Jimmy Mahan attended Washington & Lee University, a private liberal arts school in lovely Lexington, Virginia. Mahan will be the first person to tell you that the postcard-perfect campus is better known for its academics than its athletics. In fact, the men’s basketball team has just eight winning seasons since 1989. It’s understandable that Mahan would have to scratch his hoops itch elsewhere.
It’s a good thing he’s a Kentucky native. As Mahan puts it, if you’re from the Bluegrass State, you have no choice but to love sports. That admiration for the game (and, likely, some of W&L’s renowned business courses) ultimately led Mahan to open Jimmy’s Kentucky Roadshow Shop, a sort of card shop/museum hybrid in Lexington, Kentucky. But anyone who knows Mahan understands that his influence stretches much farther than his store. Mahan is a genuinely cool guy who fully embraces his role as a hobby ambassador.
It’ll all be on display on July 29 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare when Jimmy’s Kentucky Roadshow Shop, Card Collector 2 and Sports Card Investor link up for The National’s Trade Night, easily one of the most anticipated events on the show’s stuffed calendar. Before all of that fun started, SCI sat down with Mahan to talk about his top collecting memories, ’53 Topps’ importance and the top former Wildcats to invest in right now.
When did you fall in love with sports cards?
This is easy. Eight years old. Go to a card shop. My dad did not collect. We had no family history with it. But it’s funny. The reason I went to Washington & Lee was because I was a history buff. But growing up in Kentucky, you’re automatically a basketball and sports fan. But cards were always the perfect intersection of history and sports. It’s that snapshot in time. But when I was eight, I go to a card shop and I see ‘85 Topps. And I’m like, “What are we supposed to get [out of this box]? And they’re like, “Well, you want a Dwight Gooden rookie.” I said okay and I opened my first pack of ‘85 Topps, and a Dwight Gooden rookie was on the top. That card is still in my safe at the shop. I was hooked. I mean, you can’t go to the card shop, ask what are you supposed to get, open your first pack and get it, and be like, “Okay, I don’t like this.”
It was written in the stars for you to like cards.
Yeah, you’re cooked. And it just naturally matched with my personality, just being a history buff, even a young one. I was 11 years old, trying to start collecting the 1953 Topps set because I read a book on Satchel Paige when I was 11. I was like, “That’s my guy. I want Satchel Paige.” Satchel Paiges aren’t exactly the cheapest cards out there. There are only three [different cards] from when he was playing. Then I go and do the research. I’m looking at ‘53 Topps because they’re the prettiest.
I started collecting. I was mowing lawns. Picking up commons. Nothing graded. Just slowly but surely putting a set together. I started when I was 11 and I finished with that same Satchel. I picked him up when I was 38 years old at my first National. I’ve never been to Cooperstown, but I’ve been to the Negro League Hall of Fame in Kansas City four times. It’s my favorite. We met with the president there. It was unbelievable. Absolutely brilliant.
What was it about Satchel that you liked so much?
I loved that he was a guy fighting the odds. Look, I’m an old, Southern white guy. That’s how it is. The marginalized, the underdog, the people that I can help or root for [are who I gravitate towards]. I’ve lived a crazy life. I went from being a teacher and then I went to a banker. And then, I quit that and I worked with foster care for five years. I have an African-American foster son and a Hispanic foster daughter. I go to Colombia a lot. Go help who you can help and do the right thing. With Satchel, I was an 11-year-old reading that book, thinking, “Why are people against this?” His talent is amazing. My favorite Satchel story is when he turned around when people were yelling racial epithets at him. He told everybody to sit down on their gloves and he struck out the next three guys. That’s my favorite story ever. I don’t know if it was ingrained early, but I think that rooting for the underdog is in there. [Satchel is] my guy. He was 47, pitching three innings of no-hit ball. I love that so much. And it just tied into some bigger themes and threads of my life.
How does the love of Satchel Paige and Dwight Gooden transition to wanting a shop?
It’s actually really funny. So, the Instagram [account] was kind of crazy, but it was all an accident. So, I was working in Appalachia with abused, abandoned, neglected kids, but I’ve always been into card displays. It’s always been a part of my life. I built a main cave, with stuff on the walls and a theater and a card room with like a secret door to it. But this wasn’t on social media. I didn’t even have an Instagram account. This was just for me and my friends. It’s what I liked. I had a bunch of surgeries in my life. I had my hip replaced when I was 32, 33. I had 15 surgeries in a five-year span. It was just genetics. Nothing outside of that was wrong. I was recovering from a surgery. I was sitting downstairs, bored out of my mind. Can’t go anywhere. [I thought] I’m just gonna start an Instagram account. I’m living in North Carolina. I’m a pilgrim in an unholy land. There’s not another Kentucky fan here. [I thought] maybe I can post some pictures of the stuff I’ve collected over my life. It just exploded! It just went nuts!
None of my friends really collected. But you know how this goes with the card community—people start asking and you start to meet friends. I’ve got so many friends that I first met through Instagram. As it got bigger and bigger, and with a bit of a business background and a bit of a teaching background, I was like, “Man, this can be my full-time job.” I started doing your Shark Tank-style proof of concept. Started with an online shop last year in the pandemic. Then I found a little place near where I grew up. Got the right people in place. I’ve been a part of some start-ups and things like that in my life [so I said], You’ve got the funding and you’ve got the following. Those are usually the two hardest things to get in place.
I’ve flown to Normandy, France, and met followers there while I was visiting the D-Day beaches. Okay, this can work. We can do this. And now, it’s turned into this. I left the shop to come home to talk to you. We had five people from Ohio [in the shop]. Six hours away. They drove down. A kid who’s been following me since he was 12. He’s probably 18 now. I was like, “Well, you were on [my Instagram page] early. You saw that all of this was an accident.” He’s like, “Yeah, man, I know. We were just always talking about cards.” I never thought I would have a shop until I just kinda got to the point where it’s like, “You know what? I can make the hobby the job and just use cards as the vehicle to impact people.” What better vehicle is there?
What separates your LCS from all the others?
That’s exactly the question we started with. I wanted to be Card Shop 2.0. There hasn’t been a lot of shift in the type of card shops until recently, when you see [shops like] Minnesota’s Real Sportscards and Ryan’s Card Collector 2 in Columbus. It was always kind of like stuff stacked up everywhere, no place to sit, maybe a picnic table is propped up. It was more like buy your stuff and leave. We wanted to do a half museum, half card shop. It’s got a booth. It’s got a card bar, which had been an idea in my head since I was 16. There are stools around. Come in and sit and hang. If you don’t buy anything, it’s okay. You’re going to leave with a story. It was always meant to be a destination that, even if you’re not a Kentucky fan, you’re like, “Wow, that’s cool. That’s an Olympic jersey Tayshaun Prince wore.” And oh, “I saw some other guy come in and buy some huge, expensive boxes of cards, but it was more fun watching the kids that Jimmy gave these cards to that didn’t think they had the money for.” I’d say that if we had a mission statement, it would be, “Elevate the hobby and the rest will take care of itself.”
There’s a destination part to [the shop]. You walk in and see the old Rupp Arena baseline as our floor, the actual one when they took it up. So, you walk in on history. Do you put that in your house’s man cave? No, I want everybody to come in here and feel this and be a part of this. Not only because of the Kentucky guys that played on it, but Shaq played on that. David Robinson played on that. [Michigan’s] Fab Five played on that. I was at those games. And then you’ve got this crazy museum side of it. Oh, and if you just want to sit in open packs, there’s a booth over here. Oh, we’ve got the draft on [TV]. There’s a card bar. We have iPads where you can type in your favorite team or player and scroll through them. And it’s not only the stuff that’s out on the walls, but it’s stuff that we have in the back. There’s something for everybody. It doesn’t matter your budget. And you don’t have to buy anything. Just be there.
Being the Kentucky Roadshow guy, I have to ask you about some Wildcats cards. Give me a couple former UK guys to invest in who might be slept on right now?
That’s a great call. I think he’s there even though he’s not as slept on as last year—Keldon Johnson. Keldon Johnson goes to the Spurs as a one-year guy at Kentucky. Super high motor. I know this because I know [head coach John] Calipari. I used to work for [former head coach] Tubby Smith back in the day. I’ve got friends who work over there [at the school]. They had to tell him to chill out at pick-up games. Chill, Keldon, we’re just playing pick-up. When he gets drafted by the Spurs, I was like, “[head coach Gregg] Popovich doesn’t play rookies.” He just doesn’t do it. This guy, when he gets a chance, kills it in the G League. I think his Silver Prizms were like $5. They went up because, inside the bubble, he drops like 20 in four straight games. Now, he’s through the roof.
I feel like Tyrese Maxey is a similar thing. If you look at Maxey now, he got some time in the playoffs and played well. But if you look at Maxey’s time at Kentucky, his first game ever was against Michigan State in Madison Square Garden. I think he drops 27 in his first game as a freshman. Every big game we had that year he was on. He’s a big-game guy. He’s in a logjam in Philly. I think a booklet Origins auto to 10 of his wasn’t that expensive, considering what those things can be. I think you can get Maxey fairly cheap right now. To me, he’s a talented kid who’s a gamer. He’s got that clutch factor. He’s got lots to learn. He’s young. But I really like Maxey.
I would have said the same thing about Immanuel Quickley but there’s nothing to sleep with on that guy! He was a two-year guy. His three-point percentage went up two straight years. I was buying Quickley [so fast]. He just took off so early!