Wednesday, February 3, 2016

NBA 20th Anniversary Countdown #12: 1997-98 Ultra

I mentioned there would be more Ultra, and now we see the 1997-98 set.

#12: 1997-98 Ultra

Why I like it: The memories I have are the big thing here, the design doesn't hurt either.

Set size/Completion: 275, I have 240 of them, 87.3% according to the Trading Card Database

1997-98 was a good year for me in the hobby. It was my 3rd season in the NBA, 2nd full time, and it was coming off the best year ever for cards- although I didn't really realize how great 1996-97 was until later. Even by then I already loved the Ultra brand- although I started in February 1996 I started getting cards that came out before I began collecting almost instantaneously...possibly within a week of getting my first NBA cards. I am not sure if I had determined Ultra was my favorite brand yet at that time, but it was right up there.

I remember endlessly sorting and resorting my collection in 1997-98. Back then my collection was small enough that I could sort the entire collection every day after school...and I usually did. I have no idea anymore which ways I was sorting them, but I know I was going through them every day. While Ultra was not the only set I was looking at at the time, it is one of the two I think of the most in relation to that- the other being 1997-98 Z-Force, a set that had at one point been a favorite but now is not near the top 20 (and thus is not on this countdown)

It's not really possible to see in the scan, but the player's name is actually specially printed. It's not foil, it's not's something in between. Hard to describe but great to look at. Four colors were used- red, blue, green and lighter blue.

The one thing about this set I didn't like is that some of it was short printed- the rookies in Series 1, and the '98 Greats subset in series 2. Most of the cards I'm missing are from these subsets. In fact I'm only missing six cards that are NOT in these subsets.

OK, the player's name font on the back is pretty bad, too, but not all that important. My scanner has some issue with these cards, making a crosshatching pattern. If I ever get a new scanner I may rescan the majority of them some day- and most of them are set aside in the box of cards my current scanner cannot handle.

The Gold Medallion parallel is my second favorite parallel concept in all of card history. (Refractors are my favorite). The Gold Medallion debuted in 1995-96, but only in series 1. In 1996-97 it returned for both series, and was used for the rest of Ultra's history. (1997-98 was the last to have a Series 2). The 1997-98 Gold Medallion is actually my favorite of any year. The cards had so much gold sparkle embedded in the card that you can actually feel it! Unfortunately for series two it's much toned down and not as nice looking.
 Here's the base version of the same card, so you can see how different it was.

This card is actually a rarity as most of them had all the background players behind the gold, Christian Laettner being in front of it here is the rarity.

There is also a Platinum Medallion, but I have never been able to hunt any of them down. They are serially numbered to 100, but they aren't as nice, as for some unknown reason the player photos are black and white. There is also a Masterpiece edition. I don't know how many they were numbered to, but I don't think it was 1. Later issues called Masterpiece were SN1 but I think these may have been 10. I remember reading about them in Beckett back in the day but I don't remember the details and my Becketts are missing. A search on Ebay pulled up none of the Masterpiece cards, but I was able to secure a Platinum...(Finally! I've been wanting one since 1997!). I purchased it on the same day I am posting this so it's not here in time for the post, I will put it in a future Hot off the Scanner Tray.

There were a ton of inserts in this set, 19 to be exact, with three versions of Ultrabilities and Star Power, although I never got cards from all the inserts. Here are some of them.
 Big Shots
 Heir to the Throne- these are embossed. I pulled this one from my first pack of the set, and I've always liked this insert. It's my favorite of the set. I can't imagine the chair was too comfortable though!
 Jam City
 Quick Picks- and no, the overall purple theme is not team colored, they are all purple!
Rim Rockers- these are die cut
 Neat Feats
 Sweet Deal
 View to a Thrill
 Star Power and Star Power Plus. Plus is die cut and holofoil.

Ultrabilities Starter, All-Star and Superstar.  Both these last two are three level inserts. The Star Power shown is the first and second level, while Ultrabilities is all three levels. Ultrabilities Superstars is die cut, holofoil, and the word Superstars is felt. The purple stars on All-Star are textured. 

And there's more I have not gotten scanned yet, not even counting the ones I don't have.

This was the last year where the inserts in Ultra were really memorable. After the first lockout the quality of inserts really went way down- they stopped being interesting as a general rule, and mostly became something that could have a relic parallel. (not that I dislike relics, but they stopped putting any thought other than "how can we make a relic card out of this?"). The glory days of inserts was from 1992-93 through 1997-98. Of course, those were the best days in the hobby overall so I suppose it should not be much of a surprise.

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