By Brian Lapacka
Would you pay $2 million for a historic collection of more than 10,000 original copies of almost every Sports Illustrated magazine edition that has ever been published? How about if every cover was signed by the cover star? A local man is selling his entire collection of autographed Sports Illustrated magazines for $1,999,999 on eBay.
Pequannock's Scott Smith has a complete collection of 10,000 signed Sports Illustrateds for $2 million.
Why not just make it a cool $2 million? Scott Smith admits it's a marketing tactic to draw attention to his other online sports memorabilia auctions, but he'd still be willing to sell his entire collection of over 10,000 signed Sports Illustrated copies today for the seven-figure price. His signed collection on its own represents 94 percent of the magazine's history. Mostly, Smith admits, he's trying to drum up publicity for individual edition sales for collectors and fans as the holiday season approaches.
"I don't really expect anyone to give me $2 million, but if it happens," said Smith, "fantastic. I'll be set."
Smith, 44, a New Jersey native who lives in Pompton Plains, has made a profitable hobby out of his autograph-collecting obsession. It started when he was about 8 years old and his father took him to Rangers, Yankees and Mets games and he'd try to get the players' John Hancocks.
"I'd always just hang around and get my notebooks signed as a kid," said Smith. "Then in 1972, my grandma gave me a subscription to Sports Illustrated as a present, and like any packrat at that age, every time another issue would come in the mail, I'd put it in my closet and just build huge stacks."
Pursuit of autographs is a world-wide mission that Smith hopes to sell via his unique medium in total or pieces via eBay.
The first glimpse of Smith's entrepreneurial spirit came about 10 years later, when he "got wind" that the Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky were staying at a hotel in Hasbrouck Heights. Thinking quickly, he eschewed his usual autograph notebooks and instead brought some of his Sports Illustrated copies for "The Great One" to sign. After that, he decided to put his hobby into overdrive and "take it up a notch."
Smith's hobby has since taken him all over the world in pursuit of sport stars' autographs. He estimates that about 94 percent of his 40,000-plus total Sports Illustrated copies are signed by the cover star, and 99 percent of the autographs he obtained in person. He reckons he's spent between $300,000 and $400,000 on his hobby between travel expenses and purchasing autographed Sports Illustrated copies with deceased cover stars going all the way back to when the magazine was first published in 1954.
His Holy Grail? Chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer's autograph on a Sports Illustrated. The eccentric and tortured genius, who died last year, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated after winning the 1972 World Chess Championship. Getting that autograph proved difficult owing to Fischer's reclusive nature and reluctance to commercialize his success.
Smith even attempted to set up a meeting with Fischer in Iceland, where Fischer lived out the rest of his days after being released in 2005 from a Japanese prison. Fischer had been incarcerated for nine months for attempting to leave Japan with an expired U.S. passport. But Fischer declined the meeting in Iceland, which Smith owes to Fischer's self-awareness of what a controversial figure he had become with his anti-American and anti-Semitic statements.
Smith's next ultimate goal? To get an autographed copy of every Sports Illustrated that features Michael Jordan on the cover. Jordan holds the record for the most Sports Illustrated covers – appearing on 53 – not counting commemorative editions, which Smith doesn't.
Smith has Jordan's signature on about 26 Sports Illustrated editions, but Smith says the basketball legend does not give many autographs anymore owing to how valuable his signature is. Smith got most of his Jordan autographs when Jordan played college ball and as an NBA rookie. Jordan first appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a North Carolina Tar Heel with teammate Sam Perkins in the Nov. 28, 1983 edition.
"I used to clobber him," recalled Smith about his pursuit of Jordan's autographs. "I used to have New York hotel security in my pocket. They'd tell me where he was. For two or three years I'd ride elevators with him and he'd sign all my stuff. He stopped signing when he started bringing in a lot of money."
Smith said he still sees Jordan at least once a year at the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational charity golf tournament held annually in the Bahamas.
"He knows who I am and he gives me a big hug, but he says that I already have my collection and he won't sign anymore," said Smith. "But I still get Roger Clemens and Dr. J's autographs along with others when I'm down there."
Getting back to his $2 million auction, Smith said that if he doesn't get a buyer for the whole collection, he'll continue to add to it, though he can't deny that $2 million would be a nice payout.
"It would ensure a better quality of life for my wife and kids. I've got two little girls. I'm not leaving my collection to any boys," he smiled.