regency in Phoenix, and Gallagher had a copy of the November 1977 Sports Illustrated issue that featured Bird on the cover with two cheerleaders holding their fingers to their lips in a shushing gesture. The cover touted the Indiana State star as “College Basketball’s Secret Weapon.”
“The signature is in blue ballpoint and he signed it ‘Bird,’” Gallagher said. “He wasn’t too thrilled to see me, and he wasn’t too thrilled to sign.”
With such an obsession for collecting, one might wonder how autographs have impacted Gallagher’s family life. He has learned to separate the two and will celebrate 28 years of marriage to his wife, Patti, in September.
“Well, she jokes about that,” Gallagher said. “Our second date was a San Diego State game against BYU (in January 1991).
“She asked me if I had any hobbies and I said, “Yeah, I have this collection … She’s been understanding about it.”
The Gallaghers have two adult sons.
Gallagher still has some autograph goals he’d like to achieve. He’d love to find autographs of Maurice Stokes, who died in 1970, and Jack Molinas, who played for the Fort Wayne Pistons in 1953-54.
“Part of the fun is in the journey and the pursuit,” Gallagher said.
While Gallagher collected baseball and football autographs, he decided to stick solely to basketball. In 2015 he auctioned off his baseball and football autographs through Grey Flannel.
The SCP Spring Auction marked the first time any of Gallagher’s basketball autographs have come up for sale.
Gallagher, who has spent most of his business career in corporate sales, was laid off in April, like many a victim of the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the U.S. economy. Staying at home has allowed him to shoot baskets in his driveway, helping to keep him in shape for when his “old guy pickup league” resumes play.
“I haven’t found anything that equates to getting out, putting on the floodlights and taking a few shots,” the former high school guard said.
The pandemic is not the reason for selling part of his collection, however.
“I just kind of felt that it was time,” Gallagher said. “It was just a lucky coincidence. I still have all the memories.”