It’s a story straight out of Storage Wars. But instead of an A&E television series, Tyler Feldman did not have a script.
Good thing, too. What he found was certainly spellbinding hard to believe.
Feldman, 29, who has run Inscriptagraphs in Las Vegas for five years, literally stumbled across two boxes of autograph redemption cards from the 1995 Action Packed Hall of Fame basketball set. The boxes held a total of about 600 cards including 93 signed by basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, along with signed cards of fellow Hall of Famers Bill Bradley, Bob Cousy and Bill Walton. There were 94 Bradley autographs and 96 each for Cousy and Walton.
“This is an unbelievable find,” Feldman said.
Action Packed put out a 38-card basketball set in 1995, and collectors could pull a redemption card that was a case hit, entitling them to an autograph of one of the Hall of Famers in the set. Because Russell and Cousy only signed cards, they did not have a base card, so the redemptions included 40 different subjects. Only card No. 26 — Pete Maravich — was not signed since the Pistol died in 1988.
Production of the set was limited to 2,000 cases and there were two different series issued during the season.
The redemptions were broken down this way: Hall of Famers were featured in cards 1 through 31, members of the 1994 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class were card Nos. 32 through 36, and Greats of the Game were the final four cards.
Among the 23 different autographs Feldman found were multiples of Dean Smith, Hal Greer, Connie Hawkins, Dolph Schayes, Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy, Calvin Murphy, Frank Ramsey, Carol Blazejowski and Nate Archibald.
The Russell cards were especially intriguing.
Russell, now 86, stopped signing autographs during the mid-1960s. In his 1980 book, Second Wind, the former Boston Celtics center said that signing autographs was impersonal and he did not want to give up a piece of himself in that fashion. He would rather just shake your hand, Russell said.
Writing in The Saturday Evening Post’s Jan. 18, 1964, issue, Russell was even more explicit about autographs and the perception that he was supposed to be a role model, saying he refused to “misrepresent myself.”
“I refuse to smile and be nice to the kiddies,” he wrote in the magazine. “I don’t think it is incumbent upon me to set a good example for anybody’s kids but my own.”
Times change, and in 1992, so did Russell. He signed a two-year deal with Sports Archives, Inc., a sports memorabilia company, to autograph items for a fee. By 1995 — still a tough signature — Russell was amenable to signing for Action Packed. The cards he signed were the first autographed trading cards he ever signed.
That brings us back to Feldman.
Two weeks ago, he got a call about possibly buying the contents of a storage locker in Las Vegas.
“This guy summoned us to his storage locker. He told us, ‘I am tired of paying fees and want to get rid of this stuff,’” Feldman said.
Feldman said the man had some household items and autographs of former presidents like John F. Kennedy, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover.
Not bad. But what caught Feldman’s eye were two boxes of cards. They were signed cards from the 1995 Action Packed set, cards that were autographed as redemptions by 23 different players and coaches.
Feldman said the man told him his father had once worked for the NBA.
“I didn’t know what I had,” Feldman said. “I just paid him for the Russell cards and he threw the other ones in there.”
When he got packed to the office, Feldman realized he had quite a find—these were cards still packed in the original Action Packed boxes. Each of the cards in the boxes came with certificates of authenticity from Action Packed.
Russell’s cards are the only ones in the set that are hand numbered, up to 100. The “# to 100” Russell cards don’t appear on any checklists and the serial numbering appears to be in his handwriting.
The find included 360 “24k gold” versions of Bradley, Walton, Cousy and Russell–about 90 of each– that no one apparently knew existed. What Action Packed planned to do with those is a mystery. One of the Russell cards is on eBay now. As for the rest of the cards, Feldman says he’s getting them encapsulated by Beckett and will eventually turn them into a mystery pack product.
How the cards wound up in the storage unit to begin with–or when– isn’t known.
“For whatever reason, they were either unredeemed by collectors, or the redemptions expired in the packs,” Feldman said of his discovery. “Or, Action Packed had extra cards signed by the players and coaches.”
Or, perhaps a combination of these scenarios.
Whatever the case, it’s a new chapter in the chronicle of 1990s basketball cards.