Here is a lyrical feature about Mike Cole, a guy in Connecticut who turned out to have a one-of-a-kind item: the only ticket — not a stub, the whole ticket — known to survive from Michael Jordan’s debut with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s showing was inauspicious: He fell on his back on his first-ever dunk attempt in the NBA. But then he became one of the greatest, best-known athletes on earth, making the ticket Cole had tucked in a box of sports memorabilia worth a whole lot of money:

That it ever had any real value before last year was a different kind of conversation altogether, one about his father, old games and the reasons people hold on to anything at all. His dad was a D.C. lawyer; pretty much the only time they hung out was when they attended events together. Cole left home to attend Northwestern, and as a surprise, his dad had called a friend in the Bullets’ front office and had him leave Mike two tickets at will call to Jordan’s first game. All these years later, Cole hated the idea of letting any of his tickets go, of giving them to someone else who couldn’t understand and hadn’t actually been there.

“Every ticket can tell you a story,” Cole says. “I’m someone who’s about relationships and experiences. And that’s what tickets are to me.”

But then, that winter night in 2021, he saw the news story on TV: Ticket stub from Michael Jordan’s NBA debut sells for $264K. Cole’s ticket in the basement wasn’t a mere stub; it was unused, untorn, a complete ticket in good condition. A few weeks later, an armored truck came around the stop sign at the end of the street outside of his house, his neighbors and friends watching in stupefaction, his wife, Kristen, bundled against the cold so she could take a commemorative picture of Mike letting the ticket go to auction. Still, even as appraisers and investors hyperventilated at his discovery, the first ticket of any kind likely worth a million bucks; even as Cole was promised the moon from auction houses seeking his business and hyping its value; even as he stretched his arm to give the ticket to a man wearing a bulletproof vest and a Glock on his waistband bound for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, he wasn’t totally convinced parting with it was the right thing to do.