The 2019 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago was extra special for Darren Prince, a hobby lifer who has called the collectibles business home in multiple forms since 1984.
Prince was at The National with Dennis Rodman and Hulk Hogan, both of whom were swamped by autograph-seekers as both are among the distinguished sports and entertainment names that are represented by Prince Marketing Group, of which Prince, now 50, is the president and CEO.
Prince’s National highlight was, in reality, simply the feedback from the hobby about his heralded autobiography, “Aiming High” – the story about Prince who battled addiction while representing some of the biggest names in the world, such as Magic Johnson, Charlie Sheen, Chevy Chase, Carmen Electra and the late Joe Frazier and Evel Knievel.
“I was being stopped when I was walking (at the 2019 National) to talk about ‘Aiming High’ and how it helped so many who read it. They praised me for sharing my truth so openly,” Prince said. “I was super successful in the baseball card business in the 1980s, however, (I was) very insecure and broken. (I) felt like I had something to prove, having a learning disability and not feeling comfortable in my own skin. So, when the money and success came, I pretty much lost sense of myself, especially as an agent to some of the most iconic figures of all time.”
His world changed July 2, 2008 – the day he turned his life around.
Prince has been sober since and a strong worldwide advocate.
“If I wrote a book solely about business, it would not have (had) the same impact as ‘Aiming High,’” Prince said. “The fact that my first client, Magic Johnson, wrote the forward, (that) I received testimonies from Jeanie Buss, Mark Cuban, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Roy Jones Jr, Dennis Rodman, Dr. Drew Pinsky and several others…this made me realize the book and telling my truth is the biggest blessing and achievement of my life.”
Prince, who now lives in Los Angeles and also serves as the president/CEO of the new Prince Digital Group, has his hobby roots in error cards, rookies and vintage unopened material.
He was an unscheduled signer multiple times at the 2019 National – of his book.
“Aiming High” was released in October 2018, spotlighting Prince’s story of hope and recovery from drug addiction, as he was an opiate addict for 24 years. “Aiming High” became an international best-seller in four countries within the first few weeks.
Prince did 57 speaking engagements in 2019 across the U.S. And he’s been a media darling, appearing on CNN with Chris Cuomo, “Extra”, “Fox and Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” and others.
“I was speaking at a high school in New York and there were about 3,000 kids in the audience. One had the courage to stand up and share his substance abuse struggle at the age of 16,” Prince said. “Doing that at his age in front of so many peers was so inspiring that I gave him a book. The principal reached out to me and told me that the student stayed up all night to read it and decided he did not want to end up like me. He also met with the guidance council to ask for help, and so did over a dozen other students.”
“Aiming High” has brought as much joy to Prince as a gem-mint 10 T206 Honus Wagner. (Prince bought and sold three Wagner’s in the late-1980s and early-1990s.)
“It’s still a strange feeling signing thousands of books, having them appear in bookstores all around the country,” said Prince, who is now 12-years sober and has done signings at eight different Barnes and Nobles stores. “I know I’m no-one-special and my autograph has no value; it’s the message (in the book) that's helping to inspire people that is the real value.”
When it comes to value of relics in the collectibles game, Prince is certainly a big-time player. Especially now.
Prince last summer returned to the hobby so to speak, investing in PSA high-grade sports cards, mostly 9s and 10s. In fact, in a three-week period ending on Labor Day, Prince had already spent $100,000 on cards, with more than 150 packages being delivered to his house. He has now spent $200,000.
“It's been fun meeting new collectors and dealers on the internet,” Prince said. “I’m basically buying somewhat conservative and speculative buys as well.”
His recent purchases have included Luca Doncic, Kyler Murray, Zion Williamson, as well as classics from 1980-81 Topps, plus such sporting legends as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ken Griffey Jr. He also has snagged a handful of vintage Hall of Famers from the 1950s and ‘60s.
“I’m learning the market very quickly, the trends. I have a handful of top dealers who I’ve kept in contact with and they’ve given me advice when needed,” said Prince, who highlighted the insight from good friends Ryan Schinman and Jason Koonce, the CEO of OTIA Sports.
“Back when I was in the business of buying, selling and trading, late hobby icon ‘Mr. Mint’ Alan Rosen gave me advice that you have to ‘turn and burn; you can’t sit on the products.’ My dad used to say, ‘You can’t fall in love with your product. You can only sell it one time.’
“Fortunately, I’m now in a position where I can buy and hold. If I’m in the mood, I can sell and take some profit or just store the cards in my new safe we just got installed.
“Even as a recovered addict I still have addictive tendencies…but this is a healthy one.”
Prince said his immediate plans for the new cards to his collection are to hold on to them, especially since “I’m having the best time (buying cards); it brings back so many incredible memories as a teenager with my late dad growing up in the industry and good times with my old company I used to have.”
He added, “I’m definitely overdoing it a bit; the packages just keep coming in and it’s somewhat overwhelming at this point.”
But he’s not complaining.
“Three years ago (in an) auction, I bought my first piece of memorabilia: a 2011 Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship ring that belonged to a Bruins executive. I’ve been a diehard (Bruins) fan for 40 years and had to have it,” Prince said. “Then three months ago, I was searching on eBay and found the holy grail of error cards, a 1982 Fleer John Littlefield card, (showing him) pitching lefty, (a) reverse negative. I bought a PSA 9 and started to get the buzz back of buying cards.”
He certainly has the hobby buzz big-time now.