The University of North Carolina picked up another NCAA men’s basketball trophy last night, which will certainly make a nice addition to the school’s trophy case. The adorned wooden plank is one of the more recognizable awards in all of sports, but what’s the story behind it? Here’s the scoop on the NCAA championship hardware, plus the cups, statues, and trophies other athletes famously strive to claim.
Champions first raised the NCAA trophy we all know in 1952, when it replaced a silver cup that had previously gone to winners. The walnut plank is embellished with a metal NCAA seal and olive branches, but it’s only valued at $500 or so.
This relatively understated trophy isn’t the only thing champions get for winning, though. The morning after the last game of the Big Dance, the National Association of Basketball Coaches presents the winners with a much larger and more elaborate marble trophy topped with a Waterford crystal basketball.
The NBA’s championship trophy made its debut in its current form in 1978. It was originally called the Walter A. Brown Trophy, a nod to the former Celtics owner whose name had been on the league’s previous championship bling. In 1984, the league renamed the trophy to honor outgoing NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien. The trophy itself is around two feet high and depicts a regulation-sized basketball going into a net. The Tiffany-designed trophy is made of sterling silver with a 24-carat gold overlay and weighs over 14 pounds. According to the league, each trophy is worth an estimated $13,500.
This trophy went to the Super Bowl’s winner for the first time in 1967. The trophy, which was also created by Tiffany and Company, took on Lombardi’s name after the legendary coach’s sudden death in 1970. It’s just under two feet tall and depicts a regulation-sized football. The sterling-silver trophy weighs just under seven pounds and has a value of $25,000.
1967 was a big year for trophy makers, it seems. The St. Louis Cardinals claimed the first Commissioner’s Trophy that season by beating the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Ever since then, the winners of the Fall Classic have received one of these Tiffany-designed monuments to their excellence. The design has undergone a few minor changes over the years, but this one probably has more symbolism than most trophies. The ebony base supports 30 miniature pennants, each of which represents one of the 30 big league clubs. The flags encircle a giant silver baseball with 24-carat vermeil stitches that is engraved with latitude and longitude lines symbolizing the world. The 30-inch trophy weighs nearly 30 pounds and is worth an estimated $15,000.
The NHL’s highest award is named after Frederick Arthur Stanley, the 16th Earl of Derby who was the Governor General of Canada from 1888 to 1893. Stanley was a sports lover whose sons were competitive hockey players, and in 1892 decided that Canada’s hockey teams needed to vie for a trophy. To this end, he shelled out 10 guineas ($48.67) to purchase a silver bowl made in Sheffield, England. The trophy was originally called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, but Stanley’s name quickly affixed itself to the bowl. What might be surprising to modern fans is that the cup wasn’t very large; the bowl Stanley purchased was only a little over seven inches tall and 11 inches in diameter. The trophy originally went to the top amateur hockey team in Canada, but in 1910 it began bouncing around from one professional hockey league to another. By 1926 the young NHL had adopted the trophy on an informal basis, and it became the official spoils of a championship in 1947.
Here’s where things get confusing, though: the 35-pound Stanley Cup we know and love isn’t the original Stanley Cup. The original article that Stanley purchased has been retired and is on permanent display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The familiar Lord Stanley didn’t come about until 1947, when an engraver redesigned the trophy to make it less unwieldy. Since then, it’s become one of sports’ most coveted treasures, partially because its rings bear the inscription of the rosters and staff of winning teams. Of course, every so often the engraving room on the trophy fills up, so the league pops off the oldest ring, flattens it out, and sends it to the Hall of Fame for display while adding a new blank ring to the trophy’s base. (More photos of Hayden Panettiere and the Cup here.)
In 1927, an English seed merchant named Samuel Ryder offered a gold cup as the prize for a biennial matchup between teams of the best golf pros from the U.K. and the U.S. The trophy itself is a 14-carat gold cup on a wooden base. There’s a little golfer on top of the cup; he’s modeled after Ryder’s buddy and teaching pro, Abe Mitchell. London’s Mappin and Webb designed the 14-pound cup, and it’s now insured for $50,000.
Sailing’s most coveted prize has been around since 1851, when England’s Royal Yacht Squadron awarded it to the winner of a race around the Isle of Wight. It cost 100 guineas, so it was originally referred to as the Hundred Guineas Cup, and it’s the oldest active trophy in international sport. The London jewelers Garrard & Co. designed the 16-pound silver cup, which is worth $250,000 today. It’s had its share of rough spots, too. In 1997, an angry New Zealander repeatedly struck it with a sledgehammer and badly damaged the cup. How’s this for an extended warranty, though: almost 150 years after making the cup, Garrard & Co. took the mangled trophy and carefully restored it to its original state free of charge.
The World Cup we see top soccer teams clashing for every four years isn’t the original trophy. Brazil retired that statue, which was known as the Jules Rimmet Cup, after winning the 1970 World Cup; the rules stated that any team that won a third World Cup could keep the trophy in perpetuity. Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga created a new trophy for the 1974 event; the replacement was solid 18-carat gold with two malachite rings inlaid in its base. The 11-pound trophy is insured for $200,000, but the winning team doesn’t get to keep it. Instead, that nation gets a replica that’s gold-plated, not solid gold.
As an odd side story, the Jules Rimmet Cup isn’t even around anymore. In 1983 thieves pried open the back of its display case at the main office of the Brazilian Football Confederation, and no one has seen the trophy since. Eastman Kodak, though, used nearly four pounds of gold to build a replica after receiving a commission from the Brazilians.
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