Thursday, June 25, 2015

NBA Draft 2015 / History of the NBA Draft on Cardboard

Later today is the NBA Draft...always an exciting time in the NBA, and truly the kickoff of the new season. (Hard to believe we are coming up on 2015-16...I began collecting the NBA during 1995-96 and I will be doing some celebratory stuff, but I digress). Not only will this be the 20th Draft I've watched, it's selections will also put my NBA collection at 2500 different people, most likely. It is possible that I will hit that mark before the first 2015-16 cards arrive somewhere in the September-November area. I currently stand, with the addition of the Matthew Dellavedova card my mom gave me two days ago, at 2497 different people. So, it is possible that by time the new season's cards get here, the important 2500 marker will be in the rear view mirror already.

Everyone suspects Karl-Anthony Towns will go 1st to the T-Wolves, and I am thinking that as well. After that,'s wide open. The Lakers, 76ers, Knicks and Magic make the rest of the top 5 picks, and all of them have many needs to don't get to the top of the draft by being a good team. Jahlil Okafor, D'Angelo Russell, Kristaps Porzingus are likely to all go in the top 5, but the order is still anyone's guess. Except maybe the Lakers, but I'm not privy to that info!

I actually have one card of one of the 2015-16 rookies already, but it doesn't count to my NBA collection, for two reasons, either of which would discount it by themselves and both appear on the same card. Those reasons being, 1. it's a college card, which I count as a separate collection, and 2, it's a multi-sport card, which I also count as a separate collection.

It's this one, from Sports Illustrated for Kids.
Honestly I had no idea SI for Kids was still being published. I got my last copy in 1999, basing it off the cards I can find. (I saw some of the cards on the Database over the years, but no actual issues) I saw an issue at my local Barnes & Noble, and saw that one of the cards was Steph Curry, fast becoming my #2 player in the league, to move to #1 when Elton Brand retires, which may come as soon as this off season. (I hope not!) So I had to get it. This card was included along with 7 others. I enjoyed reading the magazine, and I've also recently started reading regular Sports Illustrated as well. I suspect I will subscribe to both by the end of 2015. From what I've gathered Tyus Jones is expected to go in the second half of the first round, although to be honest I don't really follow players until they go pro, so basically all I know about him is what is printed on the back of the card.

One other weird thing about this NBA is the one where the players were born after I began watching the game, and collecting the cards, both of which date to February 1996. Tyus Jones, up above, was born in May 1996. As far as I know none of the players in the League in 2014-15 were born after February 14th, 1996. It's a weird feeling for sure, but I have no intention of ever leaving the game and the hobby (again- I was away from the hobby from late 2006 through September 2011, and only watched sporadically during that time. I did always watch the draft though, or at least the first few picks. I now consider that one of the bigger mistakes of my life)
The Draft on Cardboard

For the first 45 or so years of the NBA (and BAA, which everyone counts as part of the NBA, myself included) rookies were no big deal. In fact, until 1990-91, the number of players who got cards during their actual rookie season was fairly slim, Topps, sole producer of NBA cards from 1957-81, rarely included players during their first year. Although I'm sure there are more, I can only think of TWO cards issued by Topps during an actual first season- Pete Maravich's card in 1970-71 Topps, which I don't have, and Bill Walton's in 1974-75 Topps, which I got earlier this year via the blog.
Things changed in 1990-91. The hobby was beginning it's Golden Age, which truly began in 1989-90, and would last through the 1997-98 season, ended by the first lockout.

1990-91 Hoops was the first set to include images from the NBA Draft. While I have all the cards in the subset, I have only scanned the card of Lionel Simmons to date.
1990-91 Hoops is one of my all time favorite sets, and I hope to someday finish it.

It was also the second set to issue the traditional series 2, after the 1989-90 Hoops release. That would be the norm for the flagship sets, and even some of the secondary sets, until the lockout. The Draft cards were in series 2.

1990-91 also saw the debut of Skybox, which also included a small subset of Draft day photos. Again, Lionel Simmons is the only one I've gotten scanned to date.
 I'm not a huge fan of 1990-91 Skybox to be honest.

1991-92 saw Fleer, Hoops and Skybox joined by Upper Deck. Of the 4 sets that year, only Skybox had a Draft Day subset...they could afford to, at 659 cards, the largest set in NBA history.
Another year where Skybox's cards were not really interesting. Just a photo with a fake background. Meh.

1992-93 saw the return of Topps, the birth of Ultra and Stadium Club, and series 2s for all the sets produced except Archives. No main sets featured draft day images, but Hoops included some in their Draft Picks insert.
Topps Archives was a single issue release of 150 cards which highlighted the main players to come into the NBA in the interval between 1981 and 1991 when Topps did not have the NBA license. While the set had so much potential, it was also kind of a let down as well, I always held out hope that Topps would issue an Archives set for each of the years it wasn't covering the sport; the 80s were a great time in the NBA, and the players who came into the league during that time deserve to have their career properly covered...granted, Star did a very good job of that, during it's three years of operation, but Star cards have always been too expensive and too hard to find, so they are essentially out of my reach. But again, I digress.
The Archives set included the first card to ever show the draft board. It had a subset at the start of the set showing the top pick of each draft, the back of the card listing the first round picks.
This is actually the gold parallel, which was sold as a factory set only.

1993-94 saw much of the same, with the addition of Finest and the oversize Jam Session. There was no set that featured draft day photos although several appeared in the Skybox Draft Picks insert and several into regular base cards, like this one in Ultra.
1994-95 kicked off the four best years for the hobby, which again, would last until the lockout. None of the sets included any number of draft day photos, although some were included in random sets, like the Jason Kidd card from the Topps flagship shown. All the main sets returned, and they were joined by Collector's Choice, Flair, SP and the E-series (Emotion, E-XL, EX, etc), which would all become mainstays in the hobby. There were also several standalone issues. By this time Rookies were the key aspect of Series 2s, or in the standalone issues, they were issued late enough in the year to include in action photos.
1995-96 was the year I discovered the sport, and it was a spectacular year for cards. All the flagship sets returned, and Metal and SPx joined the field. But draft day photos were at all all-time low. By now the Rookie Photo Shoot had supplanted the draft day photos in the sets that did not have action photos (some had both). In fact, of the more than 3100 different cards I have scanned for 1995-96, only one shows a photo taken on draft day, an insert from Fleer of Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse had signed on to be Fleer's spokesman and they issued a multi-set, mutli-year insert documenting his early career. This is card #1 in that set. I have put more effort into scanning 1995-96 than any other year, because it was my first. The only cards not scanned yet by me are the ones that somebody else posted to the Database before I got the chance to. They are held off to the end of the scanning project so I can work on stuff I can post.
1996-97 was, in my mind, the absolute best year for the NBA on cardboard. It was the NBA's 50th Anniversary, and the celebrations lasted all year...and the cards were worth celebrating as well. In fact, when I make my list of Top 20 sets of all time to celebrate my 20th anniversary of collecting this coming least 5 of 1996-97's sets are likely to make the top 10, let alone 20! It was, in short, nearly a perfect year for cards. Draft day issues were scant. The only ones I can locate are from a five card subset in Metal (one of the sets that will make the top half of my Top 20 list)
1997-98 was the last great year of the NBA's golden age of cardboard. The designs were mostly good, but not as good as 1996-97. Of the nearly 900 cards I've scanned on the year, this is the only one to show what may be a draft day image...or it may come from the Rookie photo shoot. It's Tim Thomas's base card from Upper Deck. I seem to recall there being others in the set, at least for Tim Duncan, as well.
1998-99 saw the lockout. The Golden Age came crashing down...and the hobby has never truly recovered since. After the lockout, it was less about documenting the game, and more about gimmicks- not to say there weren't gimmicks beforehand but now they became the focus. It is also during this year that the focus became more on chasing the so-called hits then actual normal cards.
It was also the end of the Series 2, for the most part. (Upper Deck would continue to produce a Series 2 until 2002-03, the last to be produced. Topps' last Series 2 was 2000-01. Fleer, Hoops, and Collector's Choice saw their last Series 2 issued in 1997-98, while Stadium Club and Skybox saw their last Series 2 during 1998-99. Finest would hold out a series 2 until 1999-00.)
There were no cards clearly from draft day issued in 1998-99. In fact, several major flagship sets, including Fleer and Hoops, saw no rookie cards included at all.
1998-99 also saw the introduction of a fad that still holds true to this day- short printing rookies, many times serially numbering them. SP Authentic started this trend during 1998-99, and it changed the landscape of rookie cards to this day.

1999-00 saw the new normal- predominantly single issue series, with photographs from the last season (or, in some rare cases, several seasons ago). While I am not overly happy with the way the hobby has gone since then, the majority of my collecting was done during 1999-00 through 2004-05, so I have a high percentage of cards from this era. 1999-00 was also when my favorite player, Elton Brand entered the NBA- as the #1 draft pick, no less! With the new format of card production, Draft Day photos were now at an all-time high. Fleer, Topps, Skybox Dominion, MVP (the former Collector's Choice), Victory and Upper Deck all used draft day photos. Topps and Upper Deck included draft day photos in series 1, and gave most of the players action photos in series 2.
 2000-01 was a low point in card design. I don't know why, but most of the sets that year were sub-par at best, in my opinion.  Most of the sets that used draft day photos in 1999-00 instead used Rookie Photo Shoot photos, in the case of MVP and Victory, they used college photos instead.

Topps, and the standalone but parallel Tipoff, was the only set to use Draft Day photos. Unlike in previous years, Topps Chrome did not use the same photos, but used action photos. That would be the way Topps did it until at least 2004-05. (I only have one pack of 2005-06 Chrome, 4 cards, so I don't know how they did it that year)

2001-02 was a better year than 2000-01, design wise, and more sets used Draft day photography, including Fleer Genuine, Topps and this set, a debut in 2001-02, Topps Pristene. This is a refractor parallel. Most sets by now were using Rookie photo shoot images, if they came out before action photos were available, although some UD sets still used college photos.
2002-03 was my peak year collecting. I added more cards to my collection in that year than I did in all of 2007-12 combined, for example. Many sets used a combination of draft day and rookie photo shoot images, some by Topps mixed in digitally altered images (which I loathe) and some by UD mixed in college uniforms. Most sets by now were serially numbering rookie cards, including this one, which was numbered to 2002 on the back.
2003-04 is the largest year in my collection, but draft day images are few and far between. There's a couple mixed in, in various sets. but Rookie Photo Shoot images are much more common. This card is an insert from Fleer Tradition (the flagship Fleer set) and includes a piece of the hat worn on draft day. This is the only one of the 10 card set in my collection.
2004-05 was the last year I really enjoyed the hobby as much as I once did, at least until I came back full time in 2012-13. It was the last year I had at least one card from each set, something I always considered one of my proudest achievements in the hobby, and something I'm working very hard on getting back to.
The only set to include draft day photos was the Topps flagship set.

I was still collecting fully in 2005-06, but I was starting to lose my patience with the  gimmick-of-the-month concept, and with the gameplay itself. (It was getting more trying to be a SportsCenter highlight than actually playing)
I started to trail off in collecting, and I even missed several sets (although I've since gone back and gotten at least one card from each major set). To this day I still consider the 2005-06 draft class to be "new" players as they were the last ones to join the league when I was still fully immersed in it; the fact that some of them have already retired is a cold reminder that the game moves on even if I don't.
Topps included these images for many of the rookies, and I don't know (remember) if they were taken on draft day or some other photo shoot.
In 2006-07, I really wasn't enjoying it anymore. In fact, near the end of 2006, I decided I was done. I don't know now if it was me, or the cards not being as good as they once were, or what, but now I regret it immensely. I didn't look at or touch my cards for many years. I would not touch the majority of them until December 2013. From this point on, I am missing more cards than I have. I truly believed that I would never get any new basketball cards. (I was still collecting NASCAR, provisionally, and I got back into non-sports for the first time since 1996 in 2009). The last box I opened, what I once thought as the true last box, was 2006-07 Rookie Debut, and it included some Draft Day photography.
Totally out of it in 2007-08, I have none that show Draft Day photography but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

2008-09 I have even less cards of. 2008 was my worst year since I began collecting cards in 1988. I only got ONE documented card (a NASCAR card). None of the less than 200 cards from the 2008-09 season depict draft day photography, the few rookie cards I have depicting college images.

2009-10 was the last year where Topps and Upper Deck were allowed to produce cards. NBA gave the license to Panini, exclusively. (A HUGE mistake, but that's a different topic). I have very few cards from this season, less than 100. The rookies I have have college images.

2010-11 was when I started to watch the games regularly again- especially during the playoffs. I resisted getting back into the cards, but I've since gotten some 217 of them after the fact. None depict draft day photography. Panini seems to favor college images, or Rookie Photo Shoot images.

2011-12 saw the second lockout. Smaller than the first, the game play after it actually got better- so much so that I'm as hooked on the game as I was before the first lockout, if not more. Panini chose not to include ANY rookies in 2011-12, for some stupid reason known only to Panini. It's disgraceful. 

2012-13 is when I got back into the cards full time. While I get less cards than I once did, I think I appreciate them more. I actually even read them all now! (Back in the early 2000s, I was getting them so fast I didn't have time to read them, really!) Panini issued 44 card packs of Hoops for $2; I couldn't resist that. Now I'm back full time. Panini still favors Rookie Photo Shoot or even Summer League images, but two sets included draft day images. Hoops included them for all 2012-13 rookies, and Prestige included them for some. Hoops was the first set issued that year- it was on the shelves by time I went to Lake George NY in the first week of September, unusually early to have a set on the shelves.
In both 2013-14 and 2014-15 Panini used Rookie Photo Shoot images exclusively. 

I began typing this post around 3:30 PM, and it's now 7:07 PM. The Pre-Draft show is already on, and I can't wait to see the new names that I'll be chasing for my collection for years to come! 

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent writing again. I like the cards displayed throughout the blog.