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.


  1. Always fascinating to flip through cards from another country - thanks for sharing!

  2. Really cool break! I also like the fact that all the players in the set have an autograph

    1. That's indeed cool but completing a set would be darn near impossible, I bet!

  3. Great rundown and glad I could help. Boxes of the 1st Half are sold out it seems in most places. Lots of action on the auction sites too for the singles. Good thing we reserved a few boxes of the 2nd Half. What are the 12 missing numbers you need? I'll keep a look out for them. These cards are really neat and BBM has done a great job as of late.

    1. Considering I would not have even known these existed without you posting about them I think you did more than help, LOL.
      I am missing # 28, 32, 36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 68, 72

      I looked on Ebay and couldn't find any for auction, of course I did look the day they arrived so it might have taken some time for them to show up. I have considered sending the spare Tabuse to COMC the next time I send anything to them, considering he does have a bit of a following among American collectors.

    2. I was able to pick up the 12 cards for you.

      My only complaint with BBM is their reliance on sticker autographs. I wish they would have some products (maybe they do) with on-card autographs. But since they are the main company in town, really doesn't matter to them I think.

    3. Oh my gosh, thank you so much! That is very very appreciated!

      I'm not too worried about the autos being stickers. That's never really bothered me. I know I am one of the few who doesn't care, as long as they don't mess up like put it in/on upside down. which I have seen done a few times.

  4. Brave Thunder & Northern Happinets are fantastic team names. I'm gonna use those for my fantasy teams. Those are very nice cards.

  5. If I did my math right and assuming each box yields 5 autographs, that means there were only 1500 boxes made. That is why I can't find unopened boxes anymore in Japan.