Saturday, March 13, 2021

Card set ranking: 1994-95 NBA

 I've been talking about doing a set ranking of each year in the 1990s for the NBA for a while, and that time is now. This isn't a wholly new concept- it's been done before. It's even been done by me, when I ranked my all-time favorite sets when I celebrated my 20th anniversary collecting the NBA. That was already 5 years ago, and, spoiler alert, if you jump back into my archives and reread those posts you'll likely know the "winner" of each year. I'm not going to link it like I normally would when I reference an old post so there's some newness here at least. 

So why am I starting with 1994-95, instead of the logical choices of 1990-91 or 1995-96, the first season I collected? Mostly, it's because I've been working on scanning a big stack of them, so they have been on my mind, and secondly, it's near the bottom of the decade in favorites, although not last, I would say that's 1998-99. I would rank 1994-95 as my second least favorite season of the 1990s for card designs. That's not to say it's all bad...oh no, far from it. In fact, my 2nd all-time favorite set is from the 1994-95 season. 

All rankings are based on my personal preference, my personal experience with the set, and the nostalgia factor that drives so much of collecting, so your results may vary. And, even though this is how I'm ranking them now, doesn't mean it's how I will always rank them. 

Let's begin the countdown with set #15...

SP Championship. Interestingly enough, this is the set I've been working on scanning a large batch of. Go figure. The first of two seasons it was released, this was a retail only set. It's also one of the smallest sets of the year at 135 cards, and has one parallel. It's the set I traditionally had the second least of, although I've gotten it much closer to completion than it used to be. Although it's impossible to tell from the scan, the oval on the bottom is team colored foil (purple for the Bucks) with the team name in silver foil. I'm at 113 of 135. 

#14 Skybox

This set is just so incredibly dark. I think Skybox artificially darkened the backgrounds, and the black banner adds to that. Some of the teams have the last names printed in such a dark color that they almost blend in to it. In addition, Series 1 had the Skybox logo embossed, which means they are nearly impossible to stack. This is presumably why it was flat on series 2. In addition, the cards have a somewhat tacky feel to them. It's again nearly impossible to keep these cards dust free. It's a 350 card set across two series, with no parallels. I've completed it. 

#13 Finest 
There's nothing particularly wrong with this year's Finest, it's just not as visually interesting as other Finest sets- or other sets from the 1994-95 season. The cards tend to curve badly, more than other years of Finest, and they are also turning green on most of them. First year of the peel. I actually have a card where a bug is trapped between the peel and the card. If all the Finest sets I have the lowest number of Refractors from this set than any other in the era before 2004-05. Issued in 2 series for 331 cards, I have 278 of them. 

#12 Jam Session

I admit it, I'm a size snob. Any card that's too big to sort and store with the rest of my cards just doesn't stand much of a chance of ranking highly. I have 196 of the 200 cards in the set. There are no parallels. If/when I get them, I will have the entire three-year run of Jam Session. This is the middle year.

#11 Emotion

Like SP Championship, this is a set that was always rarer in my collection. I didn't get most of them until I joined the Trading Card Database and got them via trade. This was Fleer/Skybox's first attempt at a super premium set, and it kind of falls flat. Many of the "emotions" showcased on the card front are not emotions at all (Boom, For Real, Air, Leadership, etc, are not emotions, yet are featured). This set was always a regret for me, as back around 2001-02 time frame my local shop had a box in the case, but I didn't get it...I was so focused on the new releases, of which there were many, and by time I had caught up on them, the Emotion box had sold. Now I've traded for so many that it would be stupid to buy a box if I could find one. At 121 cards, it's tied for the smallest set of the year, and I have 88 of them now. There are no parallels. The only reason this is higher than Jam Session is because it's standard sized, and the only reason it's higher than Finest is because now that I scan everything, I realize how unpleasant Finest/Chrome style cards are to scan. 

#10 Flair
The first Premium set from Fleer/Skybox, the debut Flair set features three photos on each card, and a large, ornate first letter of each last name, The set suffers from two problems, in that all the photos are extra dark, and the cards have a greasy feeling coating on most of them, although not all, that shows fingerprints and dust easily. Released in 2 series totally 326 cards, I have 275 of them, meaning this is the lowest percentage of any 1994-95 set in my collection. I just took in this Clyde Drexler card via trade on the Database this week. Luckily this card does not have the greasy feeling.

#9 Topps

Not one of the Topps's best efforts, the set suffers from the font used for the player's name. Photos are decent quality, and the set size is standard Topps for the era. It was the first Topps flagship set to have foil on every base card, both the name and Topps logo. Has one parallel. Despite the issues I mentioned, the set is rather pedestrian. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, there's just sets that are better from this season. The card back is actually nicer looking than the front, in my opinion. Issued in 2 series totaling 396 cards, I have completed it. 

#8 SP

Hard to believe, but this was Upper Deck's first Premium set. Even though it's pretty much just a standard different things were in 1995. Actually, this set DID do something that hadn't been seen yet at that time, in that all the Rookie cards were grouped together at the front of the set and printed with etched foil. Upper Deck would use the etched foil extensively in the Black Diamond brand, and it had debuted on an insert in the 1993-94 Special Edition set, but this was the first time it was issued as a base card. Issued in one series totaling 165 cards, I have 160. Completion is in range. This is the only SP set to have a parallel. 

#7 Ultra

The fact that Ultra is my favorite brand and that's no secret probably makes this year's set placing 7th a surprise...but I've never really liked this year's set all that much. In fact, it's my least-favorite Ultra release ever. The set suffers from overcropping, with some of the photos being so closely cropped that they can't even fit his whole head on the card! Another problem this set has the drop shadow on the player's name and team not lining up properly, something you see on this card. This was the first ever NBA set to feature both gold and silver foil on every card. Issued in two series totaling 350 cards, I have 349 of very close. 

#6 Stadium Club

The 1994-95 Stadium Club set is very similar to the 1993-94 set, but that's not really a bad thing. As always, Stadium Club is all about the photography and it doesn't disappoint there. I don' think I really appreciated the Stadium Club brand as much as I likely should have over the years but I enjoy this set more now than I did in the 1990s. Issued in 2 series for 362 cards (plus six checklists) I have completed the set.

#5 Upper Deck

I don't consider this one of UD's best efforts, but the set is fairly common so it's got a nostalgia boost. The first UD set to have the player's name in foil, that would become a staple for Upper Deck for many years. The team colored border parts make the set less monotonous. Photos are high quality and varied. Issued in 2 series totaling 360 cards, I've completed it.

#4 Collector's Choice

The 2nd largest set of the year at 420 cards (and I've completed it), Collector's Choice was marketed as a low-end set, but it's really not that at all. While it's not perfect, it's a great set. The large checklist, the large photos, and the parallels. This is the first set to ever have a Level 2 parallel. (a term I created). The one-per-pack Silver Script is a Level 1 parallel, but the Gold Script which was one-per-box is a Level 2. They are pretty unusual to come across...I've only collected three of those over the past 25 years. I find the name to small, and the large square in the corner with an icon based on the player's position is totally unneeded. If that was a team logo it would be OK, but it's just a waste of space as is.
There are also International editions of this set, you can also collect it in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese! However, since they are the same cards just in a different language, I did not include them separately in this countdown. Nor will they be counted in the totals to come at the end of the post. 

#3 Topps Embossed

Probably the greatest small set ever, at only 121 cards, it's tied for the smallest set of the year. every card is embossed, the player, the border, and the entire back of the card as well! It was an experiment Topps never did again, which is unfortunate. The cards do tend to take damage easily...many of mine came out of the packs damaged. (I did a box) and I have to wonder if that played a role in why it was a one-and-done. The backs include a Did You Know section with interesting trivia about the players as well. One of the few sets I've actually read the backs of in full. I have the complete base set. There is a one-per pack parallel. This set had no inserts, which is unusual in the era. It's the only set of the year with no inserts. The Micheal Williams base card from this set was my #1 most wanted card from 2005-2016, when I finally got it, on COMC. 

#2 Fleer

One of two sets from 1994-95 to crack my all-time Top 10, the only reason this didn't "win the year" is because my second-all-time favorite set is from the same season. This one ranked 10th back in 2016, and I would maintain that spot if I were doing that list now.  I love the design of this set....the colorful foil splash with the brightly colored name just works for me. Each team has two different options, and possibly more-I have not done a study of that yet. Throw in the nostalgia factor and you have a real winner of a set. The photos are somewhat pedestrian, but the colorful splashes and names and the nostalgia factor overcome that with ease. The borders on the back are black and do chip easily, but that's not really that big a deal, as the card front is my main focus. Issued in two series for 400 cards, I have the complete set.

There is a European version that is basically the same, but includes some team logo cards only found there. Like Collector's Choice, it's not counted towards the totals. 

And now...the grand #1 favorite set from 1994-95 is...

Hoops! This set is perfect...seriously, it's the only structurally perfect NBA set ever made. What makes a set Structurally Perfect? Full rosters, coaches, league leaders, a past season recap and a team logo card. That's all it takes, yet in the entire history of the NBA - roughly 700 sets -  it's the only one ever made.  But wait, there's more. The card back includes full career statistics, including the playoffs and college, AND has a spot for jersey number! And they even have a writeup and a color photo too. Now, if you were willing to accept any team card, not just a team  logo, the 1991-92 and 1992-93 Hoops sets would also qualify. Besides being structurally perfect, it's got a great design. This is everything right with trading cards. At 450 cards, it's the largest set of the year, and I've completed it. 

To complete all the base cards of 1994-95, it would require 4487 cards, and I have 4318 of them. (as of March 12th, 2021, when I wrote this) it's not outside the realm of possibility that I could complete the entire season someday. There are no "stoppers", cards that are rare or expensive, ahead of me. There are a few Jordans that could be problematic to somebody starting now, but luckily I got them all in the 1990s.  

Here is the 1994-95 folder on the Cardboard History Gallery, although there's still a lot left to scan. 1994-95 collection


  1. Awesome, a bug trapped in between the peel and card? For some reason that sounds familiar...have you posted a scan of that before? I stopped working at the card shop in 1994 so I don't remember all these designs since I took a break from cards between 1994 and 2000. Cool run down though!

    1. I think I did...I know I have mentioned it in the past

  2. Great review of 94-95 sets,I hope you do more reviews in the future.

  3. 100% agree Hoops was the best set of that year. I would switch Fleer and Collector Choice. Topps embossed is a set I vaguely remember but it looks great

    1. I know a lot of people love that Collector's Choice set.

  4. Great post. Here are my Top 5:

    #1 Skybox Emotion
    #2 Flair
    #3 Collector's Choice
    #4 Topps Embossed
    #5 SP

  5. Flair and Collectors choice would get my nod but Hoops definitely Top 5

  6. Awesome review; I hope you do more of it. I never got as much of that year's sets as I wanted to because that was my first year of college so the card money started going elsewhere.

    1. I plan more! Haven't started any other posts yet but they are in the pipeline

  7. Aside from CC and Fleer, I've always considered '94-95 to be a pretty bad year for basketball cards. I was in full set collecting mode at that point, I can remember not being very interested in most of that years offerings, and only bought a pack or two from all of the cheaper sets.

    1. It's a wide swing. Two of my top 10 favorite sets ever yet the majority of the rest of them are on the lower end of the spectrum for each brand.

  8. So who is the one missing guy you need to complete #7?

    1. Database is showing two, #168 Wait Williams and #315 Danny Manning. But the numbers aren't matching up so I need to check my paper listing

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  10. I'd go with that Hoops set as well. Team logos are important and you did a good job outlining all the pros of these cards. I'd then go with Upper Deck and Fleer Flair. Great look back and post.