Sports fandom – I mean real sports fandom – is a funny beast. To those who are not the least bit inclined to overinvestment in the outcome of strangers exercising, it’s unfathomable. To the “casual fan” (in my book an odder breed of duck), there’s no reason to care this deeply. I mean, “we’re just watching for fun, right?”
We’re drawn to sports for a variety of reasons. Strategy, artistry, creativity, characters and personalities, you name it. What keeps us around is the realization that we’re not going to find such organic, unscripted drama, and a visceral emotion attachment, anywhere else. Certainly not from any other form of entertainment.
Stick around long enough, and it seeps into your blood – a deeply ingrained, deeply personal and quite potent brew. After a while, you no longer know how to not care. Chances are you know exactly where you were, and exactly how it felt when…
Unless you know, you really don’t know.
Sometimes we’re forewarned that what we’re watching is a monumental event. Game 7, the Super Bowl, or a huge prize fight. Heck, every person passing through the Camden Yards’ turnstiles at on September 6, 1995 knew that, as long an official MLB game was completed, they were going to see Cal Ripken Jr. play his 2,131st consecutive game. Regardless of what happened, that game was going to matter.
Other times, a mundane outing morphs into a night for the ages. For me, there is a special beauty in a seemingly anonymous game etching itself into history. As incredible as an epic postseason performance is, everyone tunes in for the Finals. This, though, is a gift from the game to us, those hardy souls, who live and die with the events of random Tuesdays in March.
We can all take away from these seminal performances the memories of a glorious shared experience. Admittedly, these get cooler, if less accurate (no one will ever convince me that 1987 Magic Johnson was not fourteen feet tall) with time. After all, nostalgia is arguably the most powerful intoxicant known to man.
Those lucky enough to be in attendance can supplement these memories with a ticket stub, a program and maybe some photos, though this last bit was a dicey proposition in the days before we all carried cameras in our pockets. The luckiest of us might have a stolen moment with a star, and perhaps an autograph to show for it.
Rarely, though, do we walk away with an actual pieces of the game. Not readily available souvenirs, or a photo ops of our own creation, but genuine artifacts from the most significant moments in the journeys of the games’ legends.
Random Tuesday in March, You Say?
On March 12, 1985, the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics traveled to New Orleans, to take on the Atlanta Hawks. Why New Orleans? Because the Hawks, in an attempt to expand their fan base beyond Atlanta, had signed up to play a dozen home games at the University of New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.
Led by Larry Bird, who was in the midst of his best NBA season, averaging nearly 29 points and over ten rebounds and on his way to second (of three) straight MVP award, the Celtics were sporting an NBA-best 51-14 record. The Hawks, meanwhile, harbored modest playoff hopes, but, at 25-40, were looking to next season. It was, by any measure, a “nothing game”. Until the moment at which it emphatically wasn’t.
Nine days earlier, in a home win over the Detroit Pistons, Bird’s frontcourt mate and fellow future Hall of Famer Kevin McHale had had a career night. Connecting on 22 of 28 shot attempts and twelve of thirteen free throws, McHale had finished with an awesome 56 points. The third 50-point game in Celtics’ history (how had there not been more?) bettered Bird’s single-game record from 1983 by three points.
One wouldn’t imagine Larry Legend taking very kindly to this. And from the opening moments, it’s clear that Bird is in a special place. He gets on the board with a high-arching runner in the lane. From there, he proceeds to abuse anyone in Hawks garb that ventures near him.
Though he goes off for 23 in the first half, he’s hardy scratched the surface of what he’s got in store. Midway through his 19-point third quarter, it’s clear that this isn’t a great game by NBA standards, but by Larry Bird standards. What striking is how, even as the crowd (well-stocked with Celtics fans) – and later the Hawks’ bench – works itself into an absolute frenzy, Bird operates with a serenity that’s beyond comprehension.
By the time the final buzzer goes on the 11-point Celtics win, Bird has reclaimed the top spot (since tied by Jayson Tatum) on the franchise’s single-game scoring list. He’s put on simultaneous masterclasses in off-ball movement, post-up play and deadeye shooting, to the tune of 60 points! Interestingly, he only requires the assistance of a single 3-pointer – though in the name of fun, his disallowed fourth quarter four-point play really ought to have been allowed to stand.
The highlights alone are prime goose bump fuel. One can only imagine how utterly engrossing and mesmerizing this was as a firsthand experience. That knowledge, unfortunately, is reserved for just over 10,000 fans in attendance that night, and a select few others.
You Want A Piece of This?
However, SCP Auctions has made it possible to own a genuine one-of-a-kind chronicle of one of the standout performance in the history of pro basketball. Included in SCP’s 2021 Summer Premier Auction is the Celtics page from the score of the NBA’s official on-site statistician… signed by Larry Bird.
First, this was the original official record. Plain and simple. When we refer to the old-time “record book”, this is what we’re talking about. Second, in a pre-digital world, this was the only way (short of watching the game and calculating by hand, or hoping that someone else did) to get a comprehensive quarter-by-quarter breakdown of Bird’s every spectacular feat, which, to this day, even Basketball Reference doesn’t provide.
And then there’s the auto from the man of the hour: crisp, clean and unobstructed, in black ball point ink, in the center of the now laminated page. And finally, there’s something to be said for the obscurity of the venue in which it performance took place – not unlike Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962 in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The minimum bid is $8,500.
Kobe Signed 81-Point Game Ticket
Another item from the auction from a similar evening that warrants a shout. January 22, 2006 was a Sunday night, halfway through the NBA’s regular season. That Kobe Bryant was in the midst of one of the great scoring binges in NBA history provided at least some reason to tune in for the 14-27 Raptors’ annual trip to Staples Center. Kobe scored 26 in the first half, but that was hardly rarity that season. The Raptors led by fourteen at half (and as many as 17)… there wasn’t really compelling reason to stay tuned in.
Thankfully, sometimes the remote is on the other side of the room, and you’re too lazy to go and get it.
We all know the rest – Kobe ripped off an astounding 55 points in the second half, becoming the second play in NBA history to eclipse the 80-point barrier, and turning in the second-greatest performance ever, by Basketball Reference Game Score.
There aren’t many better ways to commemorate the performance for the ages that a PSA-authenticated lower-level ticket from the night, signed cleanly by the late Kobe Bean.
There are other signed Bryant tickets from his milestone games in the auction as well.
While we’re here, it’s worth highlighting a couple of other items:
- We’ve all seen that highlight from the 1971 MLB All-Star Game, right? A young Reggie Jackson steps in against Doc Ellis, and proceeds to LAUNCH a pitch a silly 539 feet, onto the roof of Tiger Stadium… Bidding on the jersey he wore that night is expected to stretch into six figures.
- How about some boxing trunks, fight-worn by Muhammad Ali, in a 1972 rematch against the man deemed by The Greatest himself as his toughest-ever opponent?
- Before championship rings, Major League Baseball’s championship teams would receive gold pocket-watches. Here’s one that was presented to Hall of Famer Harry Hooper for his contribution to the Boston Red Sox’s 1916 title. Among the other recipients of an identical watch was Babe Ruth.
- And the ring that was awarded to one of the NBA’s first true legends, “The Big O”, Oscar Robertson, upon his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979.
Finally, bringing it full circle, we’ve got a candidate for the Holy Grail of basketball cards: a 1980 Topps Magic Johnson/Larry Bird Rookie Card, featuring Julius Erving, in PSA 10. Bidding has already surpassed $350,000 but there is an as yet unmet reserve.
At the time of writing, 20,848 Michael Jordan 1986 Fleer cards have been graded (without qualifiers) by PSA. 318 have received a PSA 10, 2,789 have gotten a 9, and just over 8,000 an 8. Less than half as many (9,687) Magic/Bird RCs have been slabbed by PSA. The number of these that have received a PSA 8 (2,791) is almost exactly the same as the number of Jordans that have received 9. And, thanks to some annoying centering and print-dot issues, just over 600 have earned a PSA 9 and a whopping 24 (that’s right, twenty-four) have received a PSA 10.