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Kelly Cohen, ESPN 32d

Former Iowa Hawkeye Luka Garza becomes latest athlete to sell NFT

Luka Garza, the former Iowa Hawkeyes star and Wooden Award winner, is the latest athlete to get in on the NFT trend.

When his college career ended with a loss in the second round of the 2021 NCAA tournament, Garza became eligible to profit off of his name, image and likeness. After learning about the new world of NFTs through research, the 22-year-old economics major worked with his father and a team of designers to create his own NFT -- non-fungible token, a unique proof of ownership of a digital product like video clips or digital art work.

A portion of the proceeds from Garza's auction will be donated to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. The NFT auction ended Friday night, selling for a total of $41,141, according to OpenSea, the digital marketplace that hosted the auction.

"It's really, really cool to look," Garza told ESPN. "I hope to do more in the future and have a whole collection. And obviously, this one is gonna probably be the most exclusive."

NFTs have taken off in the sports world after the NBA found success with NBA Top Shot, an online forum for trading virtual basketball cards where fans can buy and sell videos of their favorite players and moments in recent seasons. And now the trend is spreading to other sports.

Garza said he was inspired to create an NFT of himself because of the success of NBA Top Shot and his own love for sports trading cards he had as a kid.

Garza's NFT was a 1-of-1 virtual trading card that includes highlights of him playing throughout his record-breaking college career at Iowa. He's able to profit off of his time in college because he has no eligibility left.

"I mean, honestly, a lot of my teammates are still not graduated yet [and] are still under the NCAA. They told me that they really liked the idea and think it's really cool," Garza said. "Maybe I can kind of set an example and see how it goes."

In addition to acquiring ownership of the "Luka Garza Consensus National Player of the Year Card," the highest bidder of the auction was awarded the opportunity to meet Garza, compete in a game of H.O.R.S.E against him, share in Garza's meditation techniques and attend a dinner and movie with him. The winner also gets a lifetime "VIP pass" to all future basketball camps hosted by Garza, as well as an autographed pair of the shoes he was wearing when he broke the all-time Iowa men's basketball career scoring record.

The most important part of Garza's NFT, he told ESPN, is the donation to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.

The hospital and its patients have become part of Iowa's athletic culture. Since 2017, Hawkeyes fans and players in attendance at football games at Kinnick Stadium turn to wave toward the kids looking on from the windows of the hospital. The "Iowa Wave" has become one of the most famous and heartwarming parts of college football.

"The University of Iowa's students are incredible at giving back ... there is a strong connection on campus between our students and our pediatric patients," Lynette Marshall, President and CEO, University of Iowa Center for Advancement, said in a statement to ESPN. "We understand Luka Garza is planning to donate a portion of the proceeds from his auction ... we look forward to sharing with him how his donation will help our patients and families."

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