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Game-Worn Alcindor Rookie Jersey Highlights Heritage Fall Sports Catalog Auction

 In 2018, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned an open letter to that year’s NBA Draft class in which he welcomed them to the “rollercoaster ride that is your rookie year.” Abdul-Jabbar, as accomplished a writer today as he was a scorer during his basketball career, warned the newbies about the “rush of confusing paradoxes, conflicting emotions, competing options, and dubious advice from crusty been-there old-timers. Like me.” At which point, Abdul-Jabbar turned his attention toward his rookie season in 1969, when the 22-year-old still known as Lew Alcindor out of UCLA was drafted first overall by the last-place Milwaukee Bucks thanks to the flip of a coin.

“I found that the best way to deal with the jitters was for me to focus on setting personal goals rather than think about the expectations others put on me,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “And, man, were there a lot of expectations: I’d been the first person drafted and the media directed intense attention at me about what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. All the hype left me thinking that this was mine to screw up.”

Of course, Abdul-Jabbar did anything but screw it up: During the 1969-70 season, he led the Bucks to second place in the Eastern Division and was named Rookie of the Year. One season later, he was the league’s scoring leader; the Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals; and Abdul-Jabbar was named the Most Valuable Player for the regular season and in the Finals — of which served as prelude to a legend, as both a Buck and a Los Angeles Laker.

For the first time, Heritage offers in the Nov. 16-18 Fall Sports Catalog Auction a road Milwaukee Bucks jersey worn by Abdul-Jabbar during those historic seasons when the center snagged a league championship and a scoring title — each, the first of many to follow. Photo-matched by multiple third-party experts to crucial moments throughout Abdul-Jabbar’s days as a legend-in-the-making, the jersey serves as a thrilling offering in an auction abounding with palpable reminders of historic achievements and magical memories shaped by titanic athletes.

Resolution Photomatching confirms it was at least worn during an April 1971 Western Conference Finals versus the Lakers and an April 1971 NBA Finals game against the Bullets. Sports Investors Authentication turned up likely matches to several regular season and post-season games, dating from March 18, 1970, to the Game Four title-clinching contest against the Bullets on April 30, 1971. It is graded a MEARS A10 and also comes with a letter of provenance from Patrick McBride, a former Bucks equipment manager.

The jersey is joined in this auction by the 1969 Look Magazine College All-America Basketball Team ring presented to Alcindor in 1969. It hails from The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Collection.

Here, as well, is more jewelry awarded to another pro-basketball great in 1969: the NBA Championship ring Bill Russell received when his Boston Celtics won their 11th title in 13 seasons. Auctioned by the two-time NCAA champ and Olympic gold medalist shortly before his death last year, this was the final title ring of Russell’s storied 13-year run as the Celtics’ center (and, for a while, player-coach), earned when the Boston basketball squad entered the Finals as underdogs to their arch-nemeses Lakers (featuring Wilt Chamberlain, natch) and emerged victorious after seven heated hardwood tussles.

It’s a wonder to behold: ESPN once marveled at the “colossal jewel” at its center and noted how “BOSTON CELTICS and WORLD CHAMPIONS are separated by the year: 1969, Russell’s last as a professional.” The words “WILLIAM” and “RUSSELL” are etched on opposite sides of the prized piece.

“With the opening of the basketball season upon us, we are delighted to offer these incredible pieces from the greats of the game,” says Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “And it doesn’t stop with these two pieces, either: Here are Michael Jordan’s 1984 Olympic game-worn Converse sneakers and one of the nicest examples of one of the rarest cards, a Wilt Chamberlain 1961 Fleer rookie bearing a Mint 9 signature. This auction is one hell of a tip-off to the new season.”

Among the auction’s other top tops, you’ll find a 1958 Los Angeles Dodgers white home flannel that throws nothing but heat: Sandy Koufax’s game-worn jersey dating to the team’s first year in the City of Angeles. The Left Hand of God also signed the gamer, into which Rawlings stitched “Koufax 58” below the manufacturer’s label.

About Jerry Milani

Jerry Milani is a writer and public relations executive living in Bloomfield, N.J. He has worked in P.R. for more than 30 years in college and conference sports media relations, two agencies and for the International Fight League, a team-based mixed martial arts league, and as a freelance professional. His PR clients have included Wizard World and FAN EXPO, which produce pop culture and celebrity conventions across North America, USA Wrestling, the National Lacrosse League, Strat-O-Matic Media, the Pacific Life Open and Pilot Pen Tennis tournaments and dozens of others. Milani is also the director of athletic communications for Caldwell University. He is a proud graduate of North Rockland High School and Fordham University and when not attending a Yankees, Rams or Cougars game can be reached at Jerry (at) JerryMilani (dot) com.

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