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Game-worn jerseys from Finals to be auctioned online

CHICAGO -- Basketball star Kobe Bryant
shoots, scores, and all the while fans can bid online on the
NBA Most Valuable Player's jersey in real-time.

The National Basketball Association said on Wednesday it
will auction online, starting with opening tip-offs, jerseys
worn by players during two games of the finals this week
between Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

"It's something that our fans have been asking for," Lisa
Goldberg, the NBA's senior director of trading cards and
memorabilia, said in a telephone interview.

"It's been moving in the direction for not just basketball,
but all sports," she added. "Game-worn merchandise has
definitely become a greater part of the market and collectors
are wanting it."

Game-worn jerseys have become increasingly popular with
collectors looking for unique memorabilia, and the Internet
will only drive that interest higher, said Pete Siegel, chief
executive of New York City-based Gotta Have It! Collectible
Inc, which sells high-end sports, entertainment and historical
collectibles.

"Whenever one of the so-called leagues takes it into their
own hands to auction off the items, it goes for more money
because it comes directly from the source," he said.

The NBA's Web site, NBA.com, saw traffic surge this season,
topping 1.2 billion visits including the playoffs.

Siegel pointed to rising values, including $175,000 paid at
a charity auction this year for a jersey of Boston Red Sox
designated hitter David Ortiz that he never even wore.

A construction worker who loves the Boston team buried the
Ortiz jersey at the new Yankee Stadium under construction as a
way to curse the New York team, but the Yankees dug it up after
receiving tips from other co-workers.

Siegel said he sold the jersey from the rookie season of
Jackie Robinson, the Hall-of-Famer who broke baseball's color
barrier, for $500,000. However, even minor players' jerseys in
the NBA Finals may sell for thousands, he said.

Siegel said pro sports leagues are moving to sell game-worn
apparel more and more, and that will bring in more revenue.

The NBA, which may expand the program, began selling
pre-worn game jerseys last year, but this year will be the first
time the auctions begin during a live game, Goldberg said.
Game-worn jerseys make up less than 1 percent of the NBA's
overall merchandise sales, but that business is growing fast.

Game-worn jerseys can sell for thousands of dollars,
including $25,500 for the jersey of Cleveland all-star LeBron James from last year's finals with San Antonio. New jerseys not
worn by players retail for up to $170.

A game-worn Bryant jersey, with proper tagging proving
authenticity, would probably sell for about $2,500, Siegel
said. With NBA backing and the added allure of the playoffs,
that value easily could hit five figures.

The auctions for the Lakers' and Celtics' jerseys from the
first and third games allow fans to bid on the home and away
jerseys for both teams, the NBA said. The auction from the
first game will run June 5-24, while the Game 3 auction
will run June 10-26.

MeiGray, the official game-worn source of the NBA, will
oversee the auctions on NBA.com. Private held MeiGray, which
does similar work for other leagues, also will authenticate the
jerseys with a system that includes a special code, tag and
security number placed on the jerseys before the players wear
them on the court.

Of course, in life there are no guarantees. The fine print
says the NBA is not responsible for certain acts -- like a
player throwing his jersey into the crowd -- so bidders
shouldn't get their heart set on a particular jersey.