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Rubin: For Oakland U's Greg Kampe, a nodding acquaintance with bobbleheads grows larger

Greg Kampe was so honored to be featured as an upcoming bobblehead that, um, OK, he forgot all about it.

Forgive him. His Oakland University men’s basketball team had just knocked off the University of Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament last month, a classic case of David dunking on Goliath. He was getting ready for North Carolina State, which turned out to be a loss in overtime that should have been another win, darn it.

A company from Milwaukee called the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum reached out to Oakland U, which dropped a note to Kampe, who was paying so little attention he’d probably have said yes to setting his hair on fire and coaching in a toga.

Now, though, he has time to reflect on the great honor of being a future bobblehead — or two of them, actually, one wearing a black OU sweater and one wearing white. The company, and let's just call it NBH for short, reports that it already has almost 200 preorders for $30 items that aren't scheduled to be shipped until September.

Oakland Golden Grizzlies head coach Greg Kempe bobblehead.
Oakland Golden Grizzlies head coach Greg Kempe bobblehead.

The statuettes are a worthy commemoration of a great few days in the history of the school where Kampe has been head coach for 40 years, and upon reflection ...

Jeez, he says, it's kind of embarrassing, like those seven or eight halls of fame he's in that he'll only murmur the names of if somebody asks.

But it's also a great opportunity to report on advancements in bobblehead technology, how bobbleheads are made, and why NBH offers seven different models of former presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Immortality and humility

Kampe, 68, was actually bobbleheaded once before.

With Oakland hoping to lure a capacity crowd for a key game against Oral Roberts University in February 2007 — and with a benefactor paying the tab — the Golden Grizzlies bestowed wobbly noggined Kampes on the first 2,000 fans through the door.

Kampe vividly remembers that the good guys won the game. He also remembers a custodian bringing him a bobblehead left in the Oral Roberts section with its head snapped off.

Then a few days ago, after the NBH announced the coming of Kampehead 2.0., a friend sent him a photo of one of the originals, with the coach wearing a black Oakland U vest over a long-sleeved white shirt. The friend said he'd found it at a Salvation Army store in 2008 for 25 cents.

"I guess that beating Kentucky, I went from 25 cents to $30," Kampe said.

As for the new version, "My first question was, 'Did they use the fat Greg Kampe, or the new thin one?' "

A stellar athlete through college despite topping out at only 5-foot-9 — one of those halls of fame is for high school football players, nationwide — Kampe had inflated to 275 pounds by early last year. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and properly alarmed, he's been eating better, walking farther and taking Ozempic. He's down to 210 pounds, reclassified as prediabetic, and aiming for 198.

The bobbleheads are properly trim, and where the faces on that first one "might have looked like me, or might have looked like three other guys," the prototypes of the new figurines are dead ringers.

That's because they're just bodies with mug shots pasted where his head will be. As Phil Sklar of NBH explained, these things take time.

Birth of a bobble empire

Sklar and his buddy since middle school, Brad Novak, presented their first exhibit in 2015, a few years after they commissioned their first bobblehead.

They actually do operate a bobblehead hall of fame and museum, above a burger bar and a coffee shop near downtown Milwaukee, and continue to expand both their collection and their inventory.

Brad Novak (left) and Phil Sklar, founders of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.
Brad Novak (left) and Phil Sklar, founders of the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

They discovered early on that they don't need to get permission to make bobbleheads of government officials like presidents or Fauci, who was once a daily presence in American lives and carries on in the company warehouse wearing a lab coat, executing a facepalm or throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game.

“At some point in the future,” Sklar said, bobbleheads might be produced with 3-D printers. For now, they are still hand-sculpted in China, turned into molds and crafted of resin.

“The main difference between now and 25 years ago,” he said, “is that the sculptors have gotten a lot better. Also, from a manufacturing standpoint, once they make that initial mold, they’re able to do a lot more in terms of having facial features.”

NBH pounced on Kampe and Oakland U after the stirring victory over Kentucky and a few eloquent postgame interviews. Having agreed to the use of its trademarks, the university will gain a few dollars from every sale, and the school and its coach will gain a bit of immortality, 8 inches at a time.

“The whole country was cheering for us,” Kampe said, and now the world can collect the team’s coach and its mascot, Grizz, who is more expensive than Kampe ($35) if not as adept at plotting midgame strategy.

Oakland Golden Grizzlies Grizz bobblehead.
Oakland Golden Grizzlies Grizz bobblehead.

“Our brand is the strongest it’s ever been. I’m proud of that,” Kampe said. At least as important, “we can talk trash to Michigan and Michigan State fans for a year.”

In deference to his three children, he said, who will someday have to sift through his accumulated stuff, he does not plan to buy any of the miniature versions of himself.

If he changes his mind, he figures, there's always the Salvation Army.

Neal Rubin bobblehead
Neal Rubin bobblehead

While nobody is clamoring for a Neal Rubin bobblehead, his late and beloved mother-in-law commissioned one, and his obnoxious sons have pointed out that it's almost life-sized. Reach Neal at NARubin@freepress.com.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Oakland University hoops success leads to Greg Kampe bobbleheads