By Rick Firfer
Each spring, the Chicago Bulls host a gala charity fundraiser to benefit underprivileged children and others in the local community. This year, the team hosted the 19th annual FestaBulls dinner and auction on their home court at the United Center in downtown Chicago. As usual, a capacity crowd of more than 500 fans attended the event, which raised approximately $175,000 for the team’s affiliate, CharitaBulls.
The evening started out with a VIP reception that gave some of the fans exclusive access to the players and coaches for about 30 minutes. After that, everyone segued onto the main court, where dinner tables were set up for buffet-style meals. A separate area on the court was set aside for the many high-quality memorabilia items scheduled to be sold via a silent auction.
A main stage was also set up for the live auction and the many introductions that needed to be made that evening. The stage also held the Bulls’ six NBA Championship trophies. Fans could go on stage and have their picture taken with the trophies. Those who went on the stage were given a beautiful, full-color 5-by-7 photo of themselves with the trophies.
The live and silent auctions both featured many desirable autographed items, including both replica and team-issued jerseys signed by some of the NBA’s top stars, such as LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. There were also a number of quality items donated by other professional sports teams, such as the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. And there was a gorgeous NASCAR racing helmet that had the signatures of 34 drivers on it, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The NASCAR helmet went for $750, and the autographed game-worn rookie uniforms of Bulls players Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich each went for more than $1,000, as did an autographed Bulls warm-up outfit worn by Scottie Pippen during the 1998 NBA Finals and a Bulls uniform worn by Ron Harper during the 1996-97 season.
The live auction, which was conducted by a local radio personality adept at prying big bucks out of contributors, was very exciting. There were eight items in the live auction, including a Joakim Noah autographed game-worn rookie uniform that sold for $1,600, a Brett Favre autographed jersey that went for $2,200, an autographed LeBron James jersey (not game-worn) that sold for $1,200; a 1997-98 Bulls team-signed basketball (without Dennis Rodman) that sold for $1,700; and a signed and framed Brian Urlacher jersey that brought $2,500.
Also auctioned live were a basketball “Legends Lithograph” signed by Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird that sold for $4,000; a “Duke Package” that included airfare, hotel room and tickets to a Duke basketball game, along with autographed game-worn Bulls rookie uniforms of Chris Duhon and Luol Deng, that sold for $3,000; and a used locker from the Bulls’ practice facility, the Berto Center (used most recently by Kirk Hinrich), that brought $2,750.
However, of all the items up for bid that evening, nothing topped the game-used pinstriped Bulls alternate uniform that had been worn by Michael Jordan during the 1996-97 season. Although not autographed, this uniform still brought a whopping $17,750 in the silent auction. During the Bull’s championship years, autographed Jordan game-worn uniforms used to bring as much as $40,000 apiece. However, after Jordan left the Bulls for good, the team had a hard time getting anyone to bid on his uniforms. In fact, a few times, no one would match the minimum $15,000 bid price that the team used to put on these uniforms. But it now looks like, even with the general economy in the tank, that some folks think a game-worn Jordan uniform is again a worthy investment.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the Bulls players, even though mired in a dismal season on the court, went out of their way to be friendly and accessible to the fans who attended FestaBulls. Almost all of the players, including the top stars, were there, and there was no limit on the number of items that you could get autographed. In fact, the lines for signatures were not very long, and you could keep going back as often as you wished.
The players were more than willing to chat with the fans and generally hang out with them for as long as they wanted. In other words, there were no early exits this year, as there used to be in the Jordan/Pippen/Rodman days.
Thabo Sefalosha, in particular, was happy to be there.
“This gives me a chance to get to know some of the fans and to show my appreciation for the support they show the team,” he said. “For me, it is a real pleasure to be here.”
That about summed it up for everyone.