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Dis-banded: When Athletes Sell Their Championship Rings

Dis-banded: When Athletes Sell Their Championship Rings

Culture

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Often the crowning achievement in an athlete’s playing career, the championship ring is the flashy, flamboyant, and gaudy testament to greatness — a sign that an athlete has reached the pinnacle. Comprised of rare gems and precious metals that are engraved with players’ names and final scores, these rings symbolize greatness in a singular piece of jewelry, custom-fitted to the hands that achieved glory. They are also worth a small fortune.

Sadly, when athletes retire, they make less than shrewd business decisions that wind up costing them more than their reputation. Athletes have been known to deplete lifes avings — and career earnings — in the tens of millions and, in an effort to save face and jail time, have been forced to sell their championship rings for a hefty sum. Other times, athletes are forced to sell their precious hardware in government-forced auctions. However you spin it, seeing an athlete waste so much money while giving up the single item that represents their crowning athletic achievement is absolutely gut-wrenching. Let’s have a look at some of the most impressive championship rings to ever hit the open market.

1. Antoine Walker

NCAA and NBA champion Antoine Walker had a stellar on-court career. Drafted sixth overall out of Kentucky by the Boston Celtics in 1996, Walker came into the NBA as an immediate scoring threat. He, alongside Paul Pierce, would make up the Celtics’ core for a few seasons. Walker and Pierce led the Celtics all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002. That ECF appearance was one of his crowning achievements as a Celtic before being traded off to the Miami Heat in the largest trade in NBA history.

Down in South Beach, Walker would join forces with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal on a championship-caliber team that would eventually be crowned champion in 2006.

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In the Finals against Dallas, Walker put up respectable numbers, including 13.3 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. In the series-clinching Game 6, Walker secured 11 boards and contributed 14 points, giving him a nice double-double to go along with the victory.

Despite Walker’s solid NBA career, in which he amassed a whopping $108 million (yes, you read that correctly), he somehow managed to squander his fortunes. In a series of bad investments, some bad luck, and odd decisions, Walker found himself deep in the red.

Walker’s problems began with a bit of over-generosity, constantly giving to friends and family. As he put it, “I gave them whatever they wanted and spoiled them. It ended up being an open ATM throughout my career.”

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Walker was also a little overzealous in donating to casinos. In 2009, Walker — and his nasty gambling addiction — was estimated to have $1 million in casino debts at Caesars Palace and Red Rock Casino. His finger-roll layups were smooth. His dice rolls, not so much.

His bad luck wouldn’t be confined to the dark crevices of Nevada casinos, either. In 2007, Walker was robbed at gunpoint in his Chicago mansion. The bandits, after binding his hands and stuffing him in a closet, made off with about $200,000 and a Mercedes.

The final event in Walker’s financial meltdown — a telling tale for future athletes and their money management — would be Walker’s real-estate firm, Walker Ventures, collapsing during the recession of 2008. After the financial collapse, Walker was liable for $20 million on undeveloped property and investments he failed to capitalize on.

The saddest moment for Walker symbolized the final breaking point — the selling of his 2006 NBA Championship ring. Auctioned off for $21,500, Walker’s ring was a last-ditch effort to liquidate funds after Walker was forced to declare for bankruptcy.

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His tale is a cautionary one, one full of easily avoidable pitfalls that so many athletes seem to make. The recipe is all too similar: receive a windfall of cash, live too lavishly, make poor business decision, and go broke.

2. Lenny Dykstra

Known as Nails, Lenny Dykstra was a scrappy outfielder who played 12 seasons in the Majors for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies.

Often seen on the field packing a huge lip of tobacco and playing with a reckless abandon, Dykstra became a fan favorite due to his aggressive play and larger-than-life personality, which directly contradicted his small stature.

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Often overlooked throughout his life by coaches and players — something that overtly ignited Dykstra to play harder than anyone else and prove the naysayers wrong — Dykstra made his mark on the league, and by the time he retired he was a World Series Champion, 3-time All-Star, and Silver Slugger Award winner.  Oh, and those 12 seasons playing in the Majors earned him a casual $36.5 million dollars.

When his career — one marked by injuries, controversies, scandals, and brashness — came to a close, Dykstra didn’t sit idly on retirement’s hypothetical bench. He took the same steroid-abusing, loud-mouthed, degrading-towards-women attitude into business, where he flourished under numerous companies and ideas.

First there was the car wash, a company Dykstra founded that was set out to prove all other car washes obsolete. It was a lavish operation that brought Dykstra money, hand over fist.

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Then came the financial guru stage of retirement, where he, a self-taught financial wizard, led a column on Thestreet.com with the blessing of financial guru Jim Cramer.  Although Dykstra actually had sound investing advice and chose numerous successful stocks, he was always wanting more. More money. More fame. More problems?

The start of Dyksta’s downfall wasn’t his DUI, the allegations of mistreatment of women, or the steroid use that saw his small frame inflate into something much larger and more unnatural; the downfall began with The Players Club, a magazine and lifestyle brand Dykstra launched geared towards professional athletes wanting to live lavishly. This endeavor folded and the landslide of failed investments, gambling debts, accusations of fraud, and the demise of his real-estate properties fully took hold of his life.

After Dykstra filed for bankruptcy, his debts were tallied at upwards of $40 million and had assets totaling around $50,000. By this time, Dykstra was sleeping in his car and in the lobbies of hotels, a stark contrast to the life he was living after purchasing Wayne Gretzky’s old California mansion.

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To alleviate his debts, Dykstra was forced to sell his 1986 World Series ring. The sale, not enough to keep Dykstra out of jail or legal trouble, netted the once-great outfielder a paltry $56,762.

3. Jose Canseco

One of Oakland’s famed Bash Brothers, former MLB star Jose Canseco is another athlete who managed to squander impressive career earnings over the course of his 17-year career.

Canseco is best known for his time as a member of the Oakland Athletics. In Oakland, Canseco and teammate Mark McGwire became one of baseball’s most feared offensive duos.

Canseco, one of the game’s most deadly home run hitters, would become the first player in MLB history to record 40 home runs and 40 steals in a single season, giving birth to the now famed 40-40 club. That same year Canseco would win the American League MVP en route to a World Series appearance against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although the A’s would lose in five games (thanks to Kirk Gibson), the former A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP winner would bash his way into the World Series yet again the following year. This time, Canseco, McGwire, and the A’s would topple cross-town rival San Francisco in a four-game sweep.

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In 1990, Canseco would appear in his third and final World Series with the Athletics, losing to the Cincinnati Reds in four games. His career in Oakland would conclude in 1992 after five All-Star games, three Silver Sluggers, and the other aforementioned awards.

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Canseco’s next few stops proved to be relatively uneventful, bouncing around from Texas, to Boston, back to Oakland, to Toronto and Tampa Bay before landing in New York, where he was a Yankee for one year. As a Yankee, Canseco’s play was relatively uninspiring, although he did win his second World Series ring following the Yankees victory of the New York Mets in the 2000 Subway Series. The final stop of Canseco’s career — a career with over $45 million in earnings — was with the Chicago White Sox.

As his baseball life wound down, his off-field antics began to wind up.

In 2005, Canseco released his tell-all tale about his career and steroids in baseball. His book, Juiced: Wild times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, would become a New York Times best seller.

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Penning reputation-smearing books aside, Canseco was destined for controversy. He has been arrested numerous times, has resorted to celebrity boxing matches to earn income, led the police on a wild car chase, lost about $17 million in divorce hearings which led to the foreclosure of his mansion, and, in 2012, the once-great slugger filed for bankruptcy. He claimed less than $21,000 in assets to $1.7 million in liabilities.

According to an article in the New York Post, Canseco put his Yankees World Series ring up for sale for $40,000. The ring was purchased by a Yankees super-fan but the sale was canceled at the last minute by Canseco for unclear reasons. Other memorabilia has, however, been unloaded by Canseco, including his ALCS ring and American League Rookie of the Year ring.

One thing is clear from the odd tale of this superstar slugger becoming baseball’s most notorious rat: Jose Canseco was a great hitter on the field yet struck out where it mattered most: managing his personal finances.

4. Lawrence Taylor

Arguably the most-feared linebacker, and maybe among all defensive players, in NFL history, the tale of Lawrence Taylor’s demise is one marked by lack of judgment and wild spending habits, neither of which are conducive to financial success post-retirement.

As a linebacker, Taylor is known as one of the game’s greatest. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion. A feared hitter that essentially ended Joe Theismann’s career on a vicious quarterback sack, Taylor played all 13 of his years with the New York Giants, racking up 10 Pro Bowls, an MVP award, 3-time Defensive Player of the Year award, and among other personal accolades, a bust in the NFL Hall of Fame.

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Taylor’s on-field career was nothing short of stellar, and his career earnings were quite impressive, too. Rumor has it L.T. made upwards of $50 million during his playing days, a number that is actually astronomic considering the pay scale of the NFL during the 1980s.

Off the field, Taylor was also a menace, but for all the wrong reasons. As much as Taylor liked hitting people, he liked doing drugs and soliciting prostitutes even more. In a 60 Minutes interview, Taylor claimed to have spent about $1,000 per day on prostitutes in 2004. He said he would often call six prostitutes per day to satisfy his addiction.

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Avoiding run-ins with the law was another obstacle that Taylor couldn’t seem to tackle. Throughout the course of his career and retirement, Taylor wound up suspended or in trouble with the law due to drug or prostitute-related incidents, the worst of which came in 2010.

While in a New York hotel room, Taylor paid $300 to have sex with a 16-year-old prostitute who, at that age, was below the legal age of consent in New York. Taylor would receive six years of probation in addition to being labeled a low-risk sex offender in what was his most embarrassing and demoralizing off-field act.

In the business world, Taylor exploded onto the scene in the early 1990s with his own company, All-Pro Products. His company would be valued at $10 million, but Taylor would never see a penny of that. He never sold his shares and the company went bankrupt, leaving Taylor in a state of financial ruin.

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In a last ditch effort to save the one thing he still had — his house — Taylor filed for bankruptcy. His Super Bowl XXV ring, actually sold off by his son without Taylor’s knowledge, would sell for a whopping $230,000 in a record-breaking auction.

5. William Perry

The bigger they come, the harder they fall. This phrase, while depressing, is all-too-accurate when describing the now morbid life of William Perry.

When the Chicago Bears drafted William Perry in 1985, they had huge expectations for the lineman out of Clemson. Seriously, the expectations were about as big as the guy they just drafted, and he was big. Listed at 6’2” and 350 pounds, William “The Fridge” Perry was a force to be reckoned with.  Keep in mind that Perry’s size was abnormally large for his generation. Now, you might see his measurable and be underwhelmed, but today’s NFL produces bigger, faster, and stronger athletes than at any point in history.

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Perry’s rookie year was fantastic, for both the Bears and himself. The Bears brought their ego-centric swagger to the Super Bowl where they handily defeated the New England Patriots. This team was full of characters, and The Fridge was one (big) piece of the puzzle.

Led by future Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and outspoken quarterback Jim McMahon, the Bears’ offense was more than capable of putting points on the board. Their defense, however, is what really set them apart. That roster included many notable future Hall of Famers, including Mike Singletary and head coach Mike Ditka. The Fridge was also a key member of that stout defensive line that stormed through the playoffs and Super Bowl XX. On top of that, the Bears used Perry as a goal-line back, and he even scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

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Following the Bears’ championship run, The Fridge’s reputation ballooned to unprecedented levels. His likeable personality and unimaginable physical stature created a perfect pairing for brands all over America. There wasn’t a television show that could be watched without seeing The Fridge’s gap-toothed smile appear during a commercial break.

On the field, there wasn’t much Perry couldn’t do. But like many other athletes listed here, it was his off-field demons that Perry failed to conquer.

First it was his weight. Every season after his rookie year, Perry’s weight kept climbing up the scales. It was a problem. Not only did it affect his on-field performance, it was detrimental to his health. His coaches warned him. They told him he needed to shed some extra weight in order to make the roster. Perry couldn’t. and he couldn’t stop drinking, either. As the bottles of liquor poured down, his weight went up. He was in a toxic cycle that led to his exit from the NFL, where he finished his career with only 29.5 sacks and three touchdowns.

His drinking problem ruined his family. It tore up the foundation of his life in rural South Carolina, while eating away at his health. His weight issues kept getting worse. His health, now in a rapid free-fall, had Perry on the verge of death. With child support to pay, a nasty drinking habit, and ever-mounting medical bills, Perry’s personal finances were in ruin.

Eventually, Perry was forced to file for bankruptcy and sell off his Super Bowl ring. The ring — the largest Super Bowl ring to date- commanded a hefty $200,000 —  none of which Perry got to keep.

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6. Randy Brown

Does the story of an athlete blowing millions of career earnings on bad investments sound like a familiar story? If you said yes, you’d be correct. If you said no, well, it’s because you haven’t been reading about everyone mentioned on this list.

Randy Brown, proud owner of three Chicago Bulls championship rings from his playing days with Michael Jordan in the late 1990s, is no different.

Arguably the most ring-laden player in NBA history to average a measly 4.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 17.6 minutes per game, Brown was along for the ride on the Bulls’ second three-peat of the 1990s.

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Drafted out of New Mexico State by the Sacramento Kings, Brown played four seasons in California’s capital before signing with the Chicago Bulls. That team, as many of you know, had a player by the name of Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Jordan and his otherworldly basketball skills paired up with NBA superstars Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman to form the core of Chicago’s dynasty. This team — with Brown providing valuable minutes off the bench — would win three consecutive NBA titles from 1996-98.

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Following the end of the Bulls’ dynasty, Brown would play a few more (uneventful) years in the NBA with the Bulls, Celtics, and Suns. Although Brown never produced memorable numbers and won his rings on the coat-tails of Jordan, he earned over $15 throughout his 12 NBA seasons. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Randy’s retirement record, however, is much less perfect than his Finals record. Due to a series of poor real estate and restaurant investments, Brown watched his career earnings dwindle year after year. What kept him afloat was his position as a Kings assistant, yet when that job ended, there was nothing keeping Brown from diving into the red. He was forced to declare bankruptcy and sell off his three rings.

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Unlike many players, Brown has avoided drug abuse and trouble with the law that so frequently causes players to go bankrupt.  He also secured a job back with the Bulls as an assistant coach. Despite being ring-less for now, in the physical sense, Brown has job security on his side that will afford him the opportunity to buy back his rings — something he plans on doing.

7. Setema Gali

Probably the least well-known name on this list, Setema Gali was a defensive lineman on New England’s first Super Bowl winning team that upset the heavily-favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

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Setema isn’t known for a lengthy NFL career or being a collegiate legend. Yes, he had his impact at Brigham Young University, where he started for two years, recording double-digit sacks in his junior year while being named to the second team All-Mountain West. In his last season at BYU, Gali was named first team All-Mountain West.

Although Gali was a force to be reckoned with at BYU, scouts overlooked him, and he went undrafted in the 2001 NFL Draft. The Patriots, a team known for finding diamonds in the rough under head coach Bill Belichick, signed Gali as an undrafted free agent.

Gali would never record a single tackle as a member of the Patriots during his brief two-year NFL career. What Gali did record was the title of Super Bowl champion and the hefty ring that comes with it.

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Once retired from football, Gali ventured into real estate where he found success, very quickly. This success was somewhat of mirage, however. During the 2008 economic collapse, Gali lost everything. He lost his income, his house, his cars, and yes, that epic ring. He lost his instruments that he played while in a band. Whatever joy Gali had from material possessions simply vanished. He was bankrupt. In order to stay afloat and support his family, Gali was forced to sell his historic Super Bowl ring, along with his wife’s wedding ring.

To this day, Gali has yet to reclaim his precious ring, but he has turned around his fortunes. He is a motivational speaker and author who, according to his personal Facebook page, is thoroughly enjoying his life and is feeling as good as ever. He also remains optimistic about acquiring his ring back at some point. Here’s to hoping, Setema.

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8. Julius Erving

You already know what it is. Its Dr. J. The high flying, dunking extraordinaire out of the University of Massachusetts.

Dr. J is as smooth as they come. He re-defined the game of basketball and gave credence to the dunk as a potent offensive move, but he wasn’t a one-trick pony, either.

Dr. J’s career was spectacular but often unseen, as he spent five seasons of his professional career in the less-popular, less-televised ABA. Rumor has it that the ABA was Dr. J’s proverbial testing grounds for the wild, acrobatic dunks he’d be known for in the NBA.

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When Dr. J did make the crossover to the NBA, the league was set ablaze with his moves. Dr. J accumulated a list of poor, helpless victims that were at his jumping ability’s mercy.

Victim 1: Bill Walton. You may think of Bill Walton as the goofy, loopy-minded commentator on ESPN. To Dr. J, Walton was just another body that stood in the lane, crowding his flight to stardom. In the 1977 NBA Finals, Dr. J emphatically jumped over a cowering Walton and flushed the ball through the hoop with finesses and power. A beautiful display of talent on the biggest of stages.

Victim 2: The 1980 L.A. Lakers. Again in the Finals, Dr. J showed the world why he was so special. As he drove to the lane for an easy layup, an airborne Dr. J had his path cut off by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While mid-air, an out-of-place Dr. J., who appeared to be behind the hoop with no possible angle to convert the shot, made on of the most athletic plays in NBA history, fluidly re-adjusting in mid-air to convert a reverse layup.

Victim 3: Known as his Rock-the-Baby dunk, this may be his most famous in-game slam, coming at the expense of Michael Cooper. As Dr. J approached the hoop, he cradled the ball in one arm, took a few long strides, and rose up for a signature power-slam.

After Erving’s phenomenal playing career wrapped up in 1987, he transitioned from the court to a variety of business ventures, including owning a bottling plant, a NASCAR team, and a Georgia country club. These ventures weren’t as successful as the Dr. anticipated, and he found himself swimming in debt. To eliminate his debt and ward off a hefty lawsuit, Erving was forced to auction off some of his most prized possessions, including championship rings and trophies he collected throughout his illustrious career.

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Once again, this sad tale shows just how tricky navigating the waters of retirement can be for athletes, who, with large fortunes, can lose sight of their personal finances and end up on a slippery slope of spending and investing on fool’s gold.

9. Peter Pocklington

The first owner of a team to grace this list, Peter Pocklington saw his empire, an empire that once had annual sales of over $2 billion, evaporate faster than water does in his current abode in the Californian town of Palm Desert.

Known best as the enigmatic owner of the Edmonton Oilers, one could say that Pocklington struck gold. As a maverick business man, Pocklington used funds he accrued as the youngest Ford dealer owner in Canada to purchase a stake in the decaying Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association.

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With that purchase, Pocklington also secured the rights to emerging superstar Wayne Gretzky, who would later be known as the greatest hockey player in history. With the WHA-NHL merger in 1979 and Gretzky’s emergence, the Oilers were primed for success in their new league, the National Hockey League.

As an owner of the Oilers, Pocklington oversaw five Stanley Cup Championships in a remarkable span of seven seasons. Stanley Cup victories, however, couldn’t dispel the hate and distrust fans had towards Pocklington after he jettisoned The Great One in 1988 to the L.A. Kings, giving the Oilers some much-needed capital.

In 1998, eight years following the last Oilers Stanley Cup victory, Pocklington sold the team and escaped Canada’s scrutiny and disdain for some peace and quiet in the blistering hot desert of California.

Troubles, however, followed closely behind.

Lawsuits, bankruptcy cases, accusations of fraud, and legal squabbles with former business partners have continued to nag at the aging Pocklington.

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In 2009, the once-dominant businessman hit an all-time low. His debts were listed at about $20 million while claiming a minuscule $2,900 in assets. With his financial world upside-down and his reputation in tatters, Pocklington was forced to sell off championship memorabilia, including those rings that brought him glory and made him an Edmonton icon. The five rings — the last remnants of the Oilers’ glory days —  sold at an auction to an unnamed buyer for over $300,000.

They say time heals all wounds, and for Pocklington and the troublesome wake he left behind, this does appear to be true. He was invited back to Edmonton for an Oilers championship reunion and, surprisingly, wasn’t booed off the ice. For Gretzky, the player he famously abandoned, the post-Oiler life has been slightly less successful — strictly from a winning perspective. Despite playing for another 11 seasons, Gretzky would never win another championship and posted an ugly head-coaching record for the Phoenix Coyotes.

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10. Fuzzy Thurston

A Green Bay Packers legend, Fuzzy Thurston was an instrumental lineman that helped anchor Green Bay’s line during the first two Super Bowls, both of which the Packers won.

Protecting the quarterback was one of Thurston’s primary responsibilities, but he gained prominence blocking for running backs on one of the Packers’ most famous, dangerous, and innovate plays: The Lombardi Power Sweep.

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On this formidable power run, two guards — one of them being Thurston — would pull from their position and charge to a side of the field where quarterback Bart Star would pitch the ball to the running back. As the running back gained momentum, his lead blockers were already charging with a full head of steam, ready to obliterate any incoming defender, something Thurston was more than capable of doing.

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After retiring from football — giving defenders a much-needed respite from the punishing blocks he delivered — Thurston went into the business world. He owned and operated Fuzzy’s, a sports bar known for good vibes that had multiple locations in Wisconsin. He also was a primary investor in a few other Wisconsin-based restaurants.

Feel-good stories and food aside, Fuzzy fell into financial hardship as health bills mounted up. His restaurants, wildly popular with the locals, simply didn’t generate enough income for Fuzzy to stop the flood of expenses. There was also the tax case filed by the government against Thurston, who is alleged to have withheld employee taxes but not appropriately reported said witholdings on his business’ tax returns.

Eventually, the debt and tax-return case caught up with the aging Thurston, who was forced to auction off his rings. The rings commanded a hefty price to an anonymous bidder. Locals still hold out hope that the memorabilia will be returned to the now-deceased Thurston’s family.

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