Bidding Basketball: Jordan Bobblehead & Rodman Doll

12.13.10 8 years ago

It’s more than just Jordans. eBay’s strongest tie to basketball is not documented footwear, but an infinite inventory of NBA junk, official and otherwise, wearable or not. If it’s old and NBA, it’s worth watching. Keep checking back for the best in vintage NBA memorabilia around. This week, we have Michael Jordan‘s Birmingham Barons Bobblehead and Dennis Rodman‘s Wedding Day Doll.

(Note: I do not own any of these particular items.)

Dead Auction: Michael Jordan Birmingham Barons Bobblehead

On Wednesday, the Red Sox paid would-be UCLA point guard Carl Crawford $142 million to play left field for seven years, the 10th highest contract in baseball history, and the kind of money you just don’t see in basketball. Baseball has been ramping up its efforts in inner cities — they just opened a park in Crawford’s hometown of Houston — but the game of nine gloves, bats and balls remains, at least for kids, more difficult to organize than simple hoops. Of course, there are other reasons multi-sport stars aren’t as common as they used to be: It’s hard to be that good at two sports. Hell, even Jordan couldn’t do it.

In 1994, basketball’s brightest star quit for a Double-A outfield, and what’s more had a distinctly rough go of it, barely topping .200, striking out in a third of his at-bats and was getting caught on 40 percent of his stolen base attempts. It’s not that he was average: he was bad. He was as unproductive as a point guard shooting 35 percent from the field and 15 percent from three.

Jordan never looked like a baseball player, but was still a star. He was no longer on TV every night, but the ephemera from the baseball era — Babe Ruth Couldn’t Dunk shirts, strange UNC jerseys, holograms — could sink a battleship, and even trickled down to the local level. This bobblehead might be the best example. The seller says he got it at a game, and while most teams didn’t give them out until the 2000s, the item in question is a good 16 years old.

A decade and a half later, few people appreciate Jordan’s time in the Minors. It shouldn’t be that way: Jordan’s time in the Minors was a hell of an accomplishment. A fifth of his hits were doubles and he swiped 30 bases, top five in the league. He walked in better than 10 percent of his plate appearances – a great rate and even more impressive considering his total lack of power. Most impressive was that he led his team in at-bats — it didn’t hurt that Jerry Reinsdorf owned both the Bulls and White Sox, Birmingham’s parent organization — simply, he kept playing. This is an incredible accomplishment for a guy who months earlier was in the NBA. Jordan had not played organized ball in 13 years and held his own in the high minors in his first professional season. That’s unheard of, and will never happen again. Considering the trying nature of baseball — it takes years for even the best prospects to become Major League-ready — surviving 127 games in Double-A might be Jordan’s most impressive accomplishment as a man. And the bobblehead, game-given or not, is a fine reminder that his baseball days were as much a part of him as anything on the hardwood.

Live Auction: Dennis Rodman Wedding Day Doll

Of course, not all dolls are created equal. This Dennis Rodman fake Barbie, commemorating his 1999 autobiography “Bad As I Wanna Be,” is about as different from Jordan’s double-A bobblehead as the two players were from each other. Rodman’s hair, tattoos and middling offense offset Jordan’s diplomatic affability and all-around excellence to say the least, and Jack Haley was never as cool as Charles Oakley.

Of course, it’s also well known that Rodman and Jordan were hard as nails, rebounded above their size and dedicated themselves enough to earn numerous defensive awards, but they set the rules for themselves off the court. Where Rodman spent a summer wrestling Karl Malone at the “Bash on the Beach,” Jordan left for baseball. Both the wrestling match and minor league assignment arose from boredom with the NBA.

Rodman and Jordan would eventually leave their unpopular extracurricular activities and return to basketball, but while Jordan stayed full-time, Rodman always kept one foot out the door. It all came to a head in 1999, when makeup problems had him ousted from the Mavs, despite 14.3 boards per game and tenancy in Mark Cuban‘s guesthouse. Worm had burned all his bridges and remains outside the game.

It’s hard to say whether his decade of excellence was more impressive than his earnestness in extracurricular activities, but despite seven rebounding titles, five rings, two DPOY awards, he’s no lock for the Hall of Fame. Still, if good taste reigns on eBay — no one will be buying this doll — one comes away with the idea that good play itself is being forgotten. As with Jordan the outfielder, Rodman’s odd route to excellence is being ignored, and we are poorer for it.

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