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Interesting Article on Autograph-Seeking - NY Times

Preserving the Signature of a Forgotten Past
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Published: June 11, 2006
"Dear Charles: Jack died on Sept. 28, 2005. He was always happy to sign autographs, and surprised that anyone remembered him. Sincerely, Emily Burmaster."

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Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Charles Miron has collected 1,500 autographs of basketball players, most of them professional, dating to the 1940's.

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Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
The card above shows Bob Cousy. "I'm the keeper of the flame," Miron said.
Jack Burmaster, a 6-foot-3 forward, played professional basketball for two seasons, in the National League, a predecessor of the N.B.A., with Oshkosh in 1948-49 and Sheboygan in 1949-50, averaging 7.7 points a game.

In writing to Burmaster, Charles Miron was hoping to add to his collection of 1,500 autographs of basketball players, most of them professional, a grouping as esoteric as it is extensive, from Dick "Tiptoe" Triptow, a star with DePaul University and the Chicago Gears in the 1940's, to Bob "Foothills" Kurland, who had epic battles in the pivot with George Mikan, to Frank "Apples" Kudelka and Leo "Crystal" Klier, early N.B.A. players, to Dirk Nowitzki, current star of the Dallas Mavericks.

Miron said he wrote to Darnell Hillman "that the three best Afros in the A.B.A." belonged to Julius Erving, James Silas and him, and that he had the best one. "He signed right away, adding 'Dr. Dunk' to his autograph," Miron said.

There are modern-day players, to be sure, but to a large extent Miron's focus has been on very good but relatively forgotten players.

"I'm the keeper of the flame," he said. "A guy like Burmaster, he was a real star in college, at Illinois, and in later life he was a high school basketball coach, in Evanston, Ill. But who remembers him today? Well, I do. People should. It's a shame they don't."

Miron, tall, bald, born in Brooklyn in a year that he will not divulge — "What's the difference?" he says — now lives in Manhattan. He has published 10 paperback novels and has recently completed work on a book of his illustrations and captions, "Women Talk, Men Listen."

For decades he was also an avid playground basketball player with a deft left-handed set shot, and described himself as "the highest scorer in the history of half-court basketball," with about 207,500 points, he said.

He has been a man for all seasons: he had a walk-on part in a Mae West play, "Diamond Lil," on Broadway and on tour in the early 1950's, and he has been a collector of animals in his apartment, including a pygmy hippopotamus weighing 100 pounds.

He kept the hippo in water in his bathtub and at times he walked it around the apartment for exercise. Miron also had a Malaysian eagle and a champion greyhound, Misty of Romin.

"I've got autographs from players and coaches that people said you can't get, they don't sign," said Miron, sitting in a coffee shop recently, discussing some of the challenges. "One of them was Bob Knight," he said. "I wrote him that I felt he got a bum deal from the Ohio State coach Fred Taylor, and that he should have been starting behind Jerry Lucas, Larry Siegfried and John Havlicek. I also told him I admired the fact that as a coach he has had about a 100 percent graduation rate among his players. Got an autograph on a card of him in an Ohio State uniform within days."

On Dec. 5, 2005, he wrote to Kurland: "The first basketball game I ever saw at Madison Square Garden was between Oklahoma A&M and City College; the year was 1943. The man who scored 17 points and blocked five shots was deemed 'Foothills' by the press. City College was up against a force of nature, as Oklahoma A&M and you and Hank Iba won 41-28."

Miron mentioned two teammates of Kurland's and added "you were a dynasty."

Kurland wrote back: "Charles. You have a great memory. Hope your health is good. Those were great days. It was a thrill to hear from you. Best of luck, Bob Kurland."

Miron, who began collecting autographs about three years ago and said that he might donate the collection to a museum, goes to card shows and then, finding former players' home addresses in a way in which he refused to share, will send a player the card for his autograph, with a personalized note.

There has been a variety of nonresponses mixed in with the overwhelming number of responses. Nate Thurmond, on letterhead from Big Nate's Barbeque in San Francisco, sent a boilerplate note: "There is a $15.00 charge for each flat paper item signed (Cash Preferred)." Miron was not overjoyed by the response and never wrote back.

Another N.B.A. player from the 1970's did not write back and did not send back the card Miron had mailed him.

"That card cost me $40 and the creep kept it," Miron said. "If he didn't get it, I'd have gotten it back in the mail. I've got back about 20, and right away, when the address isn't good. This guy just couldn't be bothered. Oscar Robertson didn't sign, but he sent back the card. If a guy for whatever reason doesn't want to sign, I respect that. But at least send back the card."

Miron, being an inveterate basketball fan, asked some of the old-time players about their contemporaries. "Was Bobby McDermott as good as I heard that he was?" Miron asked the Hall of Famer Al "Digger" Cervi (Miron takes pride in knowing all the nicknames). "Charles, he was," replied Cervi, about McDermott. "Bobby was the best shooter then and he would be now."

"Wow," Miron said. "And I guess it's true that McDermott once hit 19 straight shots from near midcourt, with a two-hander."

Frank Baird, who played at Butler and then professionally for the Indianapolis Kautskys — a florist named Kautsky owned the team — recalled John Wooden, an Indiana hotshot before he came the legendary U.C.L.A. coach.

"One of the best to ever play," Baird wrote to Miron. "Played at Martinsville H.S. on a state championship team. Three-time all-American at Purdue. Very difficult to guard, a great driving dribbler, passer, a team player, good shooter and a marvelous free-throw shooter, had many long consecutive free-throw games. I am 93 and John is about 1½ years older. Was English teacher at South Bend, Ind., Central High School while coaching there. A real gentleman."

Wooden also responded to an inquiry from Miron. He wrote back and included a card with his "Steps to Success" and "Favorite Maxims," including "Happiness begins where selfishness ends" and "Make each day your masterpiece."

One notable player whose autograph Miron does not have is Wilt Chamberlain, whom he met once while boarding an airplane. Miron said he introduced himself and called Chamberlain "Dipper," a nickname he preferred to "The Stilt."

"I know he hated 'Stilt,' " Miron said. "I told him I was the king of half-court basketball. Wilt said, 'No kidding?' I said, 'Yeah, over 170,000 points,' which it was at that time. He smiled and said 'Congratulations.' "

Chamberlain, Miron said, was sitting in two seats, in order to spread out, and made mention of it.

"I'm sitting in half a seat," Miron said.

"For half-court," Chamberlain responded.

Miron was not collecting autographs at the time, but even if he had been, he would not have asked Chamberlain to sign.

"It would be like a kid, or a clown," Miron said. "Not respectful. I'll send a letter and tell the player what I know about him, and his times, and if he wants to write back, fine; if not, that's his choice. And we both move on."


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