December 28th I mentioned in a post that I didn't think there were any cards issued for Japan's professional basketball leagues, where hometown player Hilton Armstrong now plays. Then, just a few days later, I was reading the blog Japanese Sumo Wresting Cards & Menko and what do I see but a preview of this very set! I left a comment on his blog and shortly thereafter we had a deal in place to get me a box of the set. The box arrived this past Saturday and I enjoyed every second of it, even though I had one little bit of disappointment which I will mention below.
The B.League is the main professional basketball league in Japan, and 2016-17 is the first season. It came about due to some interesting history and controversy, which is well covered on the Wikipedia page, so if you want to learn more I suggest clicking on the Wikipedia link in this paragraph. I believe that the B. in B.League stands for "basketball".
It is composed of 18 teams and follows the FIBA rules. One thing I find...interesting...is that they limit the number of non Japanese players on the court at any time. I can't say I really like that...but I am not totally familiar with the rules of national leagues in other countries so I don't know if that's the norm. I have never really researched it because Japan is now only the second country (after the USA) to have a card set issued for it's top professional basketball league that made it's way to my collection. (Australia, China, South Korea and the Philippines also got sets issued) I notice that none of the players on the box lid are non-Japanese. I can understand them doing that to make sure the league is Japan-centric and not just players who didn't make it in the NBA D-League. Japan's biggest known name outside of Japan is Yuta Tabuse who is front and center on the box, wearing #0 in black. Tabuse is the only Japanese player to have ever gotten a card before, from his brief time as a member of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, he's one of only three players in the entire set who had ever gotten a card before. (Hilton Armstrong and Josh Harrellson are the others). I'm not sure who the biggest stars of the teams are, because I have no way to find out anything about the league other than through these very cards...and I can't actually read the card backs, so if they say, I don't know. Each team has a player on the box front which is a cropped down version of their base card image so I suppose it's implied they are the best players on their team.
Another thing I find interesting is that the teams accept sponsorships. That's not something seen in the basketball I am familiar with but I don't dislike it. As a longtime fan of auto racing sponsorships are second nature to me.
OK, now onto the cards! The cards are color-coded to each team, with the backs featuring bright team colors. The fronts all have a black border with a white "paint splatter" design. The team color is a pinstripe border separating the photo from the border, and the player's name is also in team color. The colors are varied. Red is the most predominant but you see some colors not usually seen in the NBA...like pink.
Here's a card front from each of the 18 teams.
Luckily, for me, the fronts of the cards are all in English because the backs are pretty much totally in Japanese!
Here's Hilton Armstrong's card:
All the backs have posed player photos, which gives it a nice uniform look across the entire set. I suspect that they are from the league's version of "media day" before the season began. Considering that this is the league's first season, I think that they must have gotten these cards made fairly quickly, although it is possible the photos are from last season, as each team existed before this season in one of two different leagues.
The cards themselves have a nice feel to them. They are glossy but not "sticky" or "greasy" feeling. I am a little afraid that they may stick together in the future. They are very well made, but that is not a surprise to me as BBM is as far as I know the top card producer in Japan. It is the first cards from the company in my collection. The photography is excellent. Excellently timed action photos, clear images that give you an impression of the game. Well done. The photography selection process must have had a lot of thought put into it as it appears an effort was made to make sure each person was the sole focus of their card- most don't have any other players in the background and even less in the foreground. They also mostly feature the color jerseys, instead of the standard white, which I wasn't even sure the teams wore until I spotted some in the backgrounds. It appears at least a couple of the teams also have third jerseys because the Happinets appear in pink, white and black jerseys on the cards.
My one disappointment: the duplicates. There were 29 of them in my box. That's not that bad...but...I came up 12 cards short on the base set. I always feel disappointed when I get more duplicates than I get cards missing from the set, especially when I get more than double the amount of cards missing. And especially when it's a rare set that will be hard to find someone to trade my duplicates with. It's not my worst results by any means (that would be a box of 1991-92 Skybox Series II where I came up 5 cards short and got more than 200 duplicates!) Finding those final 12 cards is going to be very difficult. There were several packs where every card was a duplicate. However, it wasn't like Panini where if you get duplicates you know every card was going to be the same in the pack. There were several with 1 new card and 4 duplicates and at least one with 2 new cards and three duplicates.
Here's a gif I made of the front of all 60 of the base cards I got:
On Fire is the only traditional insert, and is 18 cards. It features one player from each team. While it's not really shown in the scans, each card has a holographic star pattern built into the card, which is visible through the photo. It's really nicely done. The back of the card shows the original unedited image. I got 5 of the 18 cards in this insert set.
This scan shows the star design the best
Here are all six. I pulled my first in the second pack I opened and they kept coming until the very last pack.
The backs of the autographs feature more text I can't read but they are identical, it's clearly part of the standard "Congratulations" Certificate of Authenticity that is found on most autographs of American cards. They each feature the serially numbering in the same location in thin gold foiling. As you can see, I managed to pull serial #1 of JR Sakuragi! As someone who loves to get cards SN1 of something I was pretty happy about that.
Every single team made it's first appearance in my collection, and I was able to add 61 new people to my collection, which was pretty easily accomplished as my first cards from the entire country.
A big thanks to Ryan (SumoMenkoMan) for his assistance in this post and helping me get the cards in the first place. I've got a box of 2nd Half on order and will be curious to see if they continue the numbering system like a true series 2 or start over with #1. I suspect that they will continue the numbering as the base cards all have a 0 in front of the number- they've clearly built in space for a set more than 100 cards.
This was a really fun break for me and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I will be also breaking down an individual pack on A Pack to Be Named Later shortly.
I was also able to find a highlight video on YouTube from the league, but there is not much on there...or at least not much I am finding with my solely English language search.