- The Season's Over -

NBA Card-Collecting Madness Engulfs ETB

August 7, 2008

2007-08 Topps Basketball Boxes“Hey everybody, Brian just got a Sergei Fedorov rookie card!”

It was 1991, and I had just become the proud owner of a coveted Pro Set Federov rookie card amidst a sports-card opening blitz in the back of the school bus. Speaking more with jealousy about the lack of premier cards in his packs than with excitement for mine, Dan Bargowski made the above proclamation for all to hear. As usual when I’m thrust into the center of attention, I slouched down in my seat and silently resumed sifting through the duds and keepers.

That was the heyday of my card-collecting era. With my days as an awkward middle-schooler fast giving way to my time as an only slightly less awkward high-schooler, those days on the bus opening pack after pack after pack of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey cards actually proved to be some of my last.

Until recently.

About a month ago ETB embarked on a day-long frisbee golf outing in upstate New York. With about 80 holes or so in the bank, we stopped in the thriving metropolis of Florida, NY, in search of a cool beer at a weird local bar. We spotted one on Florida’s “main strip,” parked the Zip Car, and on the way ducked into a random local card shop; it was the first time either of us had stepped foot in one since, I don’t know, before we got our drivers licenses. On a whim, we both ended up purchasing a pack of 2007-08 Topps basketball cards—almost instantly that addictive sense of mystery and excitement of opening packs of cards came rushing back.

We were hooked, again, some 16 odd years after I’d retired as an amateur card-collector.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday night when I cracked the last pack from a full box of those Topps basketball cards. Okay—the last pack of three boxes. And when I was done, I took each pack back out of its respective box, arranged the cards in numeric order by piles of 10 (1-10, 11-20, etc.), parceled out the doubles, put the special inserts aside (Chauncey Billups ’57-58 Relic Variant with a piece of game-worn jersey!), then went down the checklist and circled the few cards I was still missing from the series.

I was a 12-year-old all over again… and, yes, the ETB dons will soon be having some heated trading sessions in the name of completing our respective sets. That’ll have to wait, however, until we’ve each gotten our hands on the jumbo boxes (10 packs, 46 cards per pack!) that are in the mail as I write this.

That’s right—jumbo boxes. Variation Relic inserts. Trading sessions. We’re nerding up here at ETB lately, but I’m not ashamed to admit this: it’s been fun.

Much more on ETB’s rekindled passion for opening packs of cards after the jump…

NBA Cards on the ETB Brain

We’re normally signed into Gmail’s chat program while at our day jobs to shoot the breeze, talk about breaking sports news, plan out articles for the site, etc. Lately, however, some of our conversations have looked like this:

Andrew: $2 offers out [on eBay] for Al Horford’s rookie card with jersey. Won the KG jersey card! $3.99 with shipping and handling.

Brian: Hot. I’m still thinking about that Rodney Stuckey Chrome autograph.

Andrew: That jumbo box is tempting too. I’d split it with you and we both get five packs.

Brian: Yeah, that seller is who my other box is coming from. It should be here today. Parcel out any doubles you get from your box. I’m gunning for the set.

Andrew: I do like my Black Gold Derrick Coleman [from a recently purchased box of 93-94 Topps basketball cards].

The Thrill of Opening Packs is Back

The sports-card market became incredibly saturated when I was collecting them 15+ years ago. New companies popped up every year, more and more cards were churned out, and the value of said cards appropriately plunged. I haven’t looked lately, but I have no doubt that much of my collection hasn’t appreciated in value much and has limited potential to ever fetch big bucks. Finding valuable cards was, of course, part of the allure—and I’d be pleased if those Donruss Juan Gonzalez and Hoops David Robinson rookies were actually worth something—but the excitement of opening fresh packs of cards was the main draw.

And it still is.

The 2007-08 series of Topps NBA cards has all kinds of “special inserts” that have kept me interested: autographed cards, relic cards with actual pieces of game-worn jerseys embedded in them, Bill Russell throwbacks, and cards numbered and embossed in gold (of which I scored Yi Jianlian, Emeka Okafor, Antawn Jamison, and… Desmond Mason). Are they worth much? No, not yet, and there’s a good chance they never will be.

Chauncey Billups Relic Variant

Like I said, though, it’s never been all about finding valuable cards. After all these years, I still couldn’t help but feel the satisfaction that comes with emptying out a full box of sealed packs and one by one cracking them open and seeing what’s inside. You still get the occasional “superstar pack” (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, etc.) and you still get plenty of “dud packs” (Kyle Korver, checklist, Chris Webber, Sean May, etc.).

And, if you’re lucky (in your face, Andrew), you still get a special insert every now and again. For me it was the aforementioned Billups relic variant, which looks almost identical to the one on the left but with a blue piece of jersey.

Of all the possible players I could have gotten such a card for, it was rather appropriate to get one of a guy who’s been one of my favorite Pistons over the past five seasons.

From Card-Collector to Editor and Back Again

My editing career began when I was about 11 or 12 years old.

Back then I spent nearly all of my savings (along with some of my parents’) on sports cards. Basketball cards. Baseball cards. Football cards and hockey cards too. Boxes and packs and mini-sets and factory-sealed sets. I loved sorting them, trading them, and putting the “valuable” ones in binders filled with plastic sleeves.

I looked forward to opening the Saturday morning paper, flipping to the sports section, and looking up which card shows were going on that weekend and which athletes would be there signing autographs. More often than not I was able to coax my dad into taking me.

Of course, like any diehard card collector I was a subscriber to Beckett Magazine, the monthly “Bible of Cards” that listed the current card values along with various articles and hot lists. I read it religiously and referred to it often.

Even then, however, I couldn’t help but harbor quibbles with the editorial direction and content of the magazine. I disagreed with the “Hot Lists” and often thought the articles gave me little to no insight beyond what I already knew. After I’m sure were months of me complaining about it to my mom, she finally suggested that I write Beckett and voice my concerns.

To my delight and total surprise, they responded—with a red pen, the latest issue of Beckett, and a note asking me to please clarify the problems I had with the magazine by marking it up with the provided pen, writing in my comments, and then sending it back when I was through.

Some 18 years later I’m still unsheathing a (virtual) red pen daily, still pointing out possible areas of improvement in others’ work, and, lately, still buying boxes of cards.

7 Comments »Posted by Brian Spencer on Aug. 7, 2008 at 2:21 pm in ETB Articles, NBA

7 Responses

Awesome post, man. Brings back memories — I might have to geek out and buy a box now.

Posted by: Matt W. on August 7th, 2008 at 4:52 pm

When you can get them for less than $20 on ebay, shipping included, it’s hard to pass up.

That 1993-94 box I got was good times, and I think it was like $8 before shipping.

Posted by: Andrew Thell on August 7th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

I’ve been collecting basketball cards since I was 10, and it’s still my favorite hobby. Opening a new box is almost better than Christmas! :-)

Posted by: Ryne Nelson on August 7th, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Great story, brings back memories. I also collected NBA cards in my junior high days and lost interest after a few years, and now I admit I’m tempted to stop by a store and pick up a pack…

I love the anecdote about Beckett magazine at the end. Did anything ever come out of that correspondence? Did they actually respond to your suggestions, or was the whole thing the magazine’s sarcastic answer to a kid’s criticism?

Posted by: Steve on August 8th, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Hey Steve,

Thanks for reading.

You know, I’ve often thought about their motive behind that. On one hand, it totally could have been a sarcastic response; on the other, what if they were viewing as kind of free feedback on what’s good and not so good from a kid who was somewhat representative of their under-13 readership?

I don’t think I ever heard back from them again after I mailed my comments back in, so I can’t say for sure one way or the other. Either way, I was (obviously) psyched about doing it and like to think that, maybe, my comments helped shape their decision-making on future issues. That might be wishful thinking on my part though…

Cheers,

Brian

Posted by: Brian Spencer on August 10th, 2008 at 4:49 pm

man that is trippin. I was out shopping with my girl at a market the other day and stumbled into some stank card shop and was stoked to see a new set of upper deck 07-08 cards.

I said ‘hold up girl’. Then proceeded to buy one pack. The next 5 minutes brought back a piece of childhood for me.
The Rookie – Thaddeus Young – Had me nodding my head, yeah he can hoop.
The Love – Yao Ming – Shoots ft’s like throwin dice
The Hater – Kobe – At least I can tease my kobe friends with it.

Amazing how it takes you back

Posted by: Flava on August 11th, 2008 at 12:37 am

Good times, good times. I was like you – huge collector until about 13, then not until I got out of college and had a job with expendable income. I don’t recall what triggered me getting back into the game at 25, but I did. Love getting those old boxes of eBay too. Just seeing how much things have changed since I was a kid trading for every single Rickey Henderson card my friends had is a trip.

Posted by: Jason F on August 11th, 2008 at 3:31 pm

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