The earliest basketball cards can be traced back as early as 1933 to a multi-sport set produced by the Goudey Gum Company. The multi-sport Sport Kings series included only four basketball players. In 1948, Bowman produced a 72-card set that included one of the most valuable cards in existence, the George Mikan rookie card. The card recently sold for $403,664, the highest price for any basketball card. The Topps Gum Company produced its first set of basketball cards in 1957, followed by Fleer during the 1961-62 season.
For the majority of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Topps was the exclusive manufacturer of professionally licensed basketball cards. However, during the 1980’s the basketball card market saw an influx of new companies, including Hoops, Upper Deck, Star, and Fleer. Beginning with the 2009-10, Panini became the exclusive trading card partner of the NBA and the basketball card hobby is dominated by the company to this day.
Today, the basketball card hobby serves as a small ancillary footnote to the game of basketball itself. The popularity of basketball has waned in recent years, but for lovers of the hobby, basketball cards are still as popular now as they ever have been.
Two NBA teams, in particular, have provided an interesting take on the hobby. The Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves’ websites provide regular articles concerning the basketball card hobby. The Phoenix Suns have a feature on their website called Trading Card Tuesday in which basketball card articles are written every Tuesday during the season. The articles highlight and judge various trading cards from the team’s history. The site also features House of Cards, which is a detailed gallery of the team’s trading card history over the years.
Kyle Ratke, web editor and team reporter for the Minnesota Timberwolves, writes an ‘Opening a Pack’ segment for the Timberwolves’ website. The segments consist of Ratke opening a pack of basketball cards and documenting the results. Ratke also details the high and low prices of each card via the Beckett website. Ratke started the segment in June of 2015 by opening a pack of 2014-15 Panini Threads basketball cards. Over the course of the segment, Ratke has opened a variety of basketball card packs, including 2012 NBA Hoops, 2014-15 Panini Excalibur, 2015-16 Panini Prizm, and more.
Likewise, the Starters have even highlighted basketball cards on their show a couple of times. The Starters is a daily show on NBATV hosted by Tas Melas, Leigh Ellis, Trey Kerby, and Phil Elder (J.E. Skeets). Ellis is the show’s resident basketball card enthusiast and the hosts have opened a pack of basketball cards on the show on two different occasions. They first opened a pack of 1991 Fleer basketball cards in June 2014 and then in December 2015 they opened a pack of 1990 Hoops basketball cards with Brent Barry.
So, while basketball cards remain a small supplement to the game, they still remain a fun and enjoyable piece of the game that is enjoyed by young and old alike.