The bobblehead, or nodder, has been around for over a hundred years; however, it is only within the last 50 years that they have gained in popularity. Now bobbleheads are mass produced by companies like Upper Deck and given away in the thousands as promotional items at stadiums and corporate events.
The first professional sports team in the U.S. to hand out bobbleheads as a promotional item for attending a game was the San Francisco Giants who handed out 35,000 Willie Mays bobbleheads for a game on May 9, 1999.
Bobbleheads are usually created to honor a transcendent player in a sport, e.g., Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan. To have a bobblehead made in your likeness is a momentous achievement for a player that signifies that they have made it in their respective sport.
I say usually created to honor a player because, for whatever reason, bobbleheads are sometimes made of player that can’t quite be categorized as iconic; sometimes far from iconic as can possibly be imagined. So far from iconic that you’ll need the Hubble telescope to see the speck of light of iconic. It is those bobble heads that have caught my attention and I am now actively, feverishly pursue.
I’ll pass on Willie Mays and give me his teammate, Joe Pignatano.
Micheal Jordan? No, but what about his towel wielding bench warming counterpart, Jack Haley.
Only the most obscure bobbleheads will be fit for this collection and limit it to just to the NBA. What would qualify as obscure?
This is the criteria that I have established for this collection of the most obscure NBA bobbleheads:
- A complete unknown player with a below average to almost none existent NBA career. (e.g., Reese Gaines, Zendon Hamilton, Kenny Battle…don’t know any of these guys? Exactly!)
- Good NBA player with little fan fare (e.g., Alvin Adams, Rod Strickland, Sedale Threat)
- Player known or celebrated for being bad or mediocre (e.g., Jack Haley, Jon Koncak)
- Player with troubled past or recent legal troubles (e.g. Keon Clark, Isiah Rider)
- Great player with a jersey of a team they are not known for in their career. (e.g., Hakeem in Toronto, Jordan in Washington)
After scouring the internet, rummaging through boxes of items at garage sales and dumpster diving, I found the first bobblehead to launch my collection of the Most Obscure NBA Bobbleheads:
Most Obscure NBA Bobblehead Collection: #1. Keon Clark
Why was this bobblehead made?
In 2003 Fast food chain Carl’s Jr. ran a promotional campaign where they offered 1 of 5 Sacramento Kings player bobbleheads each week with the purchase of a combo meal. They staggered the release of each of the 5 bobbleheads over a 5 week period which started with Kings’ guard, Bobby Jackson. Keon Clark was the 2nd bobblehead released in week 2; Gerald Wallace, Scott Pollard and Hedo Turkoglu rounded out the collection. The bobbleheads were only made available in the city of Sacramento and surrounding areas; this was the 2nd and last year of the promotion. In following years, Carl’s Jr. released similar promotions of bobbleheads for the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.
What makes this bobblehead obscure?
Keon Clark was actually a very talented, athletic and long big man. The issues with Clark were never his talent, but his off the court troubles. He was a star in his 2 years at UNLV, but his time there ended unceremoniously. He was suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules before deciding to leave to the NBA. He was drafted 13th overall in the 1998 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic who then traded him to the Denver Nuggets. Clark bounced around the league, playing for the Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz and finally the Phoenix Suns (for whom he never played.)
Clark’s career in the NBA was short lived, having only played 6 seasons. After being be waived by the Phoenix Suns in 2004, Clark was 30 years old and his NBA career was over.
Clark’s life spiraled downward thereafter. Clark’s battled one legal battle after the next involving a variety of crimes, ranging from weapon, drug and traffic related charges. In December of 2013, Clark’s demise reaches its bottom, as he was sentenced to serve 8 years in an Illinois prison. When Clark spoke of his life long troubles he pointed to his battle with alcoholism as the main culprit.
Clark is now 38 years old and his bobblehead in Sacramento Kings’ purple and black, a team which he only spent just 1 season, serves as a memento of much better times for Clark. It also serves as a reminder of just how quick and easy it is to squander immense talent and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
NBA Career Stats:
6 NBA Seasons / 353 regular season games
8.2 Points per game
5.9 Rebounds per game
50.0 FG percentage
1.6 Blocks per game
– Fern Rea