Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Foundation Sets

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately, is that I need to focus more on attempting to complete the sets from the 1995-96 NBA season. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that those sets- and a handful of others- are truly the foundation of my NBA collection, thus, the "Foundation Sets". And the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was striated, there were levels to the foundation sets. Thinking about this is why I started working through the collection I bought in 2018...but hadn't touched SINCE 2018, since I gave myself such burnout with my "card of the day" project of 2018 that lasted most of 2019. The very first box I opened led to the completion of 1995-96 Skybox, which is a second level Foundation set.

Not all the Foundation sets are from 1995-96, either. Four earlier sets also became Foundation Sets. Even though I began adding older cards just about instantly, only 4 of them were important enough to earn the Foundation Set moniker.

Level 1 Foundation sets: These are the ones that kicked off my lifetime passion for basketball cards, and it really is a lifetime passion, despite the break I took from 2006-12, which I now consider to be one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. I've now been collecting the NBA for 2/3rds of my life, and I have no intention of ever stopping...again. Even if my focus has more shifted to hockey and NASCAR on TV, there is nothing that can take away the sheer enjoyment of the world of NBA cards that carried me through the late 1990s and early 2000s. I may have collected one longer and I suspect I will eventually have more of the other, but the best memories, the happiest times, that's NBA. These are the sets that started it all:
1995-96 Fleer, my very first NBA set- this, my very first NBA card- it all started here. This set is widely considered one of the worst designs in history, yet for me the nostalgia factor is through the roof. My mom gave me a single pack of this set on Valentine's Day 1996, and created a monster...94,000+ cards later, this set is still the most important since it was the first. I completed it in 2003.
1995-96 Hoops. This was, for sure, the second NBA set in my collection. Although I don't recall which card was my first, I do know the first insert I pulled, which for many years I considered the very first NBA insert in my collection, even though it couldn't be...every pack of Fleer had at least one insert, so one of them MUST have been first. I don't remember which card it was though. I remember the Hoops card. At 400 cards, the second largest set of the year. I completed it in 2016 via COMC, after opening multiple boxes attempting to complete the set.
1995-96 Upper Deck. The third largest of the 18 sets issued in 1995-96 at 360 cards, it is the only Level 1 Foundation set I have yet to complete. These cards have a black theme, take corner damage easily, and not all my memories of them are good, but these are so integral to the early days that they rank of the utmost importance with Fleer and Hoops.

1990-91 and 1994-95 Hoops are always linked together to me. Right after I began collecting, probably by the end of February 1996, I had found and opened a box of both of these sets at my local K-Mart. I no longer remember which one was first, or which series I did for each set. but they may have even been done on the very same day. I can still remember sitting on my floor opening them in 1996. Both sets ranked in my top 3 when I did my countdown of top 20 favorite NBA sets to celebrate my 20th anniversary of collecting NBA cards. I've completed both sets, although I do need some upgrades to the 1990-91 set. At 440 and 450 cards respectively, there were a lot of cards to chase. And while the 1990-91 set is one of the more common sets to come across, I didn't actually complete it until only a couple of years ago. Even though older sets, they have pretty much always been in my NBA collection and they built the foundation...perhaps even more than the 1995-96 cards, since I did actual boxes of these sets, where the 1995-96 sets were only packs at that time. (I did do boxes of both series of Fleer and Hoops, but not until the early 2000s). Sorry the 1994-95 card is to the left. I tried to make them show up side by side but couldn't figure out how, and now I can't figure out how to get it back to normal.

Second Level Foundation sets:
The first level were the ones that really got me started...the ones I basically can't remember a time without, as related to the NBA. The second level sets would have come at right around the same time, but for whatever reason didn't make as much of an impact on me.
1995-96 Stadium Club could honestly have been a level 1 set. I have a ton of memories of it, including a very clear one of opening packs in a booth at the Long John Silver's in Queensbury, NY while we waited for our food. That's not something I would do now- I wouldn't take any chances of getting grease on the cards- but I was a kid then. My favorite insert set of all time is in this set. (at some point I plan to do a countdown of my top 10 favorite insert designs) Yet for some reason I rarely think about it unless I'm looking at it. I don't know why, its a fine set. That's the only reason it's a level 2 set. I have not yet completed it. 
 1995-96 Collector's Choice. The largest of the 18 1995-96 sets, at 410 cards, I have completed it. Not all my memories of this set are good, but it's important enough to make the second level. The "I Love This Game" team card subset is one of my favorites of the season. I was so new to the sport that they actually helped me learn all the team names and cities. That's how early this set was to my collection.
 Metal would turn out to be my second favorite brand, even if it only lasted for five years. The entire set was etched foil, and looks a lot nicer in hand than in scans. I have not completed it yet, series 1 has always been tough for me to locate. My best memory of this set is buying the complete Steel Towers insert at a tiny card shop in Lake George, NY, which was the only time I was ever in that shop, as it had closed by time we went back.
Ultra is and always will be my favorite brand, but the 1995-96 set is not one of the better efforts. Most of the cards are way too closely much so that sometimes the top of the player's head isn't even on the card. As I would later learn that was a problem the previous year as well, neither of which I've completed. The next year's Ultra set, from 1996-97, is my all-time favorite NBA set...this one, despite being a foundation set, would not crack my top 100 list if I had made it, I suspect. (I only did top 20). But the Foundation aspect is all about memory, not favoritsm. 
1995-96 Skybox was either the 3rd or 4th set to enter my collection- I know Fleer was 1st and Hoops was second, but I can't remember the order after that 100 percent- I think Upper Deck was next followed by Skybox and Ultra, but I'm trying to think back to 1996 and I am not 100% sure anymore. Even though it was an early addition, it was never a favorite set. I completed it just last week, and I was able to complete it because of this very post. I had been thinking that I needed to work on the Foundation sets more (Intending to try and trade for the missing cards on the Database) and realized I shouldn't do that until I went through the collection I bought in 2018, mentioned above. The very first box contained the last 11 cards I needed to complete this set. 
1995-96 Topps came early to my collection, but of the major, long-running sets of season, it's the one I have the least of. As of right now I only have 241 of the 291 cards, my lowest completion percentage of any of the Foundation Sets. The very first card I ever traded for was from this set. Although I've upgraded the copy, I still have the card I traded for. Even though I had already been collecting cards by 8 years at that point I didn't know anyone elso who collected non-sports or NASCAR cards, so I had no one to trade with until I began collecting the NBA...which is actually WHY my mom got me my first pack, so I would have someone to trade with! 
1992-93 Fleer is also a Foundation Set, even though I'm not sure I've ever opened even a single pack! At 444 cards, it's a fairly large set, but I have completed it. My early memories of this set, however, are mostly about the Drake's promo set, which one of my friends had a bunch of...and which I tried to trade for whenever I could. As time has gone on the Drake's set has lost it's importance to me though, supplanted by the base set. That's pretty much solely due to the fact that there are so many more cards in the base set, and they use the exact same design, and more definitely equals better. 

Level 3 Foundation sets: The third level of Foundation sets are important to my beginnings, but played less of a role. 
 1995-96 SPx was the last release of the year- most places, including the packaging, list this as only 1996, but it's absolutely a 1995-96 set. This set is important to the hobby because it was the first set ever sold in 1 card packs, the first all-hologram set, and the first all-die cut set. But it's important to me because my parents gave me the complete set for my birthday in 1996! It was the first NBA set I ever completed and will always be important to me because of that.
Topps Gallery was the next-to-last 1995-96 release, and I believe the first set released after I began collecting the sport. I'm not a huge fan of the set- and I have a clear bad memory of it. But I have good memories as well, including finding it for sale at the comic shop for the first time. The bad memory I have? Well, the cards are all curved due to the technology used, and I didn't like that then and tried to flatten them out. The card I tried to flatten ended up bending in the middle, badly, a huge crease from side to side. I finally replaced it on COMC, but the memory can't be removed. I've never tried to flatten out a curved card since then. 
1994 Action Packed Hall of Fame...which for some reason Beckett has convinced most people is a 1995 set. It's not, in any way, shape or form. One of only two Action Packed basketball sets ever, I got a box of these right around the same time I got the two older Hoops boxes...but these didn't register as much. Action Packed didn't have the modern NBA license, the set was only 38 cards, and it included college cards...all of which meant I viewed this as an invalid set for my collection. One of the things I have but don't count. In all actuality, I didn't integrate and count these as part of my NBA collection until 2011! As it turns out, Action Packed DID try to get the NBA license, but was denied. Eventually, I came to really be a fan of these. At only 38 cards, it was easy to complete. My first expired redemption card ever came from this set. I finally got the autographed card on COMC just a year or two ago. Unfortunately the gold foil on the borders has not aged well, turning colors in wide swaths on many of the cards.

While there are other 1995-96 sets, and I have memories of all of them from when they were new, they didn't register enough to become Foundation sets. Flair was too expensive, Jam Session was too tall, SP and SP Championship made my eyes hurt with the mirror foil backs, etc. 

Of the 15 sets I've identified as Foundation Sets, I still need to complete 6 of them. I am going to work on that via trade, hopefully...but first I need to finish going through the collection I bought. There's still 4 large boxes-each holding at least 2000 cards- yet to be explored. I already completed one of the Foundation sets from them in the past week, so I don't want to go looking for cards I may already have. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Set Completed: 1995-96 Skybox

It's always good to complete a's even better when it's one of the "foundation sets" of your collection!

Set: 1995-96 Skybox
Set Size: 301 cards
Began Collecting: February, 1996
Completed: May 22nd, 2020
Full Checklist: 1995-96 Skybox (Trading Card Database) My collection Gallery: 1995-96 Skybox (Cardboard History Gallery)
Thoughts: Although not my favorite set from 1995-96, this is absolutely one of the "Foundation Sets" of my NBA collection, a topic I will be discussing at length soon, hopefully in a couple of days. I believe this was either the third or 4th NBA set I ever is my 6th completed set of the 1995-96 season...not only did I complete the base set, I completed two of the inserts on the same day...this was likely the first time I ever saw etched foil on a sports card, as I believe this set entered my collection before the Metal issue of that year, although I would have been familiar with it already from non-sports cards. It was generally not used for NASCAR cards until the late 1990s, and rarely then...Series 1 cards feature a foil Skybox logo while series 2 did not...both series had several subsets, one of which from Series 2 honored players who appeared in the 1990-91 Skybox set. I damaged one of my cards with my fingernail in 1996 and just finally got a replacement the same day I completed the set. That damaged card taught me that I needed to leave space to get cards out of wherever I put them, not jam as many in as possible. There are 13 different insert sets, most of which feature the etched foil previously discussed. Although one of the Foundation sets, it's not one I really talk about very often. This is the first time the set has gotten tagged in the 6 years and more than 700 posts I've written for Cardboard History.
Favorite memory of the set: It's got to be the early days. I began collecting the NBA in February 1996 and I began learning about the players and teams via the cards. That was the foundation of what has become a lifelong passion and quest...although the card that completed the set was the 93,508th NBA card in my collection, this set would have entered my collection before I hit 100 cards. Unfortunately I didn't keep records at that time.
Last card needed: #134, Larry Johnson, from the Turning Point subset.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Examining NBA Expansion on cardboard

Expansion is always a great thing for a sport. Since the NBA began getting cards regularly in 1969-70, 16 teams have joined the league, which is one more than half, as the NBA currently stands at 30 teams. Today I will break down how each team's addition was handled on cards.

1970-71: Buffalo Braves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers
With a three team expansion, this is the largest increase in new clubs since the formative years of the league, when clubs came and went on a much more fluid basis. The ABA had been making inroads -launched in 1967- and the NBA both realized there was more the sport could support and head off the ABA getting these cities before they could. The cards do not make anything special of the new teams, in fact, the majority of the cards in the set didn't even show the jerseys properly because it was unlicensed by the NBA.
Many of the cards in this oversized set are close ups, cropped so that the logo doesn't show on the uniform, or, like in the case of Em Bryant, the logo has been painted over. The Buffalo Braves would eventually become the Los Angeles Clippers.

1974-75: New Orleans Jazz. In '74 New Orleans would get their first team, which would stay in the city until only 1979, when it moved to Utah where it remains. It was the first time expansion was specifically commemorated on a card.
 Thinking about this card- which I got within my first two years collecting the NBA, and scanned years ago, is what prompted this post. I was actually scanning Pete Maravich's 1979-80 Topps card, which led to my thinking about this card, and I realized this is something I would be able to write about.

1976-77: Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs
The ABA folded and was absorbed by the NBA after the 1975-76 season. Bitter rivals, the NBA conquered and swallowed whole the upstart league, bringing in four of the clubs. Since the teams were all well established already, and had been getting cards in the Topps sets since 1971-72, nothing was made of their joining the new league. The cards for the other ABA teams simply stopped showing up in the sets.
Erving would never actually play for the Nets in the NBA. His contract was sold to the 76ers.
These are technically the first NBA cards for each team- the lowest numbered card in the 1976-77 set.  The game action images are actually all from ABA games for these 4 teams in the entire set.

1980-81: Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks, much like the three teams from a decade earlier, just show up with new cards of players in airbrushed uniforms.
Because the Mavericks joined the league in time for Topps's worst set design ever, the cards appear super thin. All of the images from this set have been cropped properly in PhotoScape- none of the actual cards have been separated.

1988-89: Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat
The late 80s saw 4 teams added to the NBA, almost bringing it to it's current setup. By this time Topps was out of the NBA, Star had come and gone, and Fleer now had the exclusive license...for this country.
The Fleer set would have "drafted by" banners, but maintained the original team's colors. The first card to actually show the new teams in action are actually from a Spanish playing card game, but interestingly, they did not include any Miami Heat players.
1989-90: Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic
For the first time in NBA history, there are two major sets in a single year, and for the first time since Star, there are cards showing game images from the season the cards were issued in.

Fleer again went with a banner, but this time the borders are in the new team's color. Hoops, the first NBA set ever with two series, didn't include any cards of either team in series 1, but made up for it in a big way with actual action series 2.

1995-96: Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies
The 1995-96 expansion teams have always carried a particular favor with me- I discovered the sport during the 1995-96 season, so while I didn't see them from the very beginning, I did get in on the ground floor. They also had the most cardboard coverage of any expansion teams, both due to the fact that there were significantly more sets produced, and it was the 1990s, the true golden age of cards, and everything was documented well.

 Collector's Choice, Finest, Flair, Metal and Ultra all featured "Drafted by" cards in series 1 and action photos in series 2. I've only chosen to show one example here.
 E-XL, SP, SP Championship, SPx and Topps Gallery all came out late enough in the season that they ONLY include action photos of the teams.

 Fleer, Hoops and Ultra had special subsets for the two new teams. Flair did as well, but the cards looked almost exactly the same as other teams- instead of black on the back, it's team colored, and they lack the pearlescent metallic aspect other teams had.

 Jam Session and Panini ONLY have "drafted by" cards

 Skybox only had a team logo card in series 1, no player cards. All the player cards, using the basic design concept of the set, appear in series 2.

 Stadium Club and Topps both had close-up headshots of the drafted players in series 1, and action photos in series 2.

 Topps also released a special set with the Inaugural Season logo in gold foil. This may have been exclusive to Wal-Mart.

 Note: I don't have any of the Raptors from SP Championship scanned yet.

Both teams also got something no other expansion teams before them did- a card from before they officially existed. 1994-95 Fleer gave a card, showing the logos, of each of the two Canadian teams, with a brief history of how they came to be on the back. I specifically got them out and pulled them up in the scanning order for this post.

2004-05: Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats' introduction in 2004 was met with almost no fanfare. This may be due to the fact that many people feel like it was correcting a wrong, and that the Bobcats were just a replacement for the Hornets, which had been moved to New Orleans in 2002. That's not wrong, but for the Bobcats it led to cards like we hadn't seen since 1980-81- they just showed up in sets, varying from photos with the old team but the new team colors, to action photos in late season releases, to staged photos.

That's not even all the sets, there are a couple I don't have a Bobcats card, or at least scanned, from.
By this point, Series 2s were a thing of the past, unfortunately. As you can see, at this point many of the sets were more about gimmicks than actually documenting the game- which played a role in why I walked away from the sport in 2006, although I now regret it. The Bobcats also got a team logo card issued the year before they joined the league, an insert in Bazooka.

No, your eyes don't deceive you, they are meant as window clings and are all printed in reverse on clear plasticy material.

And that's all of them. There has been renewed talk of possible expansion in the wake of the Coronavirus...each new team has to pay between $10 and 25 million to enter the league, and the NBA may see this as a way to offset the revenue losses from the shut down. (coupled with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL) I truly hope it happens. There is talk of a new team in Las Vegas and a new Seattle SuperSonics, which would make many long time NBA fans happy. There's also been a push to restart the Kentucky Colonels, a former ABA franchise, but that seemed to get less traction. I hope it does happen eventually, because there's little that's more exciting than a new franchise entering the sport.