Jerry Lucas Letting Go Of $500,000 In Basketball Memories

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After winning an NBA title, an Olympic gold medal and an NCAA championship, Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas had  a closet full of memorabilia. (AP)
After winning an NBA title, an Olympic gold medal and an NCAA championship, Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas had a closet full of memorabilia. (AP)

Think about the last time you cleaned out a closet. If you’re like most people, that project involved some black plastic trash bags, a little grunting and groaning, and comments like “Man, I’d forgotten we even had this!” Chances are your efforts concluded at a trash can or a thrift store donation bin … or both. Basketball legend Jerry Lucas had a slightly different experience.

Lucas's basketball career is one of the most incredible on record. In high school, in Middletown, Ohio, Lucas led his team to back-to-back state titles. At Ohio State, Lucas played on the Buckeyes' 1960 national championship team. That summer, Lucas was the youngest member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team. They won gold and are still considered one of the greatest Olympic teams in history. In 1973, Lucas completed the career championship sweep as a member of the NBA’s New York Knicks.

[sidebar title="The 1960 Dream Team" width="630" align="right"] Jerry Lucas was a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team that boasted an average margin of victory of 42 points during the Summer Games in Rome. [/sidebar]That kind of career produces a lot of memorabilia. And Jerry Lucas stuffed it into cardboard boxes and shoved those boxes into a closet. Now Lucas is auctioning off 17 of the things he found, including his Ohio State and Knicks championship rings, his Olympic gold medal, and the ring he received in 1979 when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In an interview with the Middletown Journal, Lucas described the items as quote “really good stuff.”

And there are collectors who are willing to pay big bucks for really good stuff. The minimum bid for that 1960 gold medal is $250,000. Even if each item only gets its reserve bid, the lot would go for more than $530,000.

Lucas is 73 years old. He’s not in financial dire straits. He thought about giving the keepsakes to family members, but couldn’t figure out a fair way to divide them up. For some people, parting with things that represented your life’s work would be tough, but Lucas never displayed any of his collection, saying, “Things don’t mean a lot to me. They never have.”

Jerry Lucas created a lot of memories for teammates and fans all over the country during his years on the court. And he’ll still have his memories after the auction. But before we veer into high-minded talk about society’s fixation on material goods and the value of experiences over possessions, it’s probably worth noting that Jerry Lucas had a second career after basketball. His playing days could fill a book, but his work on a system to improve memory actually did. Lucas is the co-author of The Memory Book.

This program aired on August 14, 2013.

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Doug Tribou Reporter/Producer
Doug Tribou was formerly a reporter and producer at WBUR and for WBUR's Only A Game.



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