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President Obama's high school basketball jersey sold for $120,000 this weekend in online auction

A yearbook photo of former President Barack Obama, who played for Punahou's 1979 state champion varsity team.
Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The winning bidder of an online auction is now the owner of an unlikely piece of presidential memorabilia.

A No. 23 basketball jersey believed to have been worn by the former president as a high school senior in Honolulu sold at online auction on Sunday for $120,000 to an American sports artifact collector who wished to remain anonymous. The top bidder also took home a letter of provenance from seller Peter Noble and the 1979 Punahou School yearbook.

Obama, who went by Barry at the time, is said to have worn the jersey while playing for Punahou's 1979 state champion varsity team.

Bidding for the jersey first began at $25,000. The Dallas-based auction house, Heritage Auctions – known for its collections of classic coins, sports memorabilia, comic books and movie posters – first received an email inquiry from Noble over nine months ago, Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, tells CNBC Make It.

The No. 23 high school basketball jersey believed to have been worn by former President Barack Obama as a student in Honolulu, and the yearbook pictured, sold this weekend in an online auction.
Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Noble was three years behind Obama at Punahou and wore the same No. 23 jersey, still being used by the team, while playing junior varsity basketball. When the team ordered new uniforms, he saved the jersey he had worn, which bore the lucky number famously worn by Michael Jordan and Lebron James. It was only later that he made the connection to Obama.

"Peter worked for the athletic department during summers, and the only reason he kept this particular jersey was because he wore No. 23 on the JV team," Ivy says. "He kept it and then many decades later he saw a picture of President Obama, they put up a picture of him playing basketball at Punahou, and he noticed it was the same No. 23 that he had in his closet and put two [and] two together."

The authentication process took longer than usual, given this is a high school jersey and the auction house is more accustomed to handling professional apparel. To verify the item, the auction house used several methods, including photo matching to line up comparisons with what Obama wore (representatives also reached out to Obama, but received no reply.) Ivy says the auction house is very confident in the uniform's authenticity, and it's auction site listed it boldly as "the most important basketball jersey that exists."

A No. 23 high school basketball jersey believed to have been worn by former President Barack Obama during his senior year at Punahou School in Honolulu.
Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Ivy says the auction house gets thousands of inquires every day, only a small amount of which turn out to be significant. But the prospect of such an unusual find was compelling. "There's not very many presidential game-worn items that have ever come up," he says. "I guess the closest thing you could say were a lot of golf clubs used by different presidents, but this is the first jersey that's ever come to our attention."

The 44th president has long been known to be an avid basketball fan. Not only did he grow up playing the sport, but while president he installed a basketball court on the White House grounds and often played pickup games with Cabinet members. He's been seen attending college basketball games and fill out a March Madness bracket each year.

Noble, who says he plans to donate a portion of proceeds from the auction to Punahou, says he hopes that something he'd once bring out to show friends at parties will go on to serve a better purpose.

"I was always honored to go and play at Punahou and now moreso, to play basketball with 23 because of what it has grown to represent," he tells CNBC Make It.

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A yearbook photo of former President Barack Obama, who played for Punahou's 1979 state champion varsity team.
Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions
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