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Over the last seven decades, Joel Platt has acquired one of the world’s great sports memorabilia collections. The 82-year-old’s high-security vaults in Florida contain more than a million items — ranging from Jackie Robinson’s bat to Wilt Chamberlain’s high school uniform to the recently deceased Hank Aaron’s game-used hat.
Claiming to have traveled a million miles to land his mementos, the real-estate developer said that his tireless mission grew out of tragedy from his childhood in Pittsburgh.
“In 1943, I put a lit match into a car’s gas tank,” Platt, who was four years old at the time, told The Post. The resulting explosion left him injured and bedridden for over a year. “My parents bought me baseball cards and my favorite was Babe Ruth. I had a dream in which the Babe visited me and said, ‘Kid, don’t give up. You can get better and someday be a major league baseball player or build an international hall of fame for sports immortal heroes and greats.’”
In 1995, he opened the Sports Immortals Museum in Boca Raton (temporarily closed due to COVID-19). That collection showcases a lifetime of acquisitions, which Platt obtained through purchases, befriending generous team equipment managers — and showing up, sometimes unannounced, at the homes of players and their family members and charming them.
Now, he is offering the public a chance to participate in his collection, by selling shares through IPOs for individual items via the sports-memorabilia investment site Collectable.com.
For Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” championship belt, one of two known to be in circulation, Collectable sold 12,800 shares, at $10 a pop — generating $128,000. (Collectable valued the belt at $428,000 and Platt kept 30,000 shares.)
According to Ezra Levine, CEO of Collectable, “The IPO sold out, but shares have begun trading, at prices based on investor demand, via a secondary market [on the site] — similar to that of Wall Street. It’s one way for investors to realize profits.” An item can begin trading on the site, he said, 90 days after its IPO sells out.
A second way to cash in comes when an item sells and profits are divided among share-holders.
Here are several of Joel Platt’s home-run scores, all of which have appeared for investment via Collectable. More treasures, including ones from Sandy Koufax and Honus Wagner, are scheduled this year.
Michael Jordan’s ’84 jersey VALUE: 2,000
IPO sold out in under 15 minutes
Maurice Lucas, a power forward who played on eight different NBA teams (including the Knicks in 1981-’82), grew up in Pittsburgh and used to shoot baskets at night on a half-court that Platt had built behind his Steel City home. Platt even lent his Cadillac to the kid for senior prom.
The favors paid off: “I would tell Maurice what I needed and, when he played against a particular team, he would ask the equipment manager or player for the item,” Platt recalled.
Lucas got him Jordan’s signed, game-used 1984 Bulls jersey. “Jordan was a rookie that year and projected to be the next great one.
Johnny Unitas jersey VALUE: 5,500
IPO sold out in 10 minutes
In the 1960s, Platt drove to the Baltimore Colts training camp where his good pal, team equipment manager Fred Schubach, gave him quarterback Unitas’ game-used jersey. Schubach also introduced him to Unitas, who had washed out with the Pittsburgh Steelers before becoming a Colts legend.
“Johnny was happy to see a guy from Pittsburgh who was a longtime fan,” said Platt. “He signed the jersey for me. Old-time players were a different breed than the [intensely guarded] players today.”
Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ championship belt VALUE: 8,000
IPO sold out in 24 hours
Platt met Ali through the boxer’s trainer Angelo Dundee, whom the collector had buddied up to at a closed-circuit showing of a match. Encounters with Ali were frequent enough that the champ took to calling Platt “My Man the Museum Man.”
In 1989, after seeing Ali and his family on a Sports Illustrated cover, Platt reached out to the boxer’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., who proved to be in a selling mood.
The collector braved a snowstorm and drove from a business meeting in Chicago to the family home in Louisville to make a deal for one of two 1974 belts. “[Clay] welcomed me in, I told him what a great humanitarian his son is, and we made a deal on the belt.” The cost? Platt will only say: “It was a significant amount.”
Wilt Chamberlain’s ’54 signed jersey VALUE 6,000
IPO sold out in 15 minutes
When Platt made an unannounced 1961 visit to the Philadelphia family home of Wilt Chamberlain — a star for the city’s NBA team, the Warriors — he brought a hand-carved wood plaque adorned with a photo of Chamberlain.
“Mrs. Chamberlain invited me in and said it was a shame that I had just missed Wilt — he was flying to Kansas.” After hearing about Platt’s mission to honor sports stars, she offered the jersey and shorts that Chamberlain wore in his 1954 high-school championship game. (She even verified its provenance in writing.)
Decades later a then-retired Chamberlain — who would claim in his autobiography that he had slept with 20,000 women — owned an eponymous sports-bar/restaurant near Platt’s Florida home.
The collector popped in with his “very attractive” daughter, who was in her 30s, and Platt asked Chamberlain to sign the uniform.
“Wilt invited us to sit down, signed both sides and wrote ‘Best wishes.’ Some athletes sign with just initials and numbers,” said Platt. “Verbiage on an autograph [brings] additional value. Having my daughter with me did not hurt.”
Jackie Robinson’s ’49 bat VALUE: ,250
IPO sold out in under 15 minutes
This Louisville Slugger marks the second anniversary of Robinson breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier. It is a signed Dodgers game bat, albeit most likely unused, from Robinson’s 1949 season, when he was named the National League MVP.
This item came from a private, 5,000-item collection of a Philadelphia man named Harry Evans that Platt purchased in the late 1970s.
“Every time I was in Philadelphia, I would call Mrs. Evans and she would tell me that she couldn’t part with her [deceased] husband’s collection,” said Platt. “I coveted that collection for eight years. Finally, I called and her son told me that he wanted to work out a deal. I never give up.”