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This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 8/27/2023

Rarely in the hobby does one come across a piece that truly is unique, with no concern for using such a superlative too loosely. In November of 1956, USA Track & Field sprinter Isabelle Daniels boarded the U.S. Olympic team’s flight on Pan Am Airlines with a destination set for Melbourne, Australia – host of the 1956 Summer Olympics. Fellow passengers included several key members of the U.S. squad who would perform brilliantly down under – sprinter Bobby Morrow (gold in 100, 200 and 4x100), hurdler Glenn Davis (first of back-to-back 400H golds), and diver Patricia McCormick (four golds combined at the 1952 & ’56 Games) to name a few. Without question, the most famous person at that time on the flight was Jesse Owens, joining the U.S. team as a retired Olympic ambassador. His four gold medals twenty years earlier in Berlin made him a breathing deity among the active athletes on the flight hoping to etch their names in the history books.

There was another iconic Black athlete aboard the flight, fresh off two straight NCAA titles and needing some extra leg room for his wiry 6’ 9” frame. The great Bill Russell had yet to showcase his ability on the hardcourt and his undeniable penchant for winning to a global audience. He would certainly make his presence felt in Melbourne, leading U.S. Men’s Basketball to its fourth straight gold medal.

At some point during the long flight from Los Angeles (layover in Honolulu), 19-year-old Isabelle Daniels took her in-flight team menu and found enough courage to get both Owens and Russell to sign it for her. Little did she realize how significant this item would be nearly 70 years later. Owens was already a legend in his own right, but the story of Bill Russell was just getting started. Back then, who could ever have imagined that the University of San Francisco grad – recently drafted #2 overall by the Boston Celtics – would go on to become the greatest winner in the history of team sports.

We can only imagine the respect Daniels had for Owens and Russell for their accomplishments – one in the presence of Hitler’s Third Reich; the latter at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. A star African American athlete herself from the segregated south, young Isabelle performed admirably at the ’56 Games, barely missing the podium in the 100-meter dash (4th place by .1 of a second) before anchoring the 4x100-meter relay team to a bronze medal finish. Her relay team (including three-time gold medalist Wilma Rudolph) made history in Melbourne as the first all-Black women’s team ever to compete at the Olympics.

What Daniels never could have predicted, however, was how difficult it would be to obtain Bill Russell’s autograph from that point forward. After the ’56 Olympics, he set off on an unprecedented streak of 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons, elevating his status among elite celebrity athletes. At the same time, Russell was constantly butting heads with local media and fans over the racial undertones he often felt in Boston. This made Russell rather reclusive and guarded when it came to engaging with fans and signing autographs. It wasn’t until long after his retirement from playing and coaching in the NBA that Russell became more open to signing.

Sure, there may be a couple autographs floating around the hobby that came from Russell’s college days, or perhaps a few items signed in conjunction with the 1956 USA Basketball squad that won gold in Melbourne. But we are supremely confident that you won’t find anything close to resembling this 1956 U.S. Olympic Team flight menu signed by both Jesse Owens and Bill Russell. The two American sports icons used a similar blue ballpoint pen, Owens adding “My Best Wishes” and Russell inscribing “May I wish you the very best of everything” at facing angles above the large U.S. Olympic emblem on the cover. Encapsulated by PSA/DNA, the two signatures and inscriptions received an overall 8 auto grade.

The 6x9-inch menu is folded within the slab to obscure the food options in flight, but we were able to scan these internal pages for the listing. A digital image of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team standing outside the plane shows Isabelle Daniels (sixth from the top on the staircase) and many of her teammates. (The original snapshot photo belongs to her family.) This extraordinary keepsake comes directly from the Daniels family who has also consigned other Olympic items in this auction (Lots 455-460). A letter of provenance is included.

One-of-a-Kind 1956 U.S. Olympic Team Menu Signed by Bill Russell (Pre-NBA) & Jesse Owens on Flight to Melbourne (Perhaps Their Only Pairing!) – PSA/DNA Authentic, Isabelle Daniels Collection
Current Bidding
Minimum Bid: $3,000
Final prices include buyers premium.: $8,494
Number Bids:10
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