Bill Russell puts a treasure trove up for auction – Lowell Sun
Some of the choicest items from Bill Russell’s personal memorabilia collection were on display in the lobby of the Auerbach Center Thursday morning.
Considering that all of these treasures — Russell’s 1956 Olympic gold medal, for instance, and his first (1957) NBA championship ring — are being put up for auction by the most accomplished professional athlete in the history of American sports, the anticipated haul should be significant.
“There’s a premium placed on that direct source. The documentation comes from Bill Russell to the primary market. But in theory this is a multiple seven-figure auction, no question,” said David Hunt, the auctioneer who after several years of consultations with the Celtics legend will put the collection up for live auction in Boston in the fall or winter of 2021.
Part of the proceeds will benefit Russell’s charity — MENTOR — as well as Boston Celtics United, the team’s social justice initiative. There are limits, of course. Russell is not putting everything up for auction, such as the 2011 Presidential Medal of Freedom he received from President Barack Obama.
Hunt’s firm, Hunt Auctions, once sold a Babe Ruth uniform for $5.6 million. Had it been provided by Ruth’s family instead of a previous buyer, Hunt estimates it would have netted somewhere north of $10 million.
And all of these items — a warmup jacket from the 1960s, a pair of black low-cut adidas sneakers from the same period — come from the original source.
One of the most priceless items — in that Hunt doesn’t have a clear idea of how much it can fetch — is a startling page from one of Russell’s scrapbooks.
The large page features news clippings about one of the earliest social justice actions ever taken by an NBA player. Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones and rookie Al Butler flew home rather than play in an exhibition game against the Hawks in Lexington, Kentucky, after Sanders and Sam Jones were denied service in the team hotel’s coffee spot.
Featured in the lower left corner of the page is a letter on Chock Full O’ Nuts stationery to Russell from an admirer, with the following words of encouragement for his action:
I want to add my thanks to the many other letter(s) you and the other fellows have received on your stand in Lexington, Kentucky.
It is gratifying to know that our athletes have the pride that you fellows do. Your actions aid considerably in our fight for equal opportunity.
Please express my thanks to the others.
Good luck again this season.
Standing out in another way is a story pasted in the middle of the page with the headline, “COUSY READY TO GO.”
Bob Cousy has long suspected that he upset Russell by not only playing in the game, but by never speaking out publicly in support of his teammates and against what happened at the hotel. That would seem to have been very much on Russell’s mind when he put together this page.
Cousy has since tried to make amends with Russell for not doing more, recently sending his former teammate a letter, as chronicled in the book, “The Last Pass.”
But this scrapbook page is merely one item, just as the items on display were merely the tip of an iceberg floating towards auction.
The collection also includes Russell’s 1958, 1962, 1963 and 1965 Most Valuable Player Awards, his last (1969) championship ring, a 1964 ball commemorating his 10,000th point and a 1968 ball commemorating his 20,000th rebound.
“There isn’t another athlete this accomplished, technically. There just isn’t,” said Hunt. “Every situation is a little different — every player, every announcer, every team executive that decides to sell these things for their own reasons.
“In Bill’s case, it was just probably the right time for him,” he said. “He kept things — the Medal of Freedom for example.That’s his, it’s not being sold. There’s many things he kept. But when you have someone who is that accomplished — they have a luxury, they don’t just have one trophy or one ring. You have so many things. You can have things be in a museum, you can have things in your family’s home.
“Many times the collectors and institutions that are purchasing these things are better stewards for them. They share them, they display them, and they get to be seen by the public. I know he has put a lot of thought into this. This is not something that happened in a year. We’ve been talking for years about this.”