What does it take to be like Mike? 1,264 ticket stubs.
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What does it take to be like Mike? 1,264 ticket stubs.
Andrew Goldberg with over 1,000 of his collected tickets from Michael Jordan’s games, at his home in Lake Worth, Fla., June 16, 2021. “I just had this thought that: ‘You know what? Tickets don’t take up a lot of space,’” Goldberg said. “As I’ve learned, if you have a lot of them, they do.” Saul Martinez/The New York Times.

by Scott Cacciola

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- As the planet’s preeminent collector of a very specific type of basketball memorabilia, Andrew Goldberg scans the internet and works the phones. He has spent six years tending to a spreadsheet that details the items that are in his possession, and he has a network of industry sources who alert him whenever they come across something he may need.

The magic happens at garage sales, on eBay and in dusty attics.

“I’ve enjoyed the hunt,” Goldberg said. “I don’t know if anyone can dispute the claim that I may have the largest Michael Jordan ticket-stub collection in the world.”

At a time of booming interest in sports collectibles, Goldberg has found a niche as he pursues his goal of nabbing a ticket stub from each game of Jordan’s Hall of Fame playing career. He keeps them in protective sleeves and stores them in cardboard boxes at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. And he will not stop, he said, until he has all 1,264 of them.

“His level of commitment is insane,” said Patrick Powell, founder of Booger’s Stubs, an online community for ticket collectors.

A 47-year-old nonprofit consultant and lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, Goldberg said he loved that each ticket has a story and a box score associated with it, that it shared “the same air” with Jordan for a couple of hours and that it is a piece of hardwood history that cannot be replicated — although he does wish that the ticket-tearing ushers at the old Boston Garden would have exercised better care with their craft.

“They wouldn’t even follow the perforations,” Goldberg said. “They were notorious in the ’80s for having terrible tears in their tickets. Just terrible.”

Growing up outside of Chicago, Goldberg attached himself to the Bulls. He was fortunate, he said, that his father, Perry, had season tickets with a group of friends. Whenever he accompanied his father, their pregame ritual was dinner at Greek Islands, a restaurant not far from the arena. And in the pre-Jordan era, his favorite player was Artis Gilmore because he was tall (Goldberg was tall for his age) and because they shared the same initials.

The dynamic around the team changed, though, when Jordan arrived in Chicago as a rookie in 1984. He was a phenomenon from the start, and it occurred to Goldberg that he ought to start keeping the ticket stubs from the Bulls games he attended. He advised his father to do the same. Even then, Goldberg was concerned about ticket-stub integrity.

“I told him not to fold them,” he said.

Jordan was in full flight by the time Goldberg enrolled at the University of Illinois. Goldberg’s college a cappella group performed the national anthem before one Bulls game, and he participated in a half-court-shot contest at another, taking home a 15-pound Nestle Crunch bar as a consolation prize.

On the side, he slowly amassed about 60 Bulls tickets that he kept in a photo album. Then, he pretty much forgot about them for 25 years. It was not until 2015 that he returned to his collection, setting out with the goal of acquiring a full set of ticket stubs from the Bulls’ 1995-96 season, when they went 72-10, setting an NBA record for most wins in a single season that would stand for 20 years.

Part of Goldberg’s dream was rooted in pragmatism. He had been an avid collector of sports cards and comic books for many years, but he was bothered by the clutter.

“And I just had this thought that: ‘You know what? Tickets don’t take up a lot of space,’ ” he said. “As I’ve learned, if you have a lot of them, they do.”

Before long, Goldberg decided to go big and collect all 1,264 ticket stubs from Jordan’s entire career, which is composed of 930 regular-season games with the Bulls, 142 regular-season games with the Washington Wizards, 179 playoff games and 13 All-Star Game appearances. Goldberg has 986 of them.

He has a handful of extras that he does not include in the total — stubs from Jordan’s three appearances in the NBA’s annual slam-dunk contest and from his lone entrance in the 3-point shootout, when he set a record for futility by finishing with the worst score in the competition’s history. Goldberg also has tickets from both of Jordan’s Olympic gold medal games.

Among the significant stubs that have escaped his grasp: Jordan’s 63-point tour de force against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1986 playoffs. Goldberg saw one available on eBay a couple of years ago, but someone else bought it before he could submit his bid. (Goldberg said he had no way of tracking down the buyer.)

He is missing one of the potential gems of the entire batch — a ticket from Jordan’s regular-season debut in 1984. This gets deep into the ticket-collecting weeds, but the Bulls produced several types of tickets that season, Goldberg said. There were red ones and blue ones for season-ticket holders, a box-office version and another from Ticketron. The red ticket is the most desirable since red is the team color, Goldberg said, and one was sold about two years ago for $33,000. Goldberg has not seen another available for purchase since. How much would he be willing to shell out to acquire one?

“I don’t think that I could share anything that could end up in print and stay married,” said Goldberg, who has twin 1-year-old sons with his wife, Barbara.

Goldberg can still pick up a run-of-the-mill Jordan ticket for around $5 or $10, he said. And for the record, he said, his hobby has essentially funded itself: He sold his comic books for about $2,000 in seed money, and now he often trades or sells duplicate tickets to fill holes in his collection. (The duplicates, he said, are useful when making deals with other collectors.)

These days, the printed ticket is becoming a relic. Although many sports teams still produce them for season-ticket holders, the broader supply has dwindled in the digital ticket era. Now, most fans simply have a code on their cellphones that ushers scan when they enter the arena.

“It’s a shame because it is an absolutely wonderful piece of history,” said Al Glaser of Professional Sports Authenticator, a memorabilia authentication service. “It’s like having a game-used jersey or a game-used bat.”

The pandemic also was a huge interruption for the collector crowd. The NBA finished last season (and started the current one) without fans — and without tickets.

“If anyone really wanted to get a ticket from every LeBron James game, they kind of can’t do it now,” Goldberg said.

As for his collection, Goldberg has found that publicity — like the original story on him in the Midway Minute, a Chicago sports newsletter — sometimes helps. Strangers will reach out about their long-forgotten tickets to gauge whether he has any use for them.

“You hope people will come out of the woodwork,” said Goldberg, who remains confident that he will complete his collection. “I just don’t know how much longer it will take.”

Once he does, he plans to approach officials from the Basketball Hall of Fame and the United Center, the arena where the Bulls play their home games, to see if they would be interested in displaying a selection of his stubs for the viewing public.

“I think it would be a nostalgic stroll through history for a lot of people,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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