Basketball figures valuable but often overlooked

Wow, does the basketball season ever end? It used to be a fall-winter sport, but now it seems to linger around year round. The NBA and college basketball seasons start in October and last until mid-June. Then we have the WNBA to carry us through the summer and every four years the Olympics kicks in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game, it’s just that the season never seems to end. The NCAA Tournament and the NBA Playoffs are both compelling to watch, but before we get there, there is an endless amount of seemingly meaningless games to get through. The NBA season now cuts through the NFL season, the NHL season, the Major League Baseball season and even through the Arena Football League season. The regular-season schedule is very hard to stay focused on and I think many fans don’t get really interested until the playoffs begin. All that being said, it is a great sport both to watch and play.

I am always amazed at the skill level of college and pro basketball players. As a youth, it was one game I could just never master. I could have been the poster boy for the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.” My vertical jump was not measured in inches, but in how many sheets of loose leaf I could jump over (my record is three). I may also have had the ugliest jump shot in the history of the game. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Hoosiers,” think Ollie, and you will know my basketball abilities. For this reason, I am always in awe when I watched these marvelous athletes.

I have received a few e-mails wanting to know about basketball figural items. I did a quick scan of my past SCD articles and realized I had completely forgotten to mention anything about basketball. One of the reasons may be that unlike baseball, football and to a lesser extent hockey, there just were not that many basketball items produced. That being said, there are still some very cool-looking basketball figural items that are sure to fit into any collection.

Let’s start with one of my favorite figural item categories: the bobbing head dolls. Unlike the other major team sports, there were only a couple of series of NBA dolls issued in the 1960s and none were comprehensive. The two earliest NBA dolls date back to 1962 and were of the New York Knicks and the L.A. Lakers, both on a square base. There is also a Harlem Globetrotter doll from that era that resembles one of their all-time greats, Marquis Haynes. In mint condition, all three of these dolls can approach $500 in value.

In the late 60s, there were a few dolls issued and sold by individual teams. The Lakers, Sonics and San Diego Rockets sold similar dolls at their respective arenas. The Lakers and Sonics came as both black and white players. There is a glut of the white Lakers dolls, so even in mint condition, they only sell for about $75. The black Laker is a much tougher doll to find and can bring $800 or more. The Sonics dolls are not easy to find and both the black and white players sell in the $300-$400 range. The Rockets doll retails for about $300. A word of warning: there are two newer Hong Kong-made bobbing heads of the Seattle Super Sonics and the Portland Trail Blazers, that although they look great, were made in such abundance that they can be bought for about $15 mint in the box.

There is also a terrific looking series of late ’60s basketball dolls that although they are not technically bobbing heads, are usually grouped with them. They are called “Lil Dribblers” and they resemble bobbing heads in style and composition, but their heads are stationary. There is a ball that is attached to the base with a thick wire that bobs up and down.

There were six NBA teams issued and another of the Harlem Globetrotters. The NBA teams are the Baltimore Bullets, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers. These teams came as both black and white players with the white players bringing a premium. There was a find of N.Y. Knicks dolls (both black and white), and they can usually be found for between $35-$50. The others range in price from $75-$400 with the white Baltimore Bullets being the rarest of the series. The Globetrotter generally sells for about $100.

There are also a number of terrific looking basketball banks. In the mid-60s, Quinco issued two college basketball banks of the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals. Each of these sell for about $100. There is also a Seattle Sonics bank that resembles a bobbing head. It was made in the late ’60s and sells for about $75. There are two much rarer banks made by Kail and Moyer. Both are generic, but because of their rarity and beauty, they can bring big bucks.

There are also some oddball statue sets that feature basketball themes. One of the most desired works of L.L. Rittgers is his basketball set. They were first issued in the late 1940s and are absolutely hysterical. It is a three-piece set that features two players and a basket. One player is headless. The other player holds his head as though he ripped it off going for a rebound. The look on his face is priceless. This is one of the rarest of all the Rittgers sets and can sell for $2,000 or more. This statue set is desired by both figural collectors and collectors of “black” memorabilia. It will sell in the $200 range.

There are a number of generic decanters with basketball themes, but one of the most interesting decanters is of the old ABA Kentucky Colonels. It features a Colonel Sanders-like figure dressed in his “southern whites.” The team and ABA logos are both emblazoned on the base. It’s a very cool looking piece that will bring in the neighborhood of $300.

The last piece I will mention is a terrific model kit from the mid-’60s Aurora Greatest Moments in Sports Series. It is of the great Jerry West and when built, it is loaded with action. In a sealed box (the box has a wonderful litho), the West kit sells for about $250. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, but this should give you a good idea as to what’s out there. Take it from a basketball “geek,” they look a lot better than I ever played.

Several years ago, I wrote a column for SCD about the politically incorrect use of American Indian mascots in college and professional sports. The article also commented on the stereotypical figurines that were made for these teams. On Sept. 6, 2005, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” did a show on this subject. It reported that the NCAA had adopted a policy prohibiting the use of certain mascots in championship competitions. Their ruling cited 18 schools including the Florida State Seminoles, the Illinois Fighting Illini, the Utah Utes and others that have nicknames that are not only offensive to Native Americans, but also “hostile and abusive.” Several of the schools are appealing this decision and some have even won the right to keep their nicknames.

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