Thursday, February 11, 2016

NBA 20th Anniversary Countdown #4: 1990-91 Hoops

The first Perfect Set in history, the 1990-91 Hoops release is an icon in the hobby.

#4: 1990-91 Hoops

Why I like it: It's the first perfect set. The design. The player's full name appearing on back.

Set Size/Completion: 440 cards, not counting variations. I have 433 of them, plus several of the variations to bring my collection to 437 of 452 possible variations.

This set is ubiquitus. When most people think of basketball cards, there is a good chance this is one of the first sets they think of. It was produced in massive much so that you can still find packs today, 25 years later, easily and cheaply, including in repacks.

What makes a perfect set? To me, there are several criteria for a perfect set, and the number of sets that reach that mark are few, and none have been issued since 1994-95. These are the five things things a set must have to be considered perfect:
  1. Every player or darn close to it on their own card. Obviously some players are going to join a team after the cards go to press, so some leeway is allowable. but no more than 10 to 15 players missing is acceptable. 
  2. Coaches. The coach is a vital part of the team. They need to be included. 
  3. Something documenting the previous season's events. It can be League leaders, an all-star subset, a rundown of the playoffs, etc. Ideally more than on of the above. This set does not have league leaders but it has the other two.
  4. Team cards. This can range from the great (like 1992-93 Upper Deck) to the simple, which would be a team checklist, which is what this set has. 
  5. Actual photos, not just a player superimposed over a computer generated background.
This set was the first to meet those criteria. There have been very few sets that reach that mark  By my count there were only 5 sets to be technically perfect- 1990-91 through 1994-95 Hoops and 1991-92 Fleer. That's it! There are several sets that have as many as 3 of the 5 criteria necessary, lots more with 2, but only these 5 sets that have all 5 criteria. There are some that don't even have one of those aspects as well!

When I first discovered the sport in February 1996, I started adding older cards almost instantly. Although I can't be sure, this set is one of three that I got right at the beginning, still on the shelves at my local K-Mart. I was able to procure boxes of three old sets, but I don't know which one was the first. Whichever it was, it was the first NBA box I'd ever would not be the last. One of the other sets was the second Action Packed Hall of Fame set. A great set that could not come anywhere near the top 20 due to the fact that it was only a 38 card set. The other set is still to come in the countdown. 

Backs feature full stats, a writeup and, for the first time, the player's full name. Player's full names would be a staple of the Hoops brand card backs until 1996-97, when they appeared on Series 1 but not series 2. They have never appeared in full again.

The yellow they used varied widely; even multiple copies of the same card could be totally different shades, ranging from very dark to almost white.

There was only one insert, literally only one card, honoring the 1989-90 All-Rookie team, which came in two versions (with and without stats). I don't believe I have either.

There were several good subsets in the set. The majority of the set was made up of basic player cards, but there were several subsets. I normally have not shown subsets in this rundown but for this set I will make an exception.

 Gold-bordered All-Stars made up the first 26 cards of the set, and have all-star stats instead of career stats. It documents the 1989-90 All-Star game.
 Hoops Tribune made it's debut; it would last until 1994-95 as a recap of the previous year's finals. I wish the photos were in color, but this year they were trying to make it look like a newspaper.
 Coaches who Played is my favorite subset. The card front shows a photo of a coach from his playing days, while the back shows him now (or, I should say, then, considering this set was issued in 1990-91!). For someone discovering the sport this was a great way for me to learn more about it. It's also historically important as the first time ever vintage photos were used in a main set. The only other time I'm aware of that happening beforehand was a Star promo set from 1984-85. Now, most sets have vintage players mixed in, at the expense of current players, which is not right...but not really relevant to this post either.
Team cards feature paintings on front and a team checklist on the back. Some of the artwork is good...
And some is not. That really doesn't look like Michael Jordan.

At one point in time, I had so many duplicates from this set, they reached more than 2 feet high! I've since given most of them away, though.


  1. You've been losing me with your previous couple of sets. But I can get on board with this one. This set will always be one of my favorites. Although if it is not still to come, I would of chose the inaugural '89-90 set over this one.

    1. That's a great set- and historically important- but it did not make the list. Nothing from the 1980s did although at one point I did have 1984-85 Star slotted into the list. There are just too many great sets...I could easily have done a top 50 list!

  2. This predated my basketball collecting days by a few years, but I can't really argue with you. The few cards from this set I do have were some of my favorites growing up. I'm still partial to the 96-97 Hoops set, though.

    1. This one predates my participation in the hobby as well, but they were still easy to find when I started in 1996...Actually, you can still find a box of either series on Ebay for under $10. I love 1996-97 Hoops Series 1 design...but I really dislike series 2. It's not bad in and of itself, but after series 1's greatness it was a big letdown to me. It's one of the few 1996-97 sets to not make the countdown.