Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Box Break Review: 2016-17 BBM B.League Basketball 1st Half

Here's probably the most unusual Box Break Review I've posted...after all, it's not too often I break a box where I can't read the cards!
Just back on 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.

Each of the 18 teams got 4 cards in the 72 card base set. One thing you don't see often is that the position the player plays is fully spelled out. I don't know of any other professional set that breaks it down between Point Guards and Shooting Guards, they all just list G for Guard. (for example) That's a nice touch, as is including the player's jersey number, which is not always visible on photos, though I selected sample images from each team that showed the jersey the best.

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:
I have absolutely no idea what that says...although I see several references to his NBA career. I know he played 292 NBA games so I am sure there is a reference to that on the card back, but that's about it.

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:
And here's one for the backs. If anyone wants to take a crack at translating any of these, I would really appreciate it! I have tried to teach myself Japanese numbers and failed, so actual words probably would be even tougher.
Now, onto the inserts. There were only two in the set.
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

The most common insert is Authentic Autographed Card, or  more commonly called, the autographs. I pulled 6 of them from my box, and all are serially numbered to 115 copies.
Here are all six. I pulled my first in the second pack I opened and they kept coming until the very last pack.

Every one of the 72 players in the set has an autograph. All of the ones I pulled had the player's jersey number included in the autograph. My favorite of them here is the last shown, Yutaka Yokoe, because his is the only one clearly signed in the Japanese letter forms. Note that each card is embossed on the bottom left. All autographs are large clear stickers.

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.
Even with the duplicate to missing card ratio, I really had a lot of fun opening this box. As a fan of the sport it was fun to get to add cards from a professional league that is mostly unfamiliar to me, and I learned a little bit about the history of basketball in Japan in the process.

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.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Box Break Review: 2015-16 Upper Deck Hockey Series 2

Before I get into today's post, I want to mention that I have now given the NHL it's own section on my website. One of my goals for the year was to give the NHL, MLB and NFL their own sections on my website to match the NBA and NASCAR sections, and I spent most of the 29th of January creating the section for the NHL. I was planning to do it when I was recovering from a medical procedure I have coming up, but considering that I've scanned more than 200 NHL cards during the month of January, I wanted it to be done and ready before I do my monthly uploads on the first of each month. You can see it here. Each season has it's own album, and I will be creating albums for earlier seasons as I add them to my collection. Most of my collection has not been scanned yet so it's definitely a work in progress. Previously all NHL cards and the few minor league cards I've scanned were all in one big album.
I'm not sure if this is considered a hobby box or not, but it was on sale at my local card shop, and I could afford it, so I got it.
Alex Ovechkin is not actually in Series 2. I got both checklists and I did indeed check. Maybe some of the inserts. The scratches on the very top of the tin were UNDER the factory shrink wrap.

I decided to scan 9 base cards to show, and comment on- a full page, plus the inserts and Young Guns. I will probably do a full "page" of base cards from each Box Break Review going forward, unless I really need to post about more of them.
My favorite photo of the break. Great wide angle shot, and shows the ceiling of the Barclays Center quite nicely. The banners hanging there are great to see too. It may be a little hard to tell but the opponent is the Chicago Blackhawks.

The first game I saw all of was the Winter Classic on January 1st of this year. I had seen portions of several other games before hand but not the entire game. Tarasenko was the deciding factor that got the Blues the win in the game.

Great action shot!

This is the first and only card I know of to show the Fox Sports 1 logo, formerly the Speed Channel. Which it should still be, of course.
I know the Islanders do not have purple in the team colors, so I am sure there is a story behind this one...but I don't know it.

I have a friend named Doug Hamilton so learning there was a hockey player with this name cracked me up.

I think this is the only hockey card I have where the puck is actually on the stick.

A good shot showing the puck, I knew there was something printed on them but I couldn't tell what. It's clearly the NHL logo but I don't know about the words going around it yet. I blew it up but it didn't help.
This is such a great photo. It really makes it seem like something you could have seen during the Roman Empire.

Now, I also scanned the rookies...I like what UD does with the NHL for the most part, but short printing the rookie cards in the flagship set is not one of them. I pulled three rookies in my tin:

I don't know yet which ones are the ones that would be too expensive for me to buy as a single card, but each them are the first and only cards I have of each person.

 I got 2 of the Canvas inserts, which I like, and ran the full gamut of O-Pee-Chee Update cards- 1 base veteran, 1 base rookie, 1 Retro and one Rainbow.
One thing I was very surprised to see- the first thing I saw when I opened the tin- was an oversized box topper! That takes me back, to circa 1994. I didn't read the odds on the inserts as I wanted to be surprised. I sure was! Now, just showing an oddly shaped card on the Blogger format doesn't really work, it auto-sizes things. So here is an unedited scan instead, which shows it on the page with standard sized cards.

The oversize box topper is actually a card from series 1.

There were also two cards from the UD Portraits insert. I'm not really sure what the point of them is. I have nothing against the players I got- it's just, well...kind of like UD phoned it in with these.
Even though the design is unique, it seems like I've seen it before, which really means that they could have done better. Don't get me wrong, I'm still glad to have them- I'm glad to have every card I get- but I would rather have gotten the base cards of either person, of which I got neither. Maybe it's just because I'm a base card guy?

This was a very enjoyable box break- it got me less than half way to the complete series 2 and it was only $30, so I'm considering getting another.

This was the first Upper Deck sports box I have opened since late 2006. It's been over 10 years, which is pretty hard to believe. But since the NBA took away their license during the 2009-10 season, and I was away from that sport from 2006-12, I have not had much to choose from. That is certainly not going to be the case going forward. I did do two boxes of the Captain America set (on sale for the price of one!) and one of the Thor set, all retail boxes. I still need cards from both of those sets too.