NBA cards need to give collectors more kicks



By Chris Olds | Beckett Basketball Editor

There are plenty of innovative sports cards that have been produced in the last decade as the industry has evolved from standard ink-and-cardboard releases to autograph-loaded and memorabilia-enhanced collectibles.

And while I’ll be the first to say that I don’t collect much basketball these days, there seems to be one signature piece of memorabilia that’s seriously under-appreciated when it comes to basketball cards.

The game-used shoe card.

shoecardAccording to the Beckett Database, only 80 different basketball cards featuring pieces of game-used shoe have been made through the years — most from 2000-02, none since 2004 when Press Pass included them.

That’s it.

None of them had announced print runs of more than 350 cards like this Kwame Brown from the 2001-02 Upper Deck Pros & Prospects set.

Panini America spokesman Scott Prusha said that the lone licensed NBA card manufacturer beginning this fall will explore the use of game-used shoes in its forthcoming products.

“We hope to utilize any and all game-used materials (including shoes) to bring collectors closer to the action,” Prusha said. “As seen in Absolute, the Tools of the Trade insert incorporates as many different pieces of game-used material that we can find from a given player.”

In Panini America’s past football releases such as Absolute Memorabilia, cleats have been relatively commonplace as items obtained at the NFL PLAYERS Rookie Premiere. Cleats are pretty much under-appreciated as memorabilia cards in other sports, too — though Press Pass has included driver-used shoes in NASCAR products — but it’s in basketball where a shoe carries a direct player identity as well as some great potential for impressive cards.

Take LeBron James‘ upcoming Air Max LeBron VII above. (They go on sale on Oct. 24 at $160 a pair, by the way.) Sure, Upper Deck Authenticated can fetch some nice cash for a pair of James’ game-used shoes, but wouldn’t they make some nice cards as well?

I’d think so.


And then there are Air Jordans, Dwyane Wade‘s Converse line, Kobe Bryant‘s line, Dwight Howard‘s line, the Starburys, etc. (Yes, some of those players are Upper Deck guys, but there are plenty of options — and current players use a lot of shoes.) Some of the past shoe cards don’t carry much flash — but memorabilia cards have come a long way in the last few years. (And if they’re unique enough, shoe memorabilia cards would be popular, regardless of player.)

Oh, and let’s not just think current players, either. What about some simple canvas Chuck Taylors worn by big-name stars from the past? Or Magic and Bird‘s old Converse shoes? Or Clyde Drexler‘s memorable red shoes seen on his 1986-87 Fleer Rookie Card …  the memorabilia should be out there.

Yes, there are likely more difficulties making game-used cards out of shoes — fewer swatches, more diverse materials in them making them harder to uniformly cut up — but wouldn’t a colorful piece of a memorable sole or tongue design on a card light it up on the auction block? Just think back to all the memorable Air Jordan designs from the past.

It’s actually kind of surprising that a higher-end set hasn’t been built around the basketball shoe. Eh, it’s just an idea.

Maybe the card companies will kick it around.

Chris Olds has collected sports cards and memorabilia since 1987. Before coming to Beckett Media, he wrote about the hobby for the Orlando Sentinel on his blog, SportsStuff, and for the San Antonio Express-News and The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. Do you have a comment, question or idea? Send e-mail to him at


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1 comment

  1. NineOf 12 August, 2009 at 17:57

    I’m not a basketball collector, but it is pretty surprising that cards featuring a game used shoe piece doesn’t get more love. Especially when you consider how popular and expensive basketball sneakers are when they are endorsed by an athlete.

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