GIMME FIVE: What five NBA cards would you want?

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By Chris Olds | Beckett Basketball Editor | Commentary & Opinion

Every once in a while when searching the Beckett database prepping a magazine, I’ll find some new surprise that leaps out at me from the listings despite my 25 years in the hobby as an active collector.

Other times, I’ll just find myself poking around to check in on what something might be worth or cross-checking that with a pop report to see if any rarities have been captured high-grade style in a BGS slab.

And at other times, I can find myself asking a question. And this is one of those times and the magazine is Beckett Basketball — except I’m asking you, too.

If I (or you) could own five basketball cards of any era, any kind, any condition, any price … what would they be?

1980-81 Topps #6 34 Larry Bird RC/174 Julius Erving TL/139 Magic Johnson RC, $225
While I once wore the ol’ Air Jordans — white Air Jordan V’s with the reflective silver tongues, for the record — I never got caught up in chasing Michael Jordan‘s cardboard. Never really aspired to own a 1986-87 Fleer RC, but one card I did think was classic back in the day was a two-player Rookie Card that featured two icons and the star of a generation before — this 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving epic. To this day, I still don’t own one — in any condition — though I should. I guess sometime years ago my want was quelled a bit when a pulled a Chrome Refractor reprint of this bad boy. Not perforated for tearing — but oh so shiny … and we all know Refractors draw plenty of attention. I still have that one somewhere. Heck, I’d even consider this trio if they were torn and in BGS slabs. (I actually kind of like that set based on a few cards I have picked up through the years.)

1971-72 Topps #4 John Johnson RC, $2 — but I want it as a perfect BVG 10
I have several copies of this card haphazardly stashed away — when I see it, I buy it — but one thing I would want is a perfect copy of this card that probably has little meaning to many an NBA fan these days. It’s a Rookie Card of the first draft pick in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a player who was picked seventh-overall in the 1970 NBA Draft ahead of three Hall of Famers. Why this card? He spent a couple years playing small-time college basketball at a tiny Wyoming college back in the late-1960s, the school I attended, and led the team to unprecedented successes that had never been documented beyond their own times before I wrote a book about the basketball program. I’ve written about him before, but, needless to say, I have yet to see many BGS-graded copies of this one — let alone a perfect 10. (For the record, if you click on the link above you’ll see the pop report … it’s barren for this card with just a single graded copy out there … a BGS 6. Wow.)

1971-72 Topps #55 Pete Maravich, $25
I’ve used this image a few times when writing about vintage basketball cards. Why? Because it’s still secretly (shamefully?) on my want list. Why? I’m too picky — and cheap. While I’m not wanting to find one that’s anywhere near Pristine, I would like to land one that’s clean and that’s worthy of a slab later on. Why? So I can truly appreciate the eery stare of a Hall of Famer’s ridiculously underpriced second-year card. His Rookie Card fetches as much as $300 raw, while this one typically goes for $25 or less un-slabbed. That’s what double-printing does for you.

1989-90 Hoops #138 David Robinson SP RC — in a Pristine BGS 10
If you were around in the late 1980s, you know precisely how big this card once was — way bigger than its $12 ungraded price tag indicates these days. Found only in Series 1 packs, this card is technically a short-print as it was replaced with an in-action card in the second series, which included a mix of both series’ cards but not this one. It’s not particularly rare — but a perfect copy is an impressive one. Exactly 1,414 copies have been graded by BGS but only five have come back perfect. Five. What might a card like that fetch? Well, the current asking price can be found here. (Spoiler: It’s way too steep for me. I’ll aim for, I don’t know, the rest of this list plus some?)

1996 Topps Stars #115 Julius Erving, 60 cents — added ink extra
In my (and everybody else’s) collecting heyday where I could afford to dabble in a bit of everything one slightly pricier brand of cards grabbed my attention and grabbed it hard. The 1996 Topps Stars set was a showcase for the NBA at 50 players and it was a set that was jam-packed with epic photography as well as some of the biggest names in the history of the game. This card — which features a photo by the famed Neil Leifer, who has taken some of the most-memorable photos in sports history including the greatest ever — is absolutely perfect. (Four words: Look at the toe.) The only thing that could make it better than its priceless 60-cent self? Adding some autograph ink.

What’s your top five? Tell me in the comments below and I might use some of your most-interesting picks in the next issue of Beckett Basketball.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Basketball magazine. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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  1. J.R. 10 April, 2013 at 00:34

    My top 5:

    1 – The Original 3:

    I realize this is cheating a bit, as these are 3 different cards, but it’s my list, so I don’t care! The first three pro cards ever made, in an iconic multi-sport vintage set.

    1933 Sport Kings #3 Nat Holman
    1933 Sport Kings #32 Joe Lopchick
    1933 Sport Kings #33 Eddie Burke

    2 – The Iconic Rookie Card:

    The last truly great vintage card, three of the NBA’s top 10 (if not top 5) players ever.

    1980-81 Topps Bird/Erving/Magic

    3 – The Greatest, Just Not His Greatest Card, in the Greatest Condition:

    In my opinion, Jordan’s nicest base card, from UD’s second year release. Of the 225 currently graded on Beckett’s pop report, just ONE of these has graded out a BGS 10.

    1992-93 Upper Deck #23 Michael Jordan BGS 10

    4 – The Only Player From My High School to Make the Association

    While Hollis Thompson made the Thunder preseason roster, and even had a few cards made of him this year, UCLA’s Toby Bailey was the first, and so far, ONLY player to actually play in an NBA game from Loyola HS in Los Angeles, CA. Go Cubs!

    In case you are curious, Toby’s career numbers: 73 games played (all with Phoenix), 3.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 0.6 assists in 9.6 minutes per game over 2 seasons.

    1998 Press Pass Jersey Cards #JC5 Toby Bailey /375

    5 – My Favorite Player, on My Favorite Team

    Present association with certain Communist countries aside… It was as if the basketball gods had answered my wishes personally in February 1999. “The Worm”, Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman had signed with my hometown and favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers. While the dream was short-lived (he played just 23 games), he was his typical self, with 14 games of double-digit rebounds. The Lakers won the first 11 games Rodman played, and went 17-6 overall.

    The nice part about this card is that there are plenty of them, with thee print run totaling 6000.

    1998-99 Flair Showcase Row 1 #64 Dennis Rodman /6000

  2. Kevin 10 April, 2013 at 09:01

    For me it is all about the rookies, so here are my five

    1. 1986-87 MJ.

    I already won this but it has to be included. It is THE basketball card. MJ is the best player and the biggest name of them all, so you can’t have a list without him.

    2. 1969-70 Lew Alcindor

    Kareem was a beast and one of all time greats. His rookie was fro the first Topps bball set and an icon. It’s big size and simple design are too cool. A must have.

    3. 1971-72 Dr. J

    As a kid, in the days before MJ, Dr. J was the man. He was bigger than life. The epitome of all that was cool about basketball. His rookie is a great card that doesn’t get the love it deserves.

    4. 1980-81 Magic/Bird

    The two biggest names of the ’80s on the same rookie card!? How do you not want this in your collection? Bird versus Magic is a synonymous with the game as the ball and rim. The fact they share a rookie is almost too much to fathom.

    5. 1975-76 Moses Malone

    Moses was a beast in his day and truly one of the all time greats. His rookie is all but forgotten but is still in my opinion one of the coolest looking cards from the ‘70s. The design is simple and clean and features a great shot. He looks to be going up for a rebound, and what would be more perfect on the rookie of one of the leagues rebound machines!

    I am always surprised at how relatively cheap rookies of these ‘70s greats are. You can get the rookies of some of the all time great players for less than a $100!

  3. Ryan R 10 April, 2013 at 10:34

    I’m also a rookie card guy and this was a great question.

    1.) I’m with you on the Magic/ Bird 1980-81 RC. The history those two guys have together, mixed with the fact that they are actually friends, may be unparalleled in sports.

    2.) 1986-87 Jordan RC. I actually didn’t like Jordan, his hall of fame speech sums up why, but he is the best at what he did and one of the greatest athletes of all time.

    3.) 2003-04 Lebron James Topps Chrome RC. I was priced out of buying boxes by the time I was in highschool and had largely lost interest by this time, otherwise I’d own 20 of these. He’s the most astonishing athlete I’ve ever seen and he’s still young. The sky is literally the limit. If they keep their big 3 together that topps rc with him, wade, and bosh is also pretty cool.

    4.) 1961-62 Jerry West RC. Had to go with one vintage, I settled on the logo over mainly russell and wilt.

    5.) 2012-13 Andre Drummond Prizm, Gold Prizm (or something else short printed and/ or autographed). Prospecting is my thing so I had to throw one in there. For most of this season you can look at a Pistons box score and see things like 12 points, 10 rebounds, 60% from the field, 18 minutes out of this guy. I’ll roll the dice on an efficient monster when I see one, even if they can’t shoot free throws.

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