The year just got underway but RR Auction is already holding our third auction. As we get ready, I can’t help but smile over a special section in this upcoming catalog: the Exceptional Sports Collection of Jim Wiggins—one-of-a-kind photos and unique subjects, so many of them with vintage autographs.
As a whole, the collection is just phenomenal. When I saw these things, all I could think was “Wow!” I had never seen signed 8 x 10 images signed by guys like Kid Nichols or Jimmy Foxx, and yet here they were. As a sports fan I was simply blown away. Wiggins amassed some of the best photographs of the best players over his 50+ years of collecting, using his connections.
I could wax poetic on the entire offering, but instead I’d like to focus on the astonishing number of African American stars. During Black History Month, it’s only appropriate to pause and reflect—in shame—on the exclusion of African Americans from so many roles in society…including the world of sports.
Thankfully, a lot of these star athletes eventually gained the prominence they so richly deserved. We should also be thankful that the majority of these great men and women were gracious signers…and collectors like Wiggins secured their autographs, which are now being shared with future generations of hobbyists.
Of course there’s Jackie Robinson, the man who heroically (and stoically) broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His grit and determination is in focus in an 8 x 10 portrait of the Los Angeles Dodgers hero—beautifully signed by the Hall of Famer.
Then there’s Muhammad Ali…a guy I think we can all agree really was “The Greatest.” He has signed a youthful pose of him, adding “World Heavy Weight Champion 1967.” His graciousness and the addendum are both noteworthy as 1967 was the year that the champ refused conscription into the US Army, leading to his arrest and subsequent loss of his boxing title.
I also loved looking at a photo of the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was captured early in his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, displaying his incredible span as he easily touches a basketball net. The remarkable pose is superseded only by his big and bold “Lew Alcindor” autograph. In case you forgot, Kareem joined the Bucks in 1969 and changed his name in 1971.
His contemporary, Wilt Chamberlain, penned a vintage signature on another unique shot—this one taken from above the rim as he did his thing with the Philadelphia Warriors. This was a news photo that dates between 1959 and 1962, when the Big Dipper made his debut with his hometown team and before it moved to San Francisco. Bill Russell has signed an early 1960s photo—another remarkably early and scarce practice pose.
Other highlights include a photo signed by Emmett Ashford, baseball’s first African American umpire; Satchel Paige—baseball’s “oldest rookie” whose most productive days were spent in the Negro Leagues; not to mention Kirby Puckett, Jim Brown, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jesse Owens—who showed Hitler…and the world…exactly what he was made from. Oh, and did I mention a youthful Michael Jordan—with hair—from his days in North Carolina?
Of course, by the time Air Jordan was wowing them at Chapel Hill and leading the Bulls to championship after championship in Chicago, sports…and the world…had become a much different place from the days when guys like Paige and Robinson played. Thankfully.