Auction Block: Lord of the Rings

He bagged three rings with the Bulls, now you can. Getty Images

When the news came over the wire last week that former Bulls guard Randy Brown would be selling his trio of championship rings as part of bankruptcy proceedings, it was a solemn reminder that the truth hits everybody in a recession as deep as the one we're all in right now. Brown, who also served as an assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, filed Chapter 7 recently, and consigned his personal mementos of athletic dominance to the highest bidder. Sold as a set, the three rings have been tagged with a minimum opening bid of $19,000.

"We obtain rings by the 4 Ds" says TJ Kaye, owner of TJ's Collectibles "Death, Divorce, Drugs and Destitution. We get them directly from players, staffers, family members and pawn shops." Nobody willingly parts with such hard-earned treasures, it seems, but one bad turn of fate can force the issue. (At least he didn't mention dismemberment.)

An eBay search for championship rings will turn up quite a few possibilities on any given day. Roughly 75% of the items up for bid will be replicas full of cubic zirconia, intended only as nostalgic reminders. But they're not always clearly identified as such, which raises the question of authenticity -- how do we know we're buying the real thing?

For starters, nobody is crazy enough to sell a championship ring for $14.95. A good rule of thumb would state that a college or pro championship ring is worth at least a grand, and usually far more. If it seems too good to be true, skepticism is in order.

Nobody knows more about the subject than Jostens, Inc. which should be a familiar name to anyone who ever graduated high school. The mega-jewelers not only make class rings for teens, but have made 27 of the 42 super bowl rings, starting with the Green Bay Packers in SB Numero Uno. Prior to that, they started their NFL ties with winner's rings for the 1952 Detroit Lions. They've made World Series baubles for the Red Sox recently, as well.

"Each ring is made one at a time, using something called the lost-wax process." says Jostens Communications Director Richard Stoebe "Each one is cast with personal details on it, so each one is unique." Each custom ring has the name of a player, coach, owner, or team employee on it. When a championship franchise chooses Jostens, team reps meet with a design team that helps them turn the ring into an icon that tells a story of the last team standing, using diamonds and gold.

Jostens has photos of each ring they've designed on their website, so cautious buyers can eyeball the details before pulling the trigger on a sale. In addition, the PSA/DNA authentication clearinghouse has begun to authorize experts in the field of ring and trophy certification. Ring purveyor TJ Kaye has taken the lead in authentication efforts, earning the PSA/DNA seal of approval for his expertise.

Clearly, purchasing a second-hand championship ring is not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. The intersection of precious stones, fan demand and unique customization makes them premium items that sell for high prices. You might be able to get the ball boy's ring without putting a second mortgage on the house, but a star player's customized knuckle duster is going to cost you.

Whether you have the means, or just like to window shop, check these beauties out:

Denver Broncos 1977 AFC Championship: Remember back when this was as close to the Bowl as the Broncos could get? Makes us nostalgic for the Orange Crush.

USFL Most Wins -- Philly: For kitsch value, this one can't be beat. The Philadelphia Stars won 19 games in 1984, and this lousy ring is all they have to show for it. It is reputed to have belonged to a player, but the winner won't know who until the auction closes out.

Leon and the 1991 Miami 'Canes: No such naming issues here. The photo clearly shows the arching "Searcy" across the side of the ring. Nice to know what you're bidding on if you're going to drop six and a half G's.

Buckeyes Perfect Season: You have to figure Maurice Clarett sold his off a long time ago. So whose is this? I have Craig Krenzel in the office pool.

Braves Championship Ring (sic): A careful-what-you-buy special. This one actually comes from the 2003 Braves of the Gulf Coast League -- the lowest level of professional baseball in the minor-league system. As such, it might be a tad overpriced.

Michigan Hockey Team Ring: We have to admit that the phrase "200% authentic" reeks a bit of hyperbole, but it's a pretty damn cool ring for hockey fans. The big blue stone with a diamond-studded "M" is just right.

Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Charlotte Motor Speedway: This ring was given to a member of No. 3's crew after a win in the Coca Cola 600. This is the first NASCAR championship ring we've ever seen on sale. But the connection to Dale, Sr. gives it a little extra interest.

1993 North Carolina ring: Awww, man! It's just the football team, and the Peach Bowl. We were hoping for some Montrossity.

Seen anything crazy for sale? Let us know at collectespn@gmail.com