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Since only one championship trophy is awarded by the league to the winning team, championship rings are distributed as a collectible memento for the actual players and team officials to keep for themselves to symbolize the victory. Winners' medals (and runners-up medals) are not awarded in North American professional sports, in contrast to Olympic team sports and European club association football tournaments such as the Premier League and UEFA Champions League.
In addition, the championship in North American pro team sports is the culmination of the regular season and playoff tournament, while in European club football the league championship and domestic/continental cups are separate competitions. For North American pro teams, the playoff league championship is the single most significant part of the season. Indeed, most teams and fans in North America do not consider division titles or conference titles to be notable honors at all, and therefore in practice teams in major North American professional sports consider themselves to compete annually for only a single honor, the league championship, which is determined by a playoff tournament that is seeded based on regular season performance. This is in sharp contrast to European football clubs who celebrate and compete for both regular-season "league" titles and playoff tournament "cups", as well as international tournaments in some cases.
In North American sports vernacular, a player's aim of wanting the "ring" is synonymous with winning the playoff league championship, and it has entered popular lexicon (retired basketball center Shaquille O'Neal was quoted as saying "My motto is very simple: Win a Ring for the King", former NHL goaltender Patrick Roy remarking "I can't hear what Jeremy says, because I've got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears").
An individual's number of championship rings, rather than number of championship trophies, is often used by sportswriters as a tally of a their personal success, since it is more appropriate to write that it is the team/franchise and not the individual who wins the championship trophy (i.e. number of NBA Championship rings rather than Larry O'Brien Trophies won by former NBA coach Phil Jackson). The four most-well known championship rings in North American professional sports are the NFL's Super Bowl ring, the NBA Championship ring, MLB's World Series ring, and the NHL's Stanley Cup ring.
Championship rings are typically made of yellow or white gold with diamonds. They usually include the team name, team logo, and the championship number (usually indicated in Roman numerals for the NFL's Super Bowl wins). Championship ring policies differ between the four major professional leagues. NHL and MLB owners pay for the cost of the rings. The NFL pays for the cost of 70 rings to the winning team, at roughly US$5,000 apiece, depending upon the fluctuating cost of gold and diamonds; teams can distribute any number of rings but must pay for any over the 70-ring limit. The NBA standardized its championship ring from 1969 through 1983; presently the winning team selects its own design and the league covers the cost of the rings.
The winning team can typically present rings to whomever they choose, including usually, but not limited to: players (active roster or injured), coaches, trainers, executives, personnel, and general staff. Some teams have also been known to give rings to former players who are not officially part of the winning team, as well as current players who may not qualify to have their name engraved on the Stanley Cup or Larry O'Brien Trophy. Occasionally, rings are even given to fans as part of a charity raffle.
L.G. Balfour of Attleboro, Massachusetts and Jostens of Minneapolis, Minnesota are the two companies that have produced the majority of championship rings for the four major professional sports leagues. Tiffany & Co. and Intergold (now a Jostens subsidiary) compete with Balfour and Jostens in the design and manufacturing of championship rings. Tiffany has been gaining momentum with NFL teams, having made the Buccaneers XXXVII, Giants XLII, Saints XLIV, and Giants XLVI rings.
History and growth of trend
Prior to the 1922 World Series, players on the World Series-winning team were given keepsakes, such as a pin or pocketwatch fob. The first World Series ring was given to the members of the New York Giants following their victory in the 1922 World Series over the New York Yankees. When the Yankees won the 1923 World Series, players were given a commemorative pocketwatch. The Yankees first gave rings to their players following the 1927 World Series. Rings became an annual tradition in the 1930s, as every World Series-winning team has given rings to its players since 1932.
In past years, players often requested other items in place of rings, including cufflinks and tie bars. Frankie Crosetti and Tommy Henrich requested shotguns from the Yankees following World Series championships. Grover Cleveland Alexander reportedly pawned his 1926 World Series ring.
In professional sports leagues—such as the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB)—the runners-up of the league championship game/series is awarded a ring, being the champion of their conference (sub-league). In recent years, it has become common for American, and Canadian high schools to give championship rings to teams that win the state or provincial championship in their given sport, usually football.
Value and resale
Replicas of the rings for various years are popular collectibles, along with genuine rings. Dave Meggett is known to have placed his ring for sale on eBay. Two Super Bowl rings from the 1970s Steelers sold on eBay for over $32,000 apiece in mid-2008. Patriots safety Je'Rod Cherry raffled his ring from Super Bowl XXXVI in November 2008 to benefit several charities working to help children in Africa and Asia. Tight end Shannon Sharpe, meanwhile, gave his first Super Bowl ring to his brother Sterling, who had his career cut short by injury.
In 2011, a Super Bowl ring belonging to Steve Wright, a lineman for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, sold for over $73,000 at auction. Three Super Bowl rings belonging to former Raiders' great Ray Guy brought over $96,000 at auction. In 2012, Lawrence Taylor's son sold his father's 1990 Super Bowl ring for more than $250,000.
In 2005, a minor international incident was caused when it was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken a Super Bowl ring from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Kraft quickly issued a statement saying that he had given Putin the ring out of "respect and admiration" he had for the Russian people and Putin's leadership. Kraft later said his earlier statement was not true, and had been issued under pressure from the White House. The ring is on display at the Kremlin, along with other "gifts".
Outside North America
The National Rugby League (NRL) — the premier Australasian competition for rugby league football clubs—also present rings for the players and coach of grand final-winning sides. After the 2004 NRL Grand Final which was won by the Bulldogs, one of their players, Johnathan Thurston gave his premiership ring to team-mate Steve Price who missed the decider due to injury. The Melbourne Storm were stripped of their premierships in 2007 and 2009, but the players involved in those premierships were still allowed to keep their premiership rings. In 2014 NRL premiership ring was worth $8000 made by Zed N Zed Jewellery.
American Football teams in European leagues and competitions also produce championship rings, but they are usually made from more inexpensive material due to the lower budget of the teams.
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