Impressive list of important basketball players

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the youngest of the three major sports in the United States. Baseball started in the 1800s, football in the 1930s, but basketball came a little bit later.

There were several basketball leagues that were formed in the New York and Boston areas in particular, but these leagues were not powerful enough to make any impact on fans. Often, a game would be played before an ice skating exhibition, or other event.

However, things changed when two associations, the National Basketball League and the American Basketball League merged to become the National Basketball Association. The year was 1946.

Many of the rules that fans take for granted today were years from being implemented. For example, the 24-second clock was not implemented until the mid-1950s. There were still jump balls at the beginning of each quarter.

However, the NBA appealed to fans, and persevered. Sometimes, there were doubleheaders. I remember going to Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, and watching the Hawks play the New York Knicks play the second game of a twin bill, often seeing the Celtics play the Syracuse Nationals in the opening game. In fact, when Wilt Chamberlain scored his record 100 points in a 169-147 Philadelphia victory over New York on March 4, 1962, in, of all places, Hershey, Pennsylvania, it was the second game of a doubleheader.

Who played in the first game that night? Players from the Baltimore Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles football teams.

How times have changed. So have the attendance figures and the ticket prices for that matter.

There is not too much memorabilia from those early days of George Mikan, Dolph Schayes, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, and Paul Arizin.

However, thanks to the collective effort of the NBA and the Field of Dreams Company, a piece commemorating the early days of the NBA was devised.

The year 1996 marked the 50th anniversary of the NBA. What better way to honor the golden anniversary of one of the premier sports leagues in the world than to publish a lithograph depicting the faces of the 50 greatest players in the first 50 years, along with their autograph. The lithograph would be limited. A poll had to be taken to determine the top 50 players.

As it so happened, the top 50 players were still alive at the time, except for one. One of the all-time greatest dribblers and shooters, “Pistol” Pete Maravich had passed in 1988, ironically playing basketball.

It was decided that the lithograph would be limited to 250 individually numbered pieces. There would be 50 that went directly to the players. Of the remaining 200 signed prints, there were 100 “NBA Editions”, 50 “Legends Editions”, and 50 “Field of Dreams Editions”. A few more were offered to the public.

The print is considered by many to be the most valuable, and highly desirable signed sports art.

As time goes on, several of the players depicted in the lithograph have passed, including Wilt Chamberlain, Paul Arizin, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Sharman. As a result, the value of the print continues to escalate, as the sport, as well, grows in popularity across the world.

Some of the most recognizable players on the lithograph are Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West and Bob Pettit.

It is very difficult to find an NBA 50 Greatest Players lithograph. Most of the owners of the piece hold onto them.

The original price to the public of the print was $25,000. The piece has gone for as much as $100,000 in private sales

In auctions the lithograph has sold from anywhere from $38,000 - $58,000 in the last few years. In a 2012 auction Nate Archibald’s personal piece went for nearly $42,000, while Hakeem Olajuwon’s went for $58,000 in a different auction.

The piece will continue to increase in value, so if you have a chance, buy the item. You will not be disappointed.

For all fans and collectors of the early days of the NBA this piece is the best way to remember those glory times.

Jeff Figler has authored more than 700 published articles about collecting. He is a certified professional appraiser and one of the world’s leading experts on collectibles. His latest book, “The Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia” has been #1 on Amazon. He can be reached at