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Original Issue

Bored of The Rings

They mean more than anything else in sports. "I'm all about the ring," athletes say. Sure, Dan Marino set hundreds of records, fans gripe, but he never got a ring. After 18 years Karl Malone left a team and a city that he loved to try to get a ring.

Well, you know what? I've got three championship rings, and they suck!

First, they're so big it's like attaching a steam iron to your finger. You can't eat, write or play clavichord with them on. Second, they hurt to wear. Your knuckles start to look like a Benihana trainee's. Third, they're so gaudy, pimps look at you and go, "Bro ... tacky."

How did I get them? From Jostens, one of the leading makers of title rings for pro and college sports. They were gullible enough to let me borrow three for 14 days to see what's so damn wonderful about them that an athlete will sell his liver to get one.

Jostens makes samples of every championship ring they produce and uses those to trigger more sales. I was sent duplicates of Michael Jordan's 1993 and 1998 NBA championship rings plus last year's Patriots Super Bowl ring.

The first Jordan ring is half pretty, but too big--with a jumbo garnet Bulls logo set against 50 diamonds (in the samples they're replaced by cubic zirconia) on the top and Jordan's name on one side. The '98 Jordan is even huger, and so blingy you can't read your watch for the glare.

But the Patriots' is the Ring Taste Forgot. It's the approximate size of a Subaru Forester. It might look good around Hulk Hogan's calf, but that's about it. Cast in 14-carat white gold with diamonds crammed under other diamonds (104 in all), it's worth $20,600. They should pay you that to wear it.

Before this, it shocked me when players sold their rings. Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, for instance, unloaded all four of his Super Bowl rings while in the midst of divorce and bankruptcy proceedings. Lester Hayes sold his Raiders Super Bowl XVIII ring for $2,000 because he had a toothache he wanted fixed. Giants receiver Bobby Johnson pawned his Super Bowl XXI ring for $500.

But after two weeks of living with these Mr. T starter kits, worrying about some thug relieving you of your fancy fingers with chain cutters, I can almost see why players sell them.

"Plus, they hurt when you shake hands," says John Elway, who has worn his two Broncos Super Bowl rings for a total of three days. "And you can't get your hands into your pockets. And they're so gaudy it feels like you're wearing a trophy on your hand." There is one small advantage, though. "My kids liked taking them to show-and-tell."

Besides, what fun are they when nobody believes they're real?

"Yeah, right," a pawnbroker told me. "I'll give you $150 for the big one."

"Yeah, right," one homeless-looking guy outside a pharmacy said, "and I got one of Mike's rings in my pocket."

The Jordan rings fascinated people. One sportswriter put on the '98 and declared, "I have this sudden urge to gamble." One girl my son knows put it on and said, "Does this mean I can dunk?" I ran into an ESPN anchor I know. "Dude, if you can't get sex wearing that," he whispered, "give it up."

I kept hoping to run into Jordan himself, just so I could say, "Hey, man, did you drop this?"

The same way hockey players won't touch the Stanley Cup until they've won it, ballers want zero to do with somebody else's ring. "You're just teasin' me," said the Denver Nuggets' Earl Boykins, who refused to touch it.

The Phoenix Suns' Shawn Marion pulled back from the ring like it was kryptonite, saying, "You're all bling-bling in my face with that, huh?"

I asked Shaq how much he'd give me for the Pats ring. "Nothin'," he grumbled, "'cause I didn't earn it."

Worse, one day I was going through arena security and flipped the Jordan '98 into a basket--and the zirconia-glutted faceplate came off. What, a $12,000 ring gets $1.98 Elmer's glue? Cost me $4 to, uh, fix it. Made me wonder why I went to all the trouble of winning the title in the first place.

But there was one fun thing about showing them around: kids. I blew away one boy sitting by himself at a bus stop when I let him put one on his finger. For him, it was the opposite of Bilbo Baggins--this ring made him visible. He lit up like a neon sign when he put it on. How's it feel? "Powerful!" he yelled.

One girl from an inner-city school made a fist with the Pats ring on and said, "I'd like to see somebody fight me now!"

My buddy brought over his two sports-freak boys, eight and 10, just to see the rings. Frisbee-eyed, they held them for a minute, then put them down, sprinted to my Pop-A-Shot and started firing up jumpers.

Hey, you've got to earn it. ■

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Championship rings are so big it's like attaching a steam iron to your finger. You can't eat, write or play clavichord with them on.