very fan of Major League Baseball knows that if they want to be in the presence of the most amazing historical artifacts of the game, they must make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown, New York.
For those who are enamored by the greats of the gridiron, Canton, Ohio is the sacred ground where fans can place only inches of air between themselves and the actual trophies, equipment, uniforms and other game used treasures of the National Football League.
For hoops lovers, Springfield, Massachusetts is the shrine in which the faithful gather to gaze upon National Basketball Association memorabilia that can awe and inspire.
These respective Halls of Fame are more than just buildings that house bronze tributes and mementos. They are repositories of history where past moments of athletic greatness on the courts and fields of America have been frozen in time. They are as close as we will ever get to standing next to the Babe, smelling the freshly cut grass of Yankee Stadium's outfield on a sweltering summer afternoon in the Bronx. They give us an idea of what it would have been like to sit beside Sayers on a Soldier Field bench, staring into the blood and lime stained bandages that wrap frozen hands on a blustering Chicago Sunday. They are magical places that reach out, grab us and lead us past the spring-welcoming crocuses in the Faneuil Hall Marketplace to the sweat-sprayed parquet floor of the Boston Garden as Auerbach's commands resound in our ears.
There is another such place that pays homage to one specific sports franchise – the Los Angeles Lakers. You won't find this shrine in a snow covered ornate building in downtown Minneapolis, where the Lakers were formed back in 1947. Nor will you find it in a sleek architectural wonder in Los Angeles, where the team relocated in 1960. Instead, this magnificent Lakers Hall of Fame is housed in a Home of Fame – the Orange County, California home of SportsCards Plus President David Kohler.
When Kohler built his home, he had to take more into consideration than simply providing comfortable living quarters for himself and his family. He had the added responsibility to make provisions for well over 1,000 items that trace the history of his beloved Lakers. Thus, building plans for the Kohler home called for an 1,100 square foot Lakers room with a hardwood floor complete with an inlayed Lakers logo, bar and custom cabinetry to display what is the undisputed premiere Los Angeles Lakers collection in existence.
"I'm a big Lakers fan," Kohler casually reveals, seemingly without any awareness that he is making a major league statement of the obvious. "I've been a big fan ever since I was a kid, and when I got into the sports card business I started to see a lot of great Lakers items. I purchased a Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) game worn uniform. And then I got a Magic (Johnson) game worn uniform. Those were the things that really got me started, and around the mid-1980s I decided I was going to put together a Lakers collection."
So, put together a Lakers collection he did! And, not just a collection – but, without hyperbole, the greatest collection of Lakers memorabilia ever assembled! Just ask SMR Editor-In-Chief, Joe Orlando, who has been involved in the high-end sports collectibles business for years and has seen thousands of incredible collections. He has said that he considers the treasures that are housed in Kohler's Lakers room to be the single greatest personal amassment of items pertaining to a team that he has ever seen. "There's no questioning that Kohler's collection is of the caliber of what you would see at a Hall of Fame," says Orlando.
The road that brought Kohler to the world of sports collecting began back in the late 1970s when, as a high school student, he began buying and selling sports cards. After graduation, Kohler went on to matriculate at the University of California at Irvine with aspirations to go on to medical school. During that time, he also established his business, Sportscards Plus, in which he successfully sold cards by mail order. By 1982, SportsCards Plus had gotten so busy he opened a retail store and was soon conducting business with some of the top collectors and dealers in the country. Taking into consideration the fun he was having and the money he was making, Kohler decided that it would be the title of "dealer" instead of "doctor" that would professionally preface his name.
In 1991, Kohler moved SportsCards Plus to the exclusive Southern California beach community of Laguna Niguel. By that time he had begun dealing exclusively in high-end items such as a Honus Wagner PSA 4 that he sold for $325 thousand. Other impressive pieces that have passed through SportsCards Plus are a 1952 Mickey Mantle PSA 9 which brought Kohler $70 thousand, a 1953 Goudey Babe Ruth PSA 8 that rung on his register for $52 thousand, and a 1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson PSA 8 that brought in $40 thousand.
Today, along with his retail store, Kohler's company conducts about three major auctions annually and has earned a respected reputation for providing everything from Hank Aaron signed balls and Kobe Bryant game worn jerseys to Super Bowl tickets, rings and a 1933 uncut Goudey sheet with three Babe Ruths and a Lou Gehrig.
"We offer the whole enchilada!" laughs Kohler.
Being around all these incredible treasures once caused Kohler the same problem many dealers face– he didn't want to part with any of them!
|"There's a lot of stories behind this stuff," Kohler says of his collection which is displayed in custom cabinetry throughout the room|
"Starting the Lakers collection helped me get over that," Kohler reasons. "When I started concentrating on one specific thing, it made it easier for me to separate me the dealer from me the collector. Before I got focused on the Lakers collection, I'd see all this great stuff like a Mantle jersey or a DiMaggio bat and I wanted to keep it all. Now I have the freedom to say that I have specific things that are for me personally and everything else is for sale."
Among those "specific things" that make up Kohler's collection are 98 game worn jerseys or jackets and various items that were given to him by the late Wilt Chamberlain, including The Stilt's "50 Greatest NBA Players" ring and his personal limited edition 50 Greatest Players lithograph.
As for his favorite items, Kohler is quick to first point out a complete Jerry West uniform from the mid-1960s. "That is a very rare piece," Kohler proudly states. "And I also have the jacket which he signed for me."
His other highly prized possessions are numerous items pertaining to the legendary Minneapolis Lakers Center, George Mikan.
|Lakers legends such as Shaq, Wilt, Elgin and Jerry West are all represented in the collection with game worn uniforms and shoes.|
"About 10 years ago, I was put in touch with George when he mentioned to someone in the Lakers organization that he was interested in selling some of his personal items," explains Kohler. "I flew to Minneapolis and bought everything he had, which really rounded out my collection by bringing in the franchise's roots back in Minnesota. I believe that George was also very happy to see all of his things go to me because he knew they would become a part of an important Lakers collection and not be scattered in an auction."
Among the Mikan treasures that Kohler displays are his MVP trophies, a game worn jersey and even a pair of the glasses he was famous for wearing.
"That number 99 jersey of his is really one of my most cherished pieces," Kohler says reverently.
While perusing this amazing amassment one is inclined to wonder if the Lakers collector who has everything really does have everything?
The answer is no.
"I'd love to have a Jerry West rookie uniform, which is a little different in style from the one I have. But I don't even know if it exists. Jerry doesn't have it and even he doesn't know if it's out there anywhere."
The other "Holy Grail" that Kohler is on the constant search for is a Minneapolis Lakers game worn Elgin Baylor jersey. "That would be an incredible find," says Kohler. "I've never seen one anywhere. But I do have one of Baylor's shooting shirts from the last season before they moved to L.A."
Other amazing pieces of Lakers history in Kohler's care are a small 10 karat gold basketball that was given to each Lakers player when they won their first championship back in 1948, and the nets that were used at the Great Western Forum in the 1987 and 1988 championships when they beat the Detroit Pistons back-to-back.
"I also have one of the nets from their first championship at Staples Center," says Kohler. "Shaquille O'Neal has one and I have the other."
Among the select few who have gotten to experience Kohler's collection are Lakers legends Magic Johnson and Jerry West, who, according to Kohler, were blown away with what they saw.
"I had Magic and Jerry West sign the Lakers logo on my floor and I'm hoping to get a few other players up to sign it also," Kohler mused wishfully. "When Magic was here he even went out back and shot some hoops with me and my son, Dillon, who is five years-old. Dillon doesn't quite get it now, but when he gets older he'll realize just how really big that was."
For now, it's Kohler's closest friends, basketball's elite and lucky reporters who get to enjoy his collection. But, there's a possibility that may someday change.
"I can't go into too much detail about it, but, I'm talking with the Lakers about leasing the collection to them to display at Staples Center," Kohler reveals. "That would be so great because that's what it's really all about – sharing it with people."
In the mean time, this incredible Lakers Hall of Fame will remain at Kohler's Home of Fame.
"As much as I do want to share it, I have to admit, it would be very difficult to let it go," Kohler admits as he sinks into the couch in his Lakers room. "There's a lot of stories behind all this stuff and it's such a great feeling to have it all around me."
If you would like to contact David Kohler you can write to him at 26035 Acero Suite 200 Mission Viejo, CA. 92691 or contact him by phone at (800) 350-2273 or by email at [email protected].
And be sure to visit SportsCards Plus on line at www.sportscardsplus.com
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