Professional athletes are considered to be hypermasculine, but when a team wins a championship, what are they rewarded with? Rings, of course! And those championship rings sport a lot of bling. But how did this practice get started, and how big can the rings get? Though the Maverick’s Mark Cuban suggests ring may be overdone after decades as the ultimate prize, most sportsmen still consider them to be the culmination of a lifetime’s work.
Making A Tradition
Championship rings are popular in many sports, primarily at the college and professional levels, but the ring that started it all was awarded to the New York Giants in 1922 for their World Series win. Prior to that year, baseball teams were awarded more modest items, such as pocket watches and pins. Other sports followed suit over the coming decades, including the NBA in 1947 and the NFL, which has featured championship rings since the first Super Bowl in 1966.
Hockey technically issued the first championship rings for a Stanley Cup win in 1893; the NHL didn’t standardize the rings until much later. In this way, championship rings are much like engagement rings; though there are reports of people proposing engagement rings going back centuries, they didn’t become the standard until the 1940s and most vintage engagement rings date back to the early 20th century.
In addition to their substantial size, one of the most distinctive features of championship rings is how the teams customize them each year. On the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 ring, for example, a line of stones along the bottom of the ring shows the order of the teams wins against the Warriors, a way of rubbing salt in their opponents’ wounds after they lost an early 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, in a more artistic gesture, the 2013 Miami Heat ring features the Chinese characters meaning “sacrifice” on the side, beneath the O’Brien trophy and the phrase “Back to Back,” signaling the team’s consecutive wins.
Packed with diamonds, as well as other high-value stones, what exactly are championship rings worth – beyond the achievement they represent? The simple answer is that the rings, even second and third tier rings that aren’t as ornate, are worth enough that non-players from the 2017 Cubs were asked to sign contracts prohibiting the sale of the rings. Only the coaching staff and primary roster receive the primary, top-tier ring, often worth between $20,000 and $40,000, but all team members, management, scouts, and even loyal stadium staff may receive rings, meaning less elaborate rings are typically handed out in the hundreds.
There’s no one way to value a championship ring, no matter the sport, and ultimately they’re about recognizing hard work, discipline, and, as the Miami Heat ring notes, “sacrifice,” but financially speaking, rings represent a big expense for the leagues. But while most people see only the diamonds and rubies, the wide bands and showmanship, for the players, these rings tell detailed stories. In the decades to come, these rings will help players detail to their children and grandchildren what it took to become champions. The story is in the stones.