History Through Coins: Sports

Posted on 2/11/2020

Upcoming basketball coins put a spotlight on others celebrating athletic achievement.

Although much of history has been written during times of conflict and tragedy, the world of sports remembers teamwork and triumph. Individuals renowned for their achievements and sportsmanship are celebrated in life and mourned in death. Team championships become part of the fabric of a city’s history. At the national level, the Olympic Games and competitions like the FIFA World Cup can unite a country’s focus.

The US Mint’s modern commemorative coin program draws its subjects from every corner of the American experience. But one area with wide appeal is sports. In 2020, the Mint is releasing basketball-themed coins with a curved design. Issued in half dollar, silver dollar and gold $5 formats with a common design, these coins celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

2020-W Basketball Hall of Fame Gold $5
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This isn’t the first time the US Mint has delved into the area of sports. Many modern commemoratives have featured athletic competition. Here are a few of them:

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Sport: Baseball
Coin: 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame (single design for half dollar, silver dollar and gold $5, issued in both uncirculated and proof formats)
What makes it special: This was the first concave coin produced by the US Mint. It was well-received, and the concave design was brought back for the 2019 commemoratives issued for the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 (and will be again in 2020 for the upcoming Basketball Hall of Fame coins). These coins celebrated the 75th anniversary of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Additional notes: Baseball, commonly referred to as “America’s pastime,” is the second-most popular sport in the US after football. Spring training for Major League Baseball begins in February, with the World Series in October determining the champions.

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Sport: Baseball
Coin: 1997 Jackie Robinson Silver Dollar
What makes it special: This coin celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s “color line” on April 15, 1947 when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Enduring indignities from opposing players and fans, he went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. Today, April 15 is commemorated in Major League Baseball as Jackie Robinson Day, and all players wear his No. 42 in his honor.
Additional notes: This commemorative coin was also issued in a gold $5 version with a different design.

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Sport: Football
Coin: 2018 Sacagawea Dollar (single design for uncirculated and proof formats)
What makes it special: In recent years, the Sacagawea Dollar has honored the contributions of individual Native Americans. Athlete Jim Thorpe (whose Native American name was Wa-Tho-Huk) was honored in 2018. He earned two gold medals in track and field events at the 1912 Olympics, the first Native American to win gold for the US. A member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame, Thorpe was instrumental in the early years of the NFL, including the New York Giants’ inaugural season in 1925.
Additional notes: Though football is the most popular American sport, it has been underrepresented on coins. The man who helped lead the University of Michigan football team to national titles in 1932 and 1933 appears on a 2016 presidential dollar: Gerald Ford.

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Sport: Basketball
Coin: 1995 Olympic Basketball Half Dollar (issued in uncirculated and proof formats)
What makes it special: The basketball coins were the most popular of the 16 uncirculated issues struck in 1995-96 celebrating the US Olympics in Atlanta. Among the 16 proof issues were struck over the same time, the basketball coin was second only to gymnastics.
Additional notes: The US basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics included all-time greats Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen. This was the last time the Summer Olympics were held in a US city.

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Sport: Soccer
Coin: 1996-S Olympics Soccer Half Dollar (issued in uncirculated and proof formats)
What makes it special: The Atlanta Games in 1996 were the first to feature women’s soccer as an Olympic sport. The US Olympic team took the gold medal, edging China 2-1 in the title game.
Additional notes: Soccer (known in much of the world as football or association football) is the most popular sport globally.

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Sport: Racing (horse and auto)
Coins: 2001 Kentucky State Quarter, 2002 Indiana State Quarter
What makes them special: These are the only state quarters to feature a sport, bringing to mind the two greatest sporting events in each state: The Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500.
Additional notes: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has the second-largest seating capacity (257,000) of any sport venue in the world. A golf complex in Arizona has more.

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Sport: Golf
Medal: Byron Nelson US Mint Bronze Medal (authorized by Congress in 2006 and still available from the US Mint)
What makes it special: Just days after his death in 2006, Byron Nelson was the first professional golfer to be honored with a Congressional Gold Medal. Among his achievements was winning 11 consecutive tournaments in 1945.
Additional notes: Similar bronze medals are also available for renowned golfers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who received Congressional Gold Medals in 2009 and 2014. In both these cases, the award was not posthumous.

Coins from other countries also celebrate sports, and here are some notable examples for some of the world’s most popular sports:

  • Cricket: Great Britain 2018 C - Cricket 10 Pence
  • Cycling: France 2003 100th Anniversary Tour de France 1.5 Euro
  • Field Hockey: Spain 1990M Barcelona Olympics – Field Hockey Gold 10,000 Pesetas
  • Hockey: Canada 2017 Silver $50 Stanley Cup 125th Anniversary (struck in the shape of the Stanley Cup)
  • Rubgy: Great Britain 1999 Gold 2 Pounds
  • Table Tennis: China 1991 Table Tennis Silver 10 Yuan
  • Tennis: Switzerland 2020B Roger Federer Silver 20 Francs (for which demand overwhelmed the Swiss Mint)
  • Volleyball: Russia (Soviet Union) 1979(L) Moscow Olympics – Volleyball Silver 10 Roubles

Swissmint is producing limited-edition silver 20 Franc Roger Federer coins. NGC’s holders are tamper-evident and offer
protection so the coins’ grade remains as good as the day they were encapsulated.
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Check out our article detailing the most expensive sports cards ever sold.

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