The trophy had been stolen from a case at Thomas’s high school in Westchester, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. The man who consigned the trophy to Heritage Auctions, Absolute Memorabilia owner Peter Kiefor, called the Westchester police after hearing of Thomas’s claim and told investigators that he was unaware it had been stolen when he sent it to be auctioned off.
“I am very happy that my 1984 NBA All-Star Game MVP Trophy has been returned to me, and I want to thank Heritage Auctions, the Westchester Police Department and St. Joseph High School for all of their hard work and professionalism throughout this process,” Thomas said Friday in a statement released by Heritage Auctions. “This trophy is a special piece of memorabilia for me and my family, and it remains something that I am very proud of being awarded during my playing career.”
On Aug. 10, Thomas responded to a Heritage tweet announcing the trophy’s presence at the upcoming auction.
“This trophy was stolen from St. Joseph High School the night Mr. Pingatore my coach died,” Thomas tweeted. “It belongs to me. You stole my trophy please return it!"
“Mr. Pingatore” is Gene Pingatore, who was the winningest boys’ high school basketball coach in Illinois history and gained wider fame in the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams.” He died in June 26, 2019, at age 82.
Thomas was his biggest star at St. Joseph High School and, upon hearing of Pingatore’s death, Thomas tweeted, “I always told you, you saved my life.” Thomas, of course, went on to star at Indiana University and had a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Pistons.
Heritage quickly responded to Thomas, tweeting that it “goes to every length to ensure the authenticity and provenance of the items that are consigned to us. We take the concerns and allegations of Mr. Thomas very seriously” and promising to investigate “as expeditiously as possible.”
The auction house said in a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday evening that after its “extensive conversations” with Thomas, a Westchester police detective and a St. Joseph official, the trophy will remain in Heritage’s office while the parties meet with the consignor to resolve the matter.
According to the company, Thomas said he had loaned the trophy and other items to St. Joseph with the understanding that they would be returned at some point.
“For me and my family, the silver lining in all of this is that it showed up at your house [Heritage],” Thomas said Tuesday in a statement to Heritage. “We never would have known, so we are grateful and I am thankful that the item was found and will be returned.”
Chris Ivy, Heritage’s director of sports auctions, said in Friday’s statement that “it came as a shock to discover the MVP trophy had been stolen from St. Joseph. But we are pleased and proud to have been able to return the trophy to the man whose name is inscribed on the award.”
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