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One Last Thing...

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

The Item. This is the passport that Wilt Chamberlain carried during his travels to Europe and the Soviet Union with the Harlem Globetrotters, whom he joined in 1958, after his junior season at the University of Kansas. NBA rules prevented a player from entering the league before his college class graduated, so for a year, Chamberlain collected a paycheck and polished his skills with the Globetrotters. The Description of Bearer page states that Chamberlain’s height is 7 feet—1 inch shorter than the figure cited in most biographies.

Its Owner
David Kohler, 46, is the president and CEO of SCP Auctions, a Mission Viejo, Calif., sports memorabilia business that he founded when he was 17. Last year, SCP sold a Honus Wagner baseball card for $2.8 million, and in 2004, in conjunction with Sotheby’s, SCP auctioned, for $1.2 million, the bat that Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium.

Its Significance
In his 1973 autobiography, Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door, Chamberlain wrote that his year with the Globetrotters was “the happiest of my life.” Chamberlain, who, in his second autobiography, 1991’s A View from Above, made the notorious claim that he had slept with 20,000 women, noted in the first book that his teammates taught him about more than just basketball. “The Globies, individually and collectively, were the greatest girl hounds I’ve ever seen,” he wrote. “They could even pick up girls in the middle of the game!”

The Acquisition
Kohler, a Southern California native and a Los Angeles Lakers fan since childhood, purchased the passport for $5,000 eight years ago in an online auction of material from Chamber­lain’s estate. He displays the document, with the photo page visible, alongside the gold ring that the NBA gave to Chamberlain in 1996 when the organization named him one of the league’s top 50 players of all time. “It’s a really cool piece to have,” Kohler says of the passport. “At that point [when Cham­berlain joined the Globe­trotters], it was his first payday. He didn’t have the wealth he’d have later. But he knew that he was going to play pro ball, and he knew that he was going to dominate from his rookie year.”

The Collection
Kohler’s house, near Los Angeles, contains what he calls his “Lakers shrine,” a 1,200-square-foot room that showcases memorabilia from as early as the 1940s, when the team was still in Minneapolis. In addition to the passport and the ring, other items on view include game-worn jerseys from Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as well as the basketball from the final contest of the 1972 NBA championship series, which the Lakers won to earn their first NBA title after moving to Los Angeles. Chamberlain was the series MVP.

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Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company - Paul Foster Books - the NY Antiquarian Book Fair
Photo courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, New York; Li Hongbo