When Ramzi Traboulsi got his first pack of basketball cards at the age of 10, he knew he was hooked. It started a collection of a lifetime, and soon became an addiction. As a Lebanese living in Canada, he became obsessed with the United States’ National Basketball Association (NBA) and the memorabilia associated with it. The thrill of buying a pack of basketball cards, eagerly hoping for a rare one to appear among the usual stack, was to him far more exciting than playing the game itself. “It is a different hobby,” he said. “I was a kid and I liked the concept of it, and as I grew it became an investment.”
See also: Shawarma goes global
Nowadays his collection is a much more serious matter, including cards, jerseys, shoes and figurines. Among the collection are items linked to Michael Jordan, Traboulsi’s favorite player and widely considered the greatest ever to play, as well as other giants of the game including Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and the NBA’s current Most Valuable Player Lebron James.
And while Traboulsi has been “hiding [his items] for 24 years,” he recently decided to share and sell his possessions in his first exhibition at Geek Express, a new concept store in Beirut’s Bachoura district.
Around 500 items are being exhibited, including trainers, signed basketballs and other goods, but, he says, he has “thousands”. About 95 percent of the items displayed are signed by NBA stars, and each item has a certificate of authenticity and is registered online with a serial number. Since they are all limited edition or very rare, the prices start at about $500.
Traboulsi’s most expensive items are so rare that they no longer have a set value. A 1997 card signed by Michael Jordan in his collection is believed to be the only one of its kind globally. Its value of which depends on how much a buyer is willing to pay, according to Traboulsi. He also has a jersey signed by Jordan which Traboulsi believes could fetch over $10,000, “depending on the highest bidder”.
Traboulsi says he was interested in exhibiting his collection to discover whether he was really the biggest basketball fan in Lebanon. “[I wanted] to see if people would like it, if there is an interest, if there is a market for it, and to share it, because no one has done anything like this,” he says. Traboulsi explains that in the US, “there is a huge market” for NBA items.
But after many years of expanding his collection, it is becoming difficult for Traboulsi to keep growing because the items he is currently looking for are rare and expensive. Despite this, he is still increasing his collection through companies that sign with individual players. One of these companies, the Upper Deck Company, asked Traboulsi to be their sub-agent, since he is one of the largest collectors of NBA items outside of the US.
Traboulsi is eager to find out people’s reaction to his collection and is hopeful of displaying his items further abroad. “If I see a response from people, I would definitely be interested in making more exhibitions in the region and outside of Lebanon,” he said. The exhibition is open until August 4 at Geek Express.