For several reasons, I believe that the 1997/98 card season remains the best ever in the history of basketball cards:
- The 1997/98 NBA season marked Michael Jordan’s last as a member of the Chicago Bulls. When it comes to basketball cards, Michael Jordan remains the undisputed king. The 1997/98 season marked the apogee of Jordan’s fame, and card companies utilized MJ’s popularity to come up with creative ways to drive card sales. There is little doubt that new Jordan cards will be produced from now until the end of time, but it is difficult for legacy and retrospective cards to compete against those that feature Jordan as an active player.
- If we exclude Jordan’s stint with the Washington Wizards, 1997/98 marks the only NBA season that featured an active Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and MJ – three of the most important players in NBA history. Think about it: the 1997/98 card season has Tim Duncan rookie cards, Kobe Bryant (not to mention Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and Steve Nash) second year cards, and a wonderful line-up of scarce parallel and insert sets that is headed by Michael Jordan himself. Yes, LeBron James came along in 2003/04, and the King may ultimately match or perhaps even overtake Jordan as “the greatest basketball player of all-time.” However, in aggregate, the 2003/04 card season (featuring a rookie class of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade) can not match a 1997/98 season comprising of Air Jordan, The Black Mamba, and The Big Fundamental. I will give 2003/04 its due credit because of the spectacular debut of Upper Deck Exquisite, but 1997/98 just has too much depth in terms of player selection and card options.
- Because multiple companies (Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer/Skybox) held licenses to produce official NBA cards, competition and creativity were plentiful in the marketplace of ideas. For example, here are just a few of the great parallels and thematic inserts from 1997/98:
These insert/parallel sets are distinct, memorable, and rare and are must haves for many late 1990s collectors.
But the thing that really makes 1997/98 the best is that the above list is just the tip of the iceberg. 1997/98 offers wonderful depth that keeps collectors coming back for more time and time again. Even after all of these years, I still run into popular sets from 1997/98 that I somehow was previously unaware of. For example, take today’s featured card: 1997/98 Skybox Premium Premium Players, Kobe Bryant. I had never even seen this card until about three weeks ago. But when I did, I knew it was one of those cards that I had to have in my collection. This beauty showcases a young Kobe Bryant in two different poses. I like how in one photo he is wearing the Lakers home jersey, and in the other he is wearing his away jersey. The yellow and purple coloring contrast nicely to make for a vibrant card. The only real criticism I have with the front is with the font used to spell Kobe’s name. At first glace, it looks as if Kobe’s named has been misspelled “Hobe.”
The card back is also nice. That is a great looking action shot of Kobe dribbling the ball up court. I do wish that Fleer/Skybox had used smaller font for the “Premium Player” and “Kobe Bryant” lettering in the top left. Had the font size for these words been reduced, there may have been enough space for Fleer/Skybox to include Kobe’s biographical data. Where was Kobe born? When is his birthday? How tall his he? While this information has never been difficult to find (even in the late 1990s), I just feel that cards are more complete when biographical data is provided. Still, since 1997/98 Skybox Premium Premium Players is an insert set and not a base set, I won’t hold the lack of biographical data against it too much.
Skybox Premium Premium Players is a 15 card set. Individual cards were inserted 1:192 packs. With odds like this, these cards are rare. At the same time, they remain plentiful enough that a large selection of collectors can get their hands on them. Time continues to fly by, and these cards are now (roughly) 20 years old. The basketball card market was far from perfect in 1997/98, but it had a lot going for it as today’s featured card suggests. With great player selection, card company creativity, and a still active Michael Jordan, 1997/98 basketball cards remain in a class all by themselves.
What do you think? Have basketball cards progressed or regressed during the last 20 years?
Word of the Day
hackneyed – not interesting, funny, etc., because of being used too often; not fresh or original; hackneyed phrases/jokes