A March Without The Madness

In a month that commonly sees millions of Americans on an unofficial “lockdown” in bars, restaurants, and rec rooms to watch the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, 2020 has forced us to face a different kind of quarantine, as the coronavirus has put our nation at a standstill, from sports to everyday life.

And while this sort of stalemate can be a shock to our system, particularly in the psyches of sports fans looking to get their NCAA bracket fix, Heritage Auctions offers a welcome escape by way of visiting past March Madness through collectibles.

Straight from the collegiate hardwood, the following examples of head-turning NCAA basketball memorabilia from past Heritage auctions should help alleviate those sports withdrawal symptoms as we flatten the viral curve in anticipation of reinflating the pill and returning to the parquet.

Mid-1980’s Len Bias Game-Worn University of Maryland Terrapins Jersey.

Mid-1980’s Len Bias Game-Worn University of Maryland Terrapins Jersey. Sold for: $23,900 May 2012.

One of those special players who possessed amazing leaping ability, a staggering physical stature and uncanny ability to create plays, Len Bias was considered one of the best players in the nation during his college days with the Maryland Terrapins. But that excellence ended in tragedy, when on June 19, 1986, shortly after the Boston Celtics selected the All-American forward second overall, Bias died of a cocaine overdose, which stunned the sports world.

This is Bias’ Maryland gold dazzlecloth jersey that he wore during the mid-1980s with the ACC powerhouse. One of the most intriguing and significant basketball ever offered at Heritage Auctions, it holds all the important attributes – rare, significant and pleasing to the eye.

1970 Pete Maravich NCAA All-Time Scoring Record Game Used Basketball

1970 Pete Maravich NCAA All-Time Scoring Record Game Used Basketball. Sold for: $22,705 April 2009. The University of Mississippi Rebels were the visiting club on January 30, 1970, a date that no fan present at the LSU “Cow Palace” that evening will ever forget. Needing just forty points to surpass the great Oscar Robertson’s career collegiate points record, Pistol Pete set about displaying his typical scoring brilliance, stylishly banking in a twenty-five footer with eight minutes remaining to give him thirty-nine points. “One…one…one…” the hometown crowd chanted in unison. Flashbulbs popped with each release to follow, with Maravich missing five consecutive shots until, with 4:43 remaining, he pulled up and swished a seventeen-foot jumper to claim the crown.

This is the very ball that earned “Pistol Pete” Maravich the most significant individual record in collegiate basketball, one of the most important artifacts from the NCAA hardcourt ever to find its way to the public auction block. In a show of true love, Pete made a gift of the ball to his girlfriend and future wife Jackie, inscribing the ball “Broke the Big ‘O’ All-Time Scoring Record, To Jackie, The Greatest and [illegible] girl in the whole world, I love you, ‘Pistol Pete.'” Just below, he signed “Pete” again.

1966 Willie Worsley NCAA Championship Game Worn Texas Western Jersey

1966 Willie Worsley NCAA Championship Game Worn Texas Western Jersey. Sold for: $20,315 May 2006.

Only one year earlier, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march on Selma, Alabama in support of voting rights for the African-American populace was repelled with tear gas, whips and clubs. And yet here, on college basketball’s greatest stage, five young black ballplayers were taking the court to meet the all-white powerhouse University of Kentucky Wildcats. Those forty minutes of basketball would generate 40,000 pieces of hate mail for Texas Western coach Don Haskins, and more than a dozen threats upon his life. It would also immortalize the team from a cash-strapped school in El Paso, Texas, and continue the work of Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson in reshaping the way the world viewed the black athlete.

Willie Worsley, the Texas Western five-foot-six sophomore guard, hadn’t expected to start that landmark Final game, but bravely heeded the call when Haskins passed on his six-foot eight-inch forward, Nevil Shed. Haskins wanted to go small and quick against Kentucky, which had been nicknamed “Rupp’s Runts” due to the diminutive size of coach Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky squad, led by future NBA coaching legend Pat Riley. It was a plan that worked. Those with any passing knowledge of the college game, and moviegoers who bought a ticket for the 2006 Disney blockbuster film “Glory Road,” know that March 19, 1966 saw a historic upset as five black starters from Texas Western topped the Wildcats by a score of seventy-two to sixty-five.

This is one of the only known surviving jerseys from that fundamentally important milestone in American athletics, worn by Worsley in perhaps the most historically relevant college basketball game ever played. It is consigned to Heritage by Danny Whitlock, a former player and graduate assistant at the University of Texas at El Paso, the name adopted by Texas Western the school year after their basketball team’s glorious triumph, several years before Whitlock’s enrollment. The jerseys of the entire Championship team were about to be unceremoniously trashed when Whitlock rescued them, and for years afterward he and his friends would wear them for pick-up games and yard work, eventually discarding each when the wear became too great.

1982 NCAA Basketball Championship Game Net

1982 NCAA Basketball Championship Game Net from Michael Jordan’s Game-Winning Shot! Sold for: $31,070 August 2011.

Three future Hall of Famers would do battle at the Louisiana Superdome on March 29, 1982, to determine whether Michael Jordan and James Worthy’s UNC Tarheels or Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas was the best team in collegiate basketball. It would prove to be one of the most exciting and fiercely contested Finals in March Madness history, providing the freshman Jordan with the first of many watershed moments on the national stage, a fifteen-foot jumper from the left baseline with seventeen seconds to play which would prove to be the final points scored in Carolina’s 63 to 62 victory. On this date, the legend of Air Jordan was born.

Unquestionably one of the most important Jordan artifacts ever made available for public sale, this net originated from Carolina senior forward Christopher Brust, who can be seen cheering his coach (Dean Smith) on in famed photos of the March 30, 1982 issue of the Durham Morning Herald.

Posted by Chris Nerat

Consignment Director and Cataloger, Sports and Memorabilia

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