We love a good nickname as much as anyone. But the sale on eBay of a LeBron James 2003-04 Upper Deck SP Signature Edition card reminded us that while there are some truly great nicknames in sports, there are others that fall flat.
The card in question — which brought $65,1000 on 67 bids — squeezes LeBron James into an insert-card subset called “Famous Nicknames.” However, the nickname on the front of the front of the card is a bit of a reach: “Bron.” The NBA’s greatest active player has inspired some clever nicknames: King James, the Chosen One, The Akron Hammer, even The Little Emperor. But “Bron”?
Well, when Upper Deck produced its 2003-04 Famous Nicknames subset, “Bron” was new to the NBA. He was a 19-year-old phenom with a major buzz swirling around him. The “King James” nickname hadn’t yet taken root, leaving Upper Deck to go with a shortened version of his first name.
Even so, James himself gave the card credence with his autograph: a boldly signed “Bron” accompanied by his uniform number (23). Nearly two decades later, it remains a great-looking piece — a clean-looking Upper Deck card that has survived in Gem-Mint condition, having been slabbed with a BGS 9.5 grade.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Sticking with the nickname theme, how about Charlie Hustle? Pete Rose earned that moniker with his all-out style of play as a young Cincinnati Reds star in the mid-1960s. Who can forget his fearless head-first slides into any and every base?
There are many who feel Rose deserves a place in the Hall of Fame, despite the gambling charges that resulted in his banishment from baseball in 1989. That’s when MLB excommunicated Rose over accusations (and no-contest plea) that he had bet on his own team as player-manager in the mid-1980s.
Legions of fans feel Rose should be given a second chance and a place in the Hall, considering his all-time record of 4,256 hits — the vast majority of which he attained before gambling accusations came up. Collectors appear to agree, considering the princely sums paid for Rose’s rookie card.
Rose’s 1963 Topps “Rookie Stars” issue features three other fresh faces — players who collectively went on to compile 1,883 hits. Ken McMullen accounted for most of those (1,273, with 156 home runs and a .244 average). The other two players on Rose’s rookie card were Al Weis (346 hits, .219 average) and Pedro Gonzalez (264 hits, .244 average).
Big bidding on the card, of course, is due to Charlie Hustle. Realized prices in eBay auctions over the past three months include a high of $77,114 on 65 bids for a PSA 9 specimen. A PSA 8 drew $18,200 on 40 bids while a BVG 8 got 81 bids and a $17,600 price. A PSA 7, meanwhile, went for $5,955 on 27 bids.
Another of sports’ great nicknames was bestowed upon Michael Jordan, a regular on our Top 10 chart. This installment is no different: In July, a 1986-87 Fleer Sticker graded PSA 10 inspired 100 bids, pushing the price to $81,133. Plus, a “lesser” condition (BGS 9.5) example of his 1986-87 Fleer rookie card went for $55,300 on 93 bids. And here’s a Jordan prize we don’t see too often, considering only 50 were produced: a 2001-02 Dual Signatures card from Upper Deck’s SP Authentic set. A BGS 9.5-graded example of the card recently sold for $39,700 on 60 bids.
The card features an autograph not only from Jordan but from Kobe Bryant, the late Lakers’ star. Kobe needed no nickname, of course — he was on a first-name basis with most of us. But he had one anyway: Black Mamba. As legend has it, Kobe gave himself that nickname based on the 2003 Quentin Tarantino film “Kill Bill,” in which the mamba snake was used as a code for “deadly assassin.”
THE MAGNIFICENT YANKEE
They called Mickey Mantle “The Commerce Comet” when he first came up, a reference to his upbringing in Commerce, Okla. By the time he retired, The Mick had been given a more descriptive and fitting nickname by announcer Mel Allen: “The Magnificent Yankee.” It’s an understated nickname — and underrated in most discussions of sports nicknames. Yet it’s so perfect — it defines the aura of Mantle while describing, in a word, the way he played.
When Mantle turns up in this space, it’s usually because of his 1951 Bowman or 1952 Topps cards. This time out, let’s look at a rarity — a rarity that brought a magnificent price. In July, a PSA 7-graded example of The Magnificent Yankee’s 1959 Home Run Derby card inspired 51 bids and sold for a healthy $29,985.
The Home Run Derby set, by the way, included 20 black and white cards. American Motors issued the blank-backed, unnumbered cards in support of the TV Series that featured various sluggers competing in one-on-one home derbies.
Nicknames that are both descriptive and clever always catch our attention. So it is with Karl Malone, a.k.a. The Mailman, because he always delivered. Over 18 seasons, this prototypical power forward wrecked opponents defensively (10.1 rebounds per game) and also put up piles of points (25.0 per game).
Despite his dominant play, Malone memorabilia is usually a steal in the hobby. His 1986-87 rookie card can be had for a fraction of the price of a Michael Jordan rookie from the same set. Recent sales of Malone rooks on eBay include PSA 10-graded specimens that fetched $6,390 on 38 bids, $4,301 on 33 bids and $4,160 on 57 bids.
LARRY, MAGIC AND DR. J
Sometimes, a little alliteration is all it takes for a memorable nickname … as in “Larry Legend.” That would be Larry Bird, the Boston Celtic great who could do it all, as illustrated by his career numbers (24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game).
Bidding on a Bird rookie gets you two other well-nicknamed Hall of Famers: Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Julius “Dr. J” Erving. Magic was a master passer and clutch scorer who averaged 19.5 points, 12.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds per game. Dr. J was the original human highlight film — an uber-athletic force who accounted for 24.2 points and 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
The 1980-81 Topps three-panel classic featuring Bird, Magic and Dr. J has sold for prices north of $100,000 — if in perfect-10 condition. However, as PSA notes, the card “is notorious for having black print defects scattered across the front and is fairly difficult to find perfectly centered.” Auctions on eBay in June and July reveal several PSA 9s that sold for far lower but still impressive (and amazingly consistent) prices:
• $24,322 on 40 bids
• $24,151 on 52 bids
• $23,55 on 55 bids
• $23,401 on 68 bids
• $23,100 on 82 bids
• $21,60 on 34 bids.
A BERMAN CLASSIC
Anyone who remembers watching ESPN during the cable channel’s early days will remember Chris Berman’s creative, clever and sometimes groan-worthy nicknames for ballplayers. One of our favorite examples was so good that it deserves a few lines here: Julio “Won’t You Take Me on a Sea” Cruz.
A second baseman for the Mariners and White Sox between 1977 and 1986, Cruz was a slick fielder who hit just enough to compile nearly 4,000 career at-bats, collecting 916 hits and posting a .237 average. A PSA 9 example of Topps’s 1978 Cruz rookie (likely a fill-in card for a high-grade set) recently sold for $58 on two bids.