|Wednesday, February 27
Updated: July 22, 6:05 PM ET
Collectors already cashing in on hoop star
By Darren Rovell
With a cover shot in Sports Illustrated and a feature on ESPN's SportsCenter, high school junior LeBron James is getting the star treatment. Unfortunately for the hoop sensation from Akron, Ohio, that treatment extends to the collectibles market, as well.
In the wake of his appearance on the Feb. 18 cover of SI, demand for collectibles related to "the next Michael Jordan" has skyrocketed. The frenzy erupted so quickly that after only a couple days James, just 17 years old and still a junior in high school, began limiting his autograph signings after realizing most of the seekers were collectibles dealers. As a result, he said he would sign only for people he knew, and he wouldn't sign any SI covers.
As of Wednesday afternoon, a search for "LeBron James" on eBay, an online auction site, produced more than 80 items, including more than 40 copies of the Sports Illustrated issue, some of which are autographed.
"I have had grown men come up to me and say they are for their kids ... and then I see that (on eBay)," James told the Akron Beacon Journal last Thursday.
Autograph dealer Mike Davis, who has sold many James items on eBay in the last couple weeks, including signed magazine covers for more than $250, said he and several others collectors who have been selling items autographed by James have received threatening e-mails urging them not to profit off the high school phenom.
"If it wasn't for sports fans like myself and people paying money for his items, nobody would care about him," Davis said.
"He has an attitude like he is Jordan already," said Peter Hampson, who sold an autographed Sports Illustrated magazine with James on the cover for $203.51. "If my encounter with him had been pleasant, it would have been a treasured item for me. However, he was a punk, so now I could care less if I still own it."
Since the magazine came out, autograph requests mailed to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, including copies of the magazine, have gone from a couple a day to at least 20, said Pola Ochsenhirt, secretary to the school's athletics director. Ochsenhirt said she has been sending the magazines back unsigned in the self-addressed stamped envelopes the collectors provide with a letter stating that the high school does not help "solicit, collect, distribute or sell autographs of any student-athlete" and that the school will "not provide any player's autographs or deliver mail requesting autographs."
Some collectibles dealers, it seems, have taken to creating James memorabilia from scratch. Limited edition James trading cards have appeared on eBay, drawing the highest bids to date of all the James merchandise. A card made by BGS Cards (numbered 1-100) recently sold for $430, and another was listed at $510. A card made by Premier Collectibles sold for $259. Other items offered include video tapes of James' high school games, local newspaper clippings and game programs.
The ball was consigned by Kerry Ryman, who was 14 years old when he attended Chamberlain's record-setting game and took off with the souvenir after shaking Wilt's hand. But after some people disputed Ryman's story, Leland's canceled the sale. Harvey Pollack, the Warriors' public relations director in 1962, said Ryman's ball was only used for the last 46 seconds. Five months later, the ball was relisted by Leland's and sold for only $67,791. "Never, to my knowledge, has another ball come out on the market," said Mike Heffner, president of Leland's. "I'm pretty sure we had the ball."
Hughes items hot off the ice
Last week, the casino won an injunction against the Nevada Athletic Commission, which had banned fighters from wearing temporary tattoos in the ring. But GoldenPalace.com fought the ruling based on its right to free speech and won just in time for Clarence "Bones" Adams to sport the tattoo during his super bantamweight title bout Saturday against Paulie Ayala, which was televised on HBO.
The injunction was only temporary. A district court judge has scheduled an evidentiary hearing March 7, which will eventually lead to a more permanent decision for all Nevada bouts.
"We're pretty confident we won't lose this case," said Frederick Sebag of GoldenPalace.com.
GoldenPalace.com's most high-profile boxer is Bernard Hopkins, the WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight champion who has worn the tattoo twice -- against Felix Trinidad last year and against Carl Daniels on Feb. 2. Sebag said GoldenPalace.com pays as little as $5,000 for undercard fights or those televised on smaller networks and up to $100,000 for high-profile events.
The tattoo is made out of henna, is FDA approved and takes about a week to wear off.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org