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How Bill Russell, Kevin Durant and a football star participated in my wedding

My wife and I celebrated our first anniversary in October by drinking wine and forking year-old cake into our mouths while flipping through the pages of our wedding album. With every page turn, the memories rushed back. What a perfect day. Friends and family all around us. A beautiful venue in a small New England town during peak fall foliage. Seeing her for the first time in that dress. Autographs.

Autographs?

Bill Russell autographed book, Red and Me

Bill Russell autographed book

Before I explain, let me tell you a little about my wife. She has the looks to never have to buy a drink when she’s out with the girls. She has the brains to excel as a dietitian at one of the world’s leading hospitals. And, perhaps her most impressing attribute, she has the patience to be married to a grapher. God bless her.

She’d have to take her shoes off to count every time I called to say I was going to miss dinner because I was putting in a few more hours outside of a hotel. Or the nights I’d tuck her into bed before heading out to graph a team post-game or hang around a movie set. Autograph collecting can be a selfish hobby. Her support is appreciated and never taken for granted. (She also promises that once Baby Raymond makes an appearance in a few years, she won’t be so understanding.)

The perfect groomsmen gifts
There are fewer folks that are tougher to graph in person than NBA legend Bill Russell. That is, unless you have $175 burning a hole in your pocket (his fee for an 8×10 at an organized signing). So back in May 2009, when I saw he was doing two local signings in support of his book, Red and Me, I had to get involved.

I knew the Boston book signing would be a shit show, so I ditched work early on a rainy Thursday afternoon and headed about an hour away to Willow Books, a family-owned bookstore in Acton. Two days before, I made the same drive to reserve a book and a place in line for the signing. The woman at the counter told me two things I already knew: Mr. Russell would be personalizing all books and would not be signing any other items. But then she asked me a question that froze me.

“How many books would you like to purchase?”

As long as they were personalized she said I could buy up to eight. I told her I needed a moment.

I dialed my Dad and asked him if he could think of anyone we should get a book for. My buddy Garett had already given me cash to get him a book, and I knew I’d get one for two other close friends. But I could get eight!

“Why don’t you give them to your groomsmen?”

Amazing idea—the wedding was only five months away and the guys I was already buying books for would be covered. That brought the total to seven (including me). He suggested getting one for a good friend of his to max out the opportunity. I swiped my credit card and left before the deal turned out too good to be true.

On the evening of the signing, I arrived to the store to find out I was numbers 286-293 in line. Two hours before Russell was due to arrive, Willow Books was already packed with middle-aged white guys. I took my stack of books, found an unoccupied nook and passed the time with Chuck Palahniuk’s Pygmy. Around page 86 the Celtics great walked in wearing a sweater that would make Phil Huxtable cringe. While we were told no pictures were allowed, I turned my digital camera on video mode and tied it to my messenger bag to secretly film our interaction. As you can see, he was engaging and friendly.

A surprising request from one of my favorite athletes
After I handed out the Russell books at our rehearsal dinner, my best man stood up in front of our closest friends and family and pointed out what a huge autograph collector I was. He explained that one athlete—an athlete I was a big fan of—had eluded my Sharpie a few years prior, much to my regret. While saying this he held what was undoubtedly a wrapped picture frame. He looked at me.

“Paul Pierce!” I shouted.

He shook his head. “Sorry, it’s not Paul Pierce.”

He handed me the gift and as I unwrapped it, my head started to shake. Not in disappointment, but in disbelief. It was a letter.

Dear MattyRay,

Big fan. Can I please have your autograph?

Thanks.

The letter was signed by one of the biggest football stars in the world. It was obtained personally by a good friend of Eric’s—a PR manager for the athlete’s team. The framed letter is now the centerpiece of my man cave.

A special delivery from Oklahoma
My childhood best friend was a kid named Rob who lived across the street. We each grew up with older and younger sisters and were close like brothers, hanging out every day playing hoops, wiffle ball and video games. After high school, I went west to UMass and he studied in Boston before getting his foot in the door with the San Antonio Spurs as a scout after graduation. We traded emails occasionally and a few times I was lucky enough to catch him on the phone between international stops where he was evaluating prospects in Turkey or Brazil or Utah.

Kevin Durant autographed jersey

Kevin Durant autographed jersey

The morning of my wedding, he was in the living room of my childhood home. The last time we saw each other was more than a year before but it didn’t feel that way at all. He unfolded himself from the couch—he ended up four inches taller than me—and handed me a garment box wrapped in shiny silver paper.

“Hope it fits,” he said.

I peeled back the foil revealing the logo on the box: Limited Too. My favorite place to shop!

Opening the lid I pulled out a bright blue jersey with orange trim. I pinched the shoulders and held it up in front of me. It was heavier than I anticipated and the mesh was soft like cashmere. “OKLAHOMA CITY” was stitched in white block letters across the front. On the reverse, “DURANT”. Then I noticed a signature in black Sharpie on the second digit of his number 35.

Just my size.

Have you ever received an autograph as a gift? Leave a comment below and tell me about it.

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons. Connect with him on Twitter at @mattraymond.

6 comments… add one

  • Bets December 3, 2010, 10:40 am

    Hey Matt,
    Love this site, nice job!! So many fun clips and stories!! :o)
    Maybe I missed it but who was the football player that the letter was from at your rehearsal dinner? I didn’t see a signature?
    Ciao, Bets

  • Matt Raymond December 3, 2010, 4:41 pm

    Thanks for the feedback! I’m not disclosing the identity on the site out of respect for the persons involved in fulfilling this special request.

  • Teresa Tocci December 3, 2010, 6:52 pm

    Matt,
    What a great interview on the bleachers! What a nice guy he is—so real. You have a great writing style, Matt. I look forward to each next word you write! I’ll be a frequent visitor on this site. Good luck. Tree

  • Matt Raymond December 3, 2010, 10:28 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Tree.

  • Kelly December 26, 2010, 9:33 am

    How did I never know the story of the groomsmen gifts? Love your top ten of 2010-looking forward to more success in 2011!
    Kel

  • Matt Raymond December 26, 2010, 2:32 pm

    Thanks for reading Kel. I appreciate the feedback!

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