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Sports Memorabilia: When balls and shoes are worth more than just silver and gold

The Hand of God. Another genuinely iconic image in World Cup history here, as Diego Maradona beats Peter Shilton to the ball and punches it into the net to give Argentina the lead against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup. [AP]

As Tunisian referee Ali bin Nasser took control of the World Cup quarter-final pitting England and Argentina on the afternoon of June 22, 1986, little did he know the next 90 minutes would change the course of history forever.

Football holds a great deal of history, and its foundations lie in the memories people hold most dear. This quarter-final between the Europeans and the South Americans came four years at the back of the Falklands war, an “undeclared war” between the two over British Overseas Territories (BOTs) south of the Atlantic.

Staged at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico’s capital, the 51st minute of the match saw Argentina’s Diego Maradona, 5’4 foot tall, leap to miraculously ‘head’ the ball over a 6’2 England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and put the South Americans ahead. He had cheated Mr bin Nasser, punching the ball with his left hand into the net, creating the infamous ‘Hand Of God.’

The referee, who failed to spot the handball, confessed he could not see the incident clearly, as the two players (Shilton and Maradona) were facing him from behind, and that he looked to the linesman, pacing back to the halfway line, thereby validating the goal.

Four minutes after, Maradona scored a superb solo goal, dribbling from beyond the halfway line past five English players and goalkeeper Shilton, marking the match as one of the sport’s most iconic to date.

On Thursday, October 13, 2022, bin Nasser, who had been keeping the ball revealed he would sell it at an auction on November 16, 2022. The match ball, an Adidas Azteca model, was used during the full 90 minutes and is expected to fetch around 2.5 million to 3 million pounds (Sh400 million).

 The Azteca ball used when Maradona scored his “Hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup has been put up for auction by the Tunisian referee who was in charge of the game. [AP Photo/El Grafico, File]

This auction comes barely six months after the jersey Maradona wore during the game sold for a record-breaking 7.1 million pounds (Sh960million) at another auction. However, neither Maradona’s shirt nor the ball involved come close to sporting memorabilia that have sold for a fortune.

Basketball

Former NBA Superstar Michael Jordan is among few athletes whose sporting memorabilia have earned a fortune. On September 15, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls jersey from Game 1 of the 1998 NBA Finals loss to the Utah Jazz sold for 10.1 million dollars (Sh1.2 billion). The sale came in the wake of a popular TV documentary released around the same time (The Last Dance) which told the story of his basketball career, up to his final season.

Jordan's other items that have been sold include an on-card patch card from 1997-98, which sold for 2.7 million dollars (Sh325 million). It features an autograph and patch from his All-Star Game jersey in a season where he was the top scorer in the league, won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award five times and was participating in his sixth NBA final. Game-worn shoes from his rookie season have also fetched 1.47 million dollars (Sh177 million).

A pair of 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1s, made for and worn by U.S. basketball player Michael Jordan, seen in an undated handout photo ahead of an online auction [Sotheby's/Handout via Reuters]

Los Angeles Lakers' Lebron James is another basketball superstar whose sporting memorabilia reaped millions. In April last year, an autographed rookie basketball card sold for 5.2 million dollars (Sh628 million), becoming the most expensive basketball card ever sold.

A month later, a game-worn and autographed Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant jersey from 1996-97 fetched nearly 3.7 million dollars (Sh447 million) through an auction.

Athletics

The Original Olympic Games manifesto, a document created in 1892, outlining the revival of the Olympic Games as an international modern athletic competition was sold for 8.8 million dollars (Sh1 billion) in December 2019.

The 14-page manifesto, authored by French historian and International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin attracted three international buyers who took part in a 12-minute-long bidding war.

In October last year, Kenyan Marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge's running vest sold at an auction for a reported Sh242,471 in an effort raise funds for supporting education and environmental conversation through the Eliud Kipchoge Foundation.

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge crosses the line to win the Berlin Marathon in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. [AP Photo, Christoph Soeder]

Baseball

The most expensive item of sports memorabilia ever sold is a card. On August 27, 2022, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card sold for a record 12.6 million dollars (Sh1.5 billion). This eclipsed the previous record set by another baseball card, the T-206 Honus Wagner card which had sold for 7.25 million dollars (Sh875 million).

American baseball legend Babe Ruth saw his New York Yankees jersey from 1928-1930 fetch 5.64 million dollars (Sh680million) at an auction in June 2019. Ruth played Major League Baseball for 22 seasons, winning 7 World Series and breaking many records before his retirement in 1935.

This broke the record for his oldest surviving memorabilia item, his 1920 Yankees jersey which sold for 4.4 million dollars (Sh532 million).

Other pieces of sporting memorabilia that sold for millions include an autographed Patrick Mahomes rookie card printed in 2017, which sold for 4.3 million dollars (Sh520 million) in July last year. This broke the record set previously by a Tom Brady-signed rookie card, which sold for 3.1 million dollars (Sh374million).

Glance Facts:

Sporting Memorabilia sold for a fortune:

  1. Michael Jordan 1998 NBA Finals Game 1 jersey - $10.091 million (Sh1.2 billion).
  2. Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" Argentina jersey - 7.1 million pounds (Sh960million)
  3. Wayne Gretzky's final Edmonton Oilers jersey - $1.452 million (Sh175 million)
  4. Tom Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey - $480,000 (Sh58 million)
  5. 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card- $12.6 million (Sh1.5 billion).
  6. T-206 Honus Wagner card - $7.25 million (Sh875 million).
  7. LeBron James autographed rookie card - $5.2 million (Sh628 million)
  8. Autographed Patrick Mahomes rookie Football card- $4.3 million (Sh520 million)
  9. Tom Brady rookie card - $3.1 million (Sh374million).
  10. 1958 Pele rookie card - $1.33 million (Sh160 million)
  11. 1979 Wayne Gretzky Rookie Hockey Card - $3.75 million (Sh453 million)
  12. 2020 Lewis Hamilton Topps Chrome F1 Card - $900,000 (Sh108 million)
  13. Serena Williams rookie card - $117,000 (Sh14 million)
  14. Mia Hamm rookie card - $34,440 (Sh4 million)
  15. Michael Jordan 1997-98 on-card patch card - $2.7 million (Sh325 million)
  16. Michael Jordan rookie season game-worn shoes - $1.47 million (Sh177 million)
  17. Jackie Robinson 1947 debut ticket - $480,000 (Sh58 million)
  18. Michael Jordan full NBA debut ticket - $468,000 (Sh56 million)

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