Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hidden Treasures of a Championship Chicago Bulls Collection

As I travel across the country visiting with individuals and appraising collections, there’s always something different and unique that catches my eye. Recently, after I appeared on a radio show, I received a phone call from a woman who lived very close to where I grew up and attended high school. Her uncle was a former Chicago Bulls player during the ’90s and had received six of the championship rings that come with winning an NBA championship. The family wanted to know how much each item was valued at.
I spent an entire Saturday going through item after item, and putting a price tag on everything from a Michael Jordan signed rookie card to a gold and diamond pennant that was presented to the wives/girlfriends of the players after they won the NBA championship in 1996.

Many of the items were unique and were only obtained through the Bulls organization. Game-worn shoes, team-autographed banners, and expensive jewelry kept me on my toes throughout the process. In a few rare instances, I wasn’t immediately sure of the approximate value, so I put those items to the side and kept digging for more. As I worked, different members of the family would walk in and explain various pieces. The stories were endless. I could have stayed in the house for weeks on end, just listening to the incredible stories of what it was like to be part of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.

Darkness began to settle in and my time with the collection and the family was nearing its end. I asked the family what they found to be the most enjoyable part of the day. Their response? “Seeing you smile from ear to ear throughout the day.”

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In Search of Sports Cards: Getting the Collecting Bug from Dad

Fathers teach us a lot growing up, and for one gentleman I met recently, collecting runs in the family.
Not long ago, I received a call from a guy with the name of Michael. (It’s always enjoyable to speak with someone who shares my first name.) Michael was a collector of many things.
Michael’s father collected jazz 78s, and was well known in the music circuit. He passed along the collecting “bug” to his son, who started collecting scrap metal on the streets on his neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, Michael’s aunt purchased a Miami Dolphins football helmet and gave it to Michael. Even though Michael was living in Illinois, he quickly became a Dolphins fan. Playing football as a youth, Michael’s nickname was “Czonka,” after the great Hall of Fame fullback for the Miami Dolphins. For the young football fan, football cards became the next great obsession.
As kids, we don’t always make the wisest decisions, but that’s part of growing up. We learn from our mistakes.  Michael’s father purchased a shoebox of baseball cards from the 1970s. One day when Michael was headed to a friend’s house to show off the collection, it started raining and Michael moved some of the more valuable cards inside his t-shirt so they would be shielded from the rain. Unfortunately, the rain was too strong that day and the cards—including a 1971 Topps Pete Rose—were badly damaged.
When I first met Michael, I wasn’t expecting four large boxes of vintage baseball and football cards. The boxes were being stored in his daughter’s closet and Michael and his wife needed the storage space, as he was expecting another baby. Paul, Michael’s dad, had recently passed away, and it felt like it was time to sell the collection.
It was exciting to go through each box and see what I could unearth. The first box contained Roberto Clemente’s rookie card. This was very exciting, but upon closer inspection, not only was the card heavily worn, but somebody had used a blue ballpoint pen to deface the front. In fact, there were hundreds of cards that had a large “X” on either the front or the back. On the plus side, some of the earliest cards were from the 1933 Goudey baseball card set. The ’33 Goudey set is a favorite of mine due to the numerous Hall of Famers included.
I purchased the entire collection. As sad as it was for Michael to sell it, he knows it’s going to a good home—one that will keep the memories alive.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Dinner with the voice of the Chicago Bulls, Chuck Swirsky

Michael Osacky (left) Chuck Swirsky (right)

The average person switches careers about four times during their lifetime. The voice of the Chicago Bulls, Chuck Swirsky, knew he wanted to be a broadcaster at the age of five, and has never deviated from that path. Swirsky can recall with great detail the summer evening when he was five years old attending his first baseball game. He can go into detail regarding the green and red uniforms and proudly states, “It was the crack of the bat that got me hooked.”

Swirsky was born in Virginia to a schoolteacher mom and a naval officer father. His family was hard-working, but not into sports. Chuck learned how to dribble a basketball in the gym at his mother’s school. But he was cut from every team he tried out for with the exception of the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) league.

When Chuck was 12, his father passed away. Chuck describes his father as a man of integrity and character. He remembers his mom working three jobs just to keep a roof overhead and food on the table. There was no entitlement. If you wanted something, you had to work for it.
So that same year, 12-year-old Chuck walked into the radio station KFKF in Bellevue, Washington. He asked the receptionist for a job, and she called the General Manager to assist. The GM put Chuck to work polishing records for the sports director, Bill O’Mara. He told Chuck that when he turned 14, Chuck would go live on air.

O’Mara was true to his word. When he turned 14, Chuck got his big break, and his world turned upside down. He belted out halftime-show broadcasts of basketball and football games with all the enthusiasm he could muster. Persistence will get you as far as you want to go.

Chuck’s uncle knew Vince Bagli, a sports director in Baltimore, Maryland who made the connection for Chuck to learn radio. Every year starting at the age of 12, Chuck would spend the summer in Baltimore learning from Vince. Vince then introduced Chuck to Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who was the play-by-play voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 years. In high school, Chuck would frequently sleep with a transistor radio tucked underneath his pillow so he could listen to ballgames and memorize statistics.

Chuck’s dream was to be an NBA broadcaster. His ultimate goal came true when the Toronto Raptors hired him away from the University of Michigan in 1998. In 2008, after calling Raptors’ game for ten years, Chuck went on to be the radio announcer for the Chicago Bulls.  In 2010 Swirsky was included into the Top 10 list of NBA broadcasters by the Bleacher Report.

Chuck currently mentors young children who also want to pursue the career of broadcasting. “The goal is to inspire people to reach for the stars,” he remarks, “because as a kid, it is tough.”
“If I was twelve years old and my dream was to be the voice of the Chicago Bulls, what advice would you provide?” I ask.
“Give me what you got every day with a great attitude,” Chuck replies. “Bring it in the classroom, at home, and with your peers. You can make it if you work at it.” You better take care of your homework, because if you do not, somebody will.” Blues singer Dick Mackey gave that advice to Chuck once, and it clearly stuck. May 15, 2013 was the final game for the Chicago Bulls during the 2012-2013 season.  On May 16, Chuck was back at work getting ready for the 2013-2014 seaso

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grandpa and the Babe Ruth Card

Many of us are collectors of something at some time in our lives. The hobby of antiquing, the act of shopping and bargaining for antiques, has been around for decades. Often the collecting bug can be traced to a parent or grandparent buying us a gift, or taking us on a journey to buy something. This first experience of buying something, or even looking for an undiscovered gem, can be the start of something very special.

This is exactly what happened with a grandfather and grandson in central Michigan. I recently was able to meet with Peter, the grandson, who shared with me his memories of his now-deceased grandfather, and the story of how they started collecting cards.

Peter’s grandfather was a collector of vintage clocks and watches and wanted to share his passion of collecting with Peter. Peter wasn’t interested in vintage clocks and watches—but he was interested in vintage sport cards. On many weekends in the summer, Peter and his grandfather would venture out into the unknown parts of Michigan looking for old baseball cards.

During one of these outings, Peter and his grandfather were driving back home for dinner and saw an elderly man neatly putting everything away that didn't sell in the garage sale. The bright sun was quickly giving way to ominous clouds. The wind began to strengthen and a storm was near. Peter rolled down his window and yelled, “Do you have any old baseball cards?” The man nodded his head in affirmation and Peter was quickly looking at the cards inside the garage.

These cards were no ordinary cards. They were from the 1933 Goudey Baseball Card Set—a set that’s revered for its masterful colors, and its inclusion of numerous Hall of Famers. The full set contains four Babe Ruth cards, and this elderly man had two of them.

Peter started to breathe heavily as the elderly man said, “Make me an offer on all of the cards. I have dinner waiting.” Peter remained in a frozen state, while his grandfather removed from his pocket three $100 bills.  The owner of the cards accepted the offer simultaneously as the first bolt of lightning rolled in.
Several months later, Peter’s grandfather passed away, but Peter’s collecting bug was there to stay.