The Bulls market: Demand for, interest in memorabilia on the rise

  • Jason Azul and Sarah Johnson with their Bulls memorabilia at their apartment in the South Loop on May 3, 2012. (Lenny Gilmore/ RedEye)
Jason Azul and Sarah Johnson with their Bulls memorabilia at their apartment…
May 07, 2012|By Scott Bolohan, For RedEye

Jason Azul could probably run a Bulls gift shop right out of his apartment.

Step inside his "man cave" in the South Loop, and you're greeted with Bulls pictures, jerseys, action figures, bobbleheads and even a doll.

"I've been embarrassed to have Derrick Rose sign it," said Azul, 27, of the 18-inch Derrick Rose doll that retails for around $300. "I tried to get my girlfriend to get him to. It's definitely a slippery slope. It might be a little embarrassing but you have to collect something. I could be into a lot worse things."

Azul is not alone.

With the Bulls the top seed in the East for consecutive years, Bulls collectibles are at a high. Rose has the best-selling jersey in the NBA and the Bulls led merchandise sales for the first time since 2001. It's not a stretch to see another golden age of collecting playing out as these Bulls chase a championship.

Azul, a tax consultant, is a season ticket-holder (and has a girlfriend, he points out, before you make any "40-Year-Old Virgin" jokes) and has collected Bulls stuff since he was a kid. His collection has grown to the point where he estimates he's spending $1,000 a year on Bulls memorabilia.

While Azul's collection shows off his ultimate fandom, Marc Silverman's is much more personal.

Silverman, co-host of "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000, grew up in Skokie, has amassed three trunks full of newspapers, magazines and collages of mementos he made over the years, turning his home into a Bulls National Archives of sorts.

"I remember understanding at a young age what I was watching," said Silverman, 40, of Ukrainian Village. "My grandfather would always remind me about watching Michael Jordan was like watching Babe Ruth play for the Yankees. When I was older I wanted to be able to show all this stuff to my kids."

As a reporter, he started covering the Bulls the day Michael Jordan announced his return to basketball in 1995, giving him access to many things regular fans could only dream of getting their hands on. Besides the "I'm back" press release from Jordan's return, confetti from the floor of championships and champagne corks from locker rooms, he would get players like Steve Kerr and Luc Longley to leave messages on his answering machine, which he called "so geeky, but fun."

But the most unique things Silverman collected would appear to be a couple pieces of trash to the uninformed eye. However, they hold a direct link to one of the most storied events in NBA history: Jordan's 38-point "flu game" during the 1997 NBA Finals.

"In the locker room after the game, Jordan wasn't available," Silverman said. "But I remember walking by his empty locker and there were all those used power gels he must have been slurping down on before the game. So I grabbed them. The Bulls will probably be upset at me, but I took two or three of them."

Some collectors might be interested in how much their collection is worth in hopes of one day selling it, but Silverman said that's not even a consideration.

"It was more about chronicling my own history and my history with the Bulls," he said. "I always knew I was covering history. It was pretty incredible what I was getting to do."

Michael Daddio, 22, of Portage Park, is a different kind of Bulls collector. He focuses strictly on Air Jordan shoes, amassing more than 100 pairs—at up to $250 a pair—in his collection. He waited six hours outside Niketown on Michigan Avenue last Christmas for a pair. He's worn Jordans since childhood, he said, and his mom still has the pair that was the first shoes he walked in.

"It was something I was into as a kid. I always had new Jordans when they came out, but I didn't take care of them," Daddio said. "Now that I'm older I take care of them a lot more. I keep them all in their boxes in my closet. I wear them, some of them I keep for special occasions; some I haven't found for a special occasion yet."

Daddio is turning 23 next year, his "Jordan year" as he referred to it. For a guy who has made Jordan such a big part of his life, it's only natural that he's planning on going to Michael Jordan's Steak House for his birthday.

Similar to Daddio's six hours in the cold, Azul said he has waited two or three hours for a player's autograph, but nothing "too crazy."

"When I tell them about my collection and my obsession, they think I'm crazy," Azul said. "But when I'm able to show them, people have been pretty impressed."

Azul said he has a Jordan jersey he wants to get signed, which he said would be the "holy grail" of collectibles. While he has joked about selling his collection to put his kids through college, that's not a concern for years, so in the meantime he can't get enough Bulls stuff.

"I have to have the latest bobblehead or shoe," Azul said. "I'm always looking to get my hands on it. It's become a drug."

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