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Opinion: Spending big on old game tickets

Michael Jordan, No. 23 of the Chicago Bulls, is seen in a game in 1984. An unused ticket from his first game as a Bull, Oct. 26, 1984, has sold for $468,000.
Rick Stewart
Getty Images
Michael Jordan, No. 23 of the Chicago Bulls, is seen in a game in 1984. An unused ticket from his first game as a Bull, Oct. 26, 1984, has sold for $468,000.

The way we react to a story sometimes depends on all the other news around it.

This week two artifacts of long-past sports events sold for almost half a million dollars each, according to Heritage Auctions.

One was an unused ticket from Michael Jordan's first game as a Chicago Bull, Oct. 26, 1984. It sold for $468,000. The other was a ticket stub from Jackie Robinson's first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, April 15, 1947. It went — later in the same auction — for $480,000.

Both men are legends. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Jackie Robinson was that rare, star athlete who was also a genuine hero of American history — the first black player in Major League Baseball.

But the money just staggered me. The purchasers weren't paying for a piece of art, or a letter from Albert Einstein. They weren't even paying for a hand-written note from Jackie Robinson or Michael Jordan. Just... old tickets.

The buyer of the Michael Jordan ticket is unknown right now. But the man who sold it is Mike Cole, an admissions director at Quinnipiac University, who was a Northwestern student in 1984. He had two tickets to a Bulls game, but ended up going on his own. He kept the unused ticket for years, tucked alongside old photos, yearbooks, and purple Northwestern pom-poms.

"I've never held on to these items thinking one day they're going to be worth a lot of money," he told the Chicago Tribune. "(T)hey are memories of good experiences..."

Mike Cole is happy to have the money to pay off his mortgage, put his children through college, and travel a bit. But he says he's happy his ticket didn't hang onto the price record.

"I think it's fitting," he said, "that Jackie Robinson, whose contribution goes way beyond sports, has the highest valued ticket."

That stub went to Mark Attanasio, who also owns the Milwaukee Brewers baseball club.

Mr. Attanasio is a generous man who donates millions from his own pocket and through the Brewers Community Foundation.

He can afford to spend $480,000 on a decades-old ticket stub without stinting on his gifts to many deserving causes. It's his money to spend as he likes.

But days we awake to news about invasions, refugees and humanitarian crisis, it's hard not to see old sports artifacts sell for nearly half a million dollars, and wonder what else that money might have bought.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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