The year started out like any other. I was still collecting NASCAR, and non-sports, and was quite happy doing that. But, I was the only one in my school who collected either topic. All of my friends at the time were into the NBA, and my mom, who worked at my school (Actually, she volunteered over 11,000 hours there over a span of about a decade, even after I aged out of the school) So, for Valentine's day that year, she got me a pack of NBA cards. 1995-96 Fleer series 2, to be exact. I doubt she envisioned what would happen over the next 20+ years, as the NBA would take over my life...and I wouldn't want it any other way! 1996 was the only year I would successfully balance non-sport, NASCAR and the NBA...I actually have a lot of good memories of non-sports cards from the year, mostly centered around the DC Firepower: Outburst set. But my attention was waning, and I wouldn't even get a single card from the Batman Holo Series, an all-hologram set. (I have always loved holograms). I also began collecting Olympic cards in 1996, thought I really became an Olympic fan in 1992. I think I may have watched earlier, but I have no memory of that whatsoever. I remember from 1992 on, but 1996 is when I really became a huge fan of the Olympics, as I still am today.
While getting out of that horrible school did help my health somewhat, I never really recovered fully, even to this day. But the NBA took over more and more of my collection. By this point I was pretty much completely out of non-sports cards. With a couple of sporadic appearances which will be covered later, I generally did not got non-sports cards for the next 12 years. NASCAR cards were not taking up much of my attention at this point either, although I was still collecting them to a degree.
The NBA was now king of my collection and while I didn't keep track of what I had in any real way, they surely surpassed NASCAR for the most cards in my collection by the end of 1997. With Maxx going out of business during 1996 I wasn't as happy with the NASCAR cards being produced at this point.
By the end of the year I had made my first "wantlist"- a sheet of looseleaf paper listing the card numbers I needed from 1997-98 Topps Series 1. I carried it around in my pocket and crossed out the cards when/if I got them. (I still have not completed the set)
My favorite set of the year, and the one I have the most memories of, is 1997-98 Ultra.
In 1998 I changed how I collect, totally on the fly, but what I began that year would turn into one of my favorite parts of my collection. I began my paper listing that year. My first listing was actually for a NASCAR set, 1998 Maxx 10th Anniversary, but I didn't do it very well. I only listed the cards I had, not leaving any space for the cards I was missing. I soon got one of those cards, and pretty much instantly my listing was rendered useless. I would learn from this mistake, eventually. It was probably also during this year that I made the plan to get at least one card from every NBA set, and eventually, I was able to complete that goal...or so I thought. I found out when I returned to the NBA that I had missed some, but I thought I had at least one card from every NBA set until 2005-06.
At Christmas 1998, I got a box of 1998-99 Ultra. I created a paper listing for the set that day, and this time I left space for the cards I didn't have. This was the key...soon I began to make listings for every set in my collection, and this would eventually become the main centerpiece of my collection. Now, I must have a paper listing for every set. I got a little lax in this the past few years (I was unable to find the paper I like) but now back to normal..
The 1998-99 NBA lockout hurt the NBA, but it was still where I spent the focus of my collection time on. During 1999 I began going to my current card shop, Champion. I was also still going to Diamond Jack's but he wasn't bringing in every set any more, and I was also still getting cards from the comic store. Champion had good prices on boxes, and I began getting boxes instead of single packs. With the exception of one set each in 2000-01 and 2001-02, I did at least one box of every single NBA set from 1999-00 through 2004-05. Both of my sports saw my all-time favorites begin their career in 1999- Elton Brand in the NBA, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR (Although he got his first cards in 1994 and won the 1997 and 1998 Busch championships, he moved to Cup in 1999) I was not really collecting much NASCAR this year, although I did manage to pull my first relic card from a single pack purchase, and it was SN 001/125 to boot!
It was in December 1999 that I began to write the date I got each card into my paper listing- although, lacking foresight, I put only month and day...not year. I was still working on my listings and was slowly working my way backwards from what was then current.
Also, it was either in 1999 or 2000, that I pulled my first 1 of 1, from a single pack purchase, no less! You can see it leading off the My 1 of 1s page up above.
In 1999 I began building plastic models, which would come to have a poor effect on my card collecting. I also bought a pack of Phantom Menace cards, which was probably the first pack of non-sports cards I purchased since 1997 and the last until 2002.
It's funny, but 2000 in cards is kind of a blank year to me. I know I collected a whole bunch of them, but I don't have any standout memories of them. I also find the 2000 sets in NASCAR and the 2000-01 sets in the NBA to be largely forgettable, uninspired sets. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but I've been disappointed by those sets ever since they were new. I did finally start putting the year to go with the month and day in my paper listing. During the year I bought a full 5000 count box of NASCAR cards, which the majority of the cards in my collection from 1997-98 come from, at least the NASCAR part. I didn't have a record for the NASCAR cards yet, and that day would probably have been #1 for most new NASCAR cards in a day to that point. In 2000, I spent a lot more time with my scale modeling hobby than with cards- I built 60 models that year, a personal record for quantity, although the quality was very, very poor. It still took up most of my time. What I did do in 2000 was begin keeping some records on Excel. I went online for the first time in 1999, and we got our first computer in 2000. My original Excel file for my collection was a list of every player in my collection, and how many cards I had of each them. It's going to play a role later on in this post.
Here's a photo of what was my entire NBA collection in 2000. I don't remember how they are sorted here, but by year or by letter is probable....probably letter because I don't see any brown cardboard together, but I don't always sort them in year order when I sort by year.
It was also in 2000 that I joined my first message board...and my first card message board, (ugh), Beckett. I spent the entire month of June 2000 in Lake George, my favorite place in the world...but never (to that point) a good spot for finding cards. Sure, there were some at K-mart up there, and Wal-Mart, but not any actual card shops that I was aware of.
It was in 2001, I think, that I finally finished my paper listing for the NBA, which I started as mentioned Christmas Day 1998. It might have been in 2002, I don't remember for sure. That is the real highlight of that year card wise. I was totally out of non-sports, I was barely into NASCAR, the NBA was everything.
I have to be honest, I don't remember too much from 2001. It was pretty much business as usual for my collection, nothing really worth note, that stands out....I think. For some reason I didn't document the date I got my cards for most of the year.
'02 was a terrible year personally, but my collection expanded more rapidly then ever before. On February 5th of that year, I lost my dad to cancer. That...messed with my head more than I care to admit...and as always, I've drowned my sorrows, or tried to, in a sea of new cards. I ended up getting 16,508 documented new cards during 2002. And that's just NBA, not NASCAR. I did get some Non-Sports, but not much. A couple packs of the Topps Simpsons set, was it. But since I didn't keep track of the exact day they are not included in that number. I hit the 30,000 NBA cards milestone...and the 40,000 milestone during the year. I began keeping track of the 1000 card milestones, even though it only matters to me...and for some reason, it does. 2002-04 was my peak time in the hobby, when the majority of my collection was built. In those three years alone, I added 40,318 documented new cards. That was, at the time, more than half my collection...just in those three short years. I was getting them so often that I was having trouble keeping up with listing them in my Excel file mentioned above. Forget reading them. My entire life was spent either listing them in my paper listing or adding up the totals in my Excel files. (By then, I had multiple files, but I don't really remember what they were anymore- the main one was the list of how many I had of each person, but just totals).
2002 was the last local mall card show. It was held in the Danbury Mall on February 3rd. I went, and now I wish I hadn't. I still remember being at the hospital with my dad and him giving me some money to go to the show...which I did...and I got a card I had been chasing since I got into the NBA...but I still regret it immensely. We didn't know at the time it was the last show, and at the time I didn't know my dad was not going to come home. I still have a hard time writing about that.
When we went to Lake George that year, I don't remember much of that trip, except for one thing. The only good memories I have of that year all revolve around cards. On July 9th, I ended up getting every basketball card in the shop in a small shop in Lake George...I took in 1388 new cards in a single day...which was a long-standing record for me that I thought would never be broken, but it has since been eclipsed...more than once...and both times were gifts from people I've never even met. But I'm getting well ahead of myself, that's in part 3. I am STILL using the team bags I got that day for mailings all these years later, on occasion.
In May of 2002 I got at least one new card every single day of the month...something I actively worked at, not just lucked into it.
I hit 1000 new cards in one (documented) day on Christmas 2002, when I received 26 hobby boxes, the biggest box opening session I've ever done. Unfortunately no photos were taken.
In 2003 I dialed back the cards somewhat, but it's still my third most cards in a year, and would be in 2nd still by a wide margin if a friend did not give me more than 3000 cards in 2015. I don't remember too much of 2003, card wise. But there are some good milestones this year.
In October, we drove out to Toledo, Ohio to visit the model car show held there in October. We just happened to get there, and go to the mall out there, while they were having a card show! By pure luck we found that one. Unfortunately, they closed the mall by our second visit there, which is a shame as I really liked it- it reminded me of the Dutchess Mall, the favorite of our entire family, long closed.
While in Toledo I purchased my first computer, a Laptop, which I prefer and have used ever since. The first computer lasted from 2003-09 but eventually it got damaged, the power cord attachment broke...and the people that were hired to fix it, broke it even worse. While still in Ohio I began an Excel file that would come in very important years later...more on that in part 3.
At the Target in Kingston, NY, from a single pack purchase, I pulled Dale Earnhardt Jr's autograph. I've shown it many times before. That got me to finally pay attention to my NASCAR collection. Since about 1999 my entire extent of NASCAR card additions came from the packs my brother would bring me from the comic store, and what came with the diecast cars that I had been collecting this whole time. Pulling that card, though, changed everything. I finally got back into NASCAR on a full-time basis, and at Christmas that year, I began my paper listing for NASCAR, finally, with the box of 2003 Wheels High Gear my brother gave me. From December 2003 on, the grand totals for the year would be a mixture of NBA and NASCAR. Although I gripe about Press Pass's efforts often, I really did enjoy collecting them in the 2003-05 period.
This was the first card I wrote in my NASCAR paper listing on 12/25/2003.
Here's a never-before seen photo of me. These were taken for submission to Beckett's "Supercollector" but I didn't like the way I looked in the photo, so I never submitted it. When I say I'm someone's biggest fan, I mean that in the most literal way possible.
'04 was the last great year for my collection....or as I should actually say the last great year for my collection during that decade. I'll get into that more in part 3. But it's also when the trouble started. Keep in mind, I was only 19 years old for most of the year...so my thought processes were probably not the best, all around. For example, during 2004, my main file corrupted. The one where I kept track of how many cards I had for each person. My brother (much better with computers than I am) was able to recover the file with the exception of the Letter S, which was gone. One crisis averted? Perhaps...but not really. To recreate the S listings, I took apart my sets, all sorted by set, and sorted them by letter. They have not been back together since, although I could not have guessed that at that time they would not be put back together for over a decade. S was soon recreated, but did I learn? No, I did not, I continued to keep only one copy of my records. If you are feeling a sense of foreboding here, it's for good reason. (I know when this all occurred because when I got into my collection again the final two sets of 2003-04 were still together). This sorting would be the last time I see or even physically touch the majority of my NBA collection until 2011.
It wasn't all bad, though. In 2004, I went to Taunton, Massachusetts for the MassCar model car show. While walking from my room (it was held in a Holiday Inn) to the show, I happened to look into the conference room, and what do I see but a card show! And what a show it turned out to be. I met a dealer there who was older, and was looking to retire. Over the course of 2004 and 2005 I greatly bolstered my vintage NBA (and ABA) collection, completing half a dozen vintage sets including 1971-72, 76-77, 77-78, 81-82 Topps, and getting my 1986-87 Fleer set to within four cards of completion, where it still stands today. (I'll never have the Jordan card, which is usually but incorrectly referred to as an RC). In fact, we took several trips to Taunton just specifically for that card show, which I recently discovered is still going at a different location.
At this point, however, I wasn't enjoying the NBA as much. I was enjoying NASCAR cards much more, and in April of 04 I began to build NASCAR models, finally feeling my skills were good enough to attempt them. NASCAR cards began to give the NBA a run for their money in my time spent working on them- though the NBA cards still rolled in at a higher ratio, as NASCAR was the first sport to go exclusive, back in 2001, where the NBA had three card companies. Fleer went out of business in 2004, which stunk as they were not only my favorite, they owed me several redemptions that will never be filled- I don't even remember what they were anymore.
It was in 2004 that I launched my own website, which I still maintain and as of 2009, have been posting scans of my entire card collection on.
2005 is when my collection began to drop off drastically. In fact, in 2005, it pretty much came to a screeching halt. In 2002-04 I was averaging over 1000 new cards per month, but it dropped down drastically- in 2004 I got 10698 documented new cards...in 2005, for the entire year I only documented 2344 new cards. Granted, I let my listings lapse. That should tell you how much I wasn't into cards at that point, because my paper listing was the backbone of my collection. I didn't even document a single new card in May and July that year. I have a bunch of sets in my listing that the year is known but the exact date is not. I really regret letting my listing lapse, but I did...and it's going to get worse before it gets better. I was still collecting both NBA and NASCAR, with a bit more focus on NASCAR at this point. My interest in the NBA was waning, and at the time I said it was because of two things- the game itself which had (I said) become more trying to get on SportsCenter than actually playing the game, and I was unhappy with the cards, which were more "gimmick of the week" vs. actual cards. In retrospect, neither of these things were true. But it's how I was feeling at the time.
In 2005, I went to a card show for the last time. It was one of the shows in Taunton. I had cleaned out the vintage dealer of his NBA stock and I distinctly remember that we had driven up there, rented a motel room and all, and there was not a single card in the show for me to buy. Being that I collect everything NBA and NASCAR, that was pretty disappointing. Being that Taunton is a 4 hour ride, one way, the decision was made not to bother going back. At the time, I didn't know it would be the last card show I'd attend. I also didn't collect the NHL yet then, of course, and I can't say if that would have given me anything to purchase, but something tells me it wouldn't have.
Disaster struck in either 2005 or 2006. The floppy disk where I kept the only copy of my Excel charts, a replacement for the one that had the issue in 2004, crashed hard. I lost pretty much everything, since I was not smart enough to keep a back up anywhere. All my hard work, all I had done since I was 15 years old...was gone. Totally, irrecoverably, gone. I don't know exactly when this happened. As it wasn't tied to a specific card, it didn't make it into my listings. But it was devastating. My gut feeling is that it may have been in 2006, but I am not 100% sure.
Things change, again, in 2006, concluding my first NBA era and the second overall era of my collection. At this point, I am still collecting the NBA, but NASCAR has clearly taken over in importance, even though I really dislike Press Pass and am growing ever more annoyed at their releases. I do what for many years I believe would be my last box of NBA cards in September, 2006. (2006-07 Rookie Debut, a set that now I really like, but back then I didn't care for because it included college images for the rookies). My mom continues to bring me random packs from when she goes to the store, but that is pretty much all I am bringing in at this point. Sometime between September and Christmas, probably before my birthday in October (but I don't know for sure because at this point I don't care enough to make paper listings) I tell her and my brother that I no longer want NBA cards as presents, something that has been the go-to since 1996. It was truly the end of an era, and at the time I truly thought I was done with the NBA. But...there's more. I basically stop collecting NASCAR cards as well. I still get a couple, here and there, but I'm not collecting like I normally do. There are a couple of reasons for this, but the main one is that my money was going elsewhere. My local diecast shop had brought in a great collection, with all the cars I always wanted but never had...well, they soon were part of my collection. I was also in my main time period of NASCAR models, and I couldn't afford to do everything. I chose to put the money elsewhere, which was a huge part of it, but not as much as my general malaise towards the hobby at that point. It's going to get worse before it gets better, but it does get better, eventually.
Coming in part 3: Things get better!