I dont watch a lot of basketball other than the biggest games of the year, and I definitely dont delve much into basketball cards – mainly because of who is the dominant force in producing the sets. However, there are always a few things that get me interested, and hobby reactions to the play on the court is always fun to see. To put this bluntly, Basketball plays like the high stakes room at a Vegas casino, and it has a lot to do with the collectors who make their PCs from the sport. Even though the vast super majority of the best sets in history arent made by the company that has the exclusive license, the hobby's valuation of the players in the sport is fascinating.
When I say High End is king in the NBA, I mean it. Check this out:
2003-04 Exquisite Lebron James Rookie Auto Patch Lot – BGS 9.5 – I dont even have words here.
There are two big names in Basketball that will forever be the poster children for any set. One of them is obviously Michael Jordan, whose cards remain some of the most valuable in any sport. That one is a no brainer. The other is Lebron James. Aside from the fact that Lebron is arguably the best player of this generation, he came into the NBA at a time when Super High End really took hold in the hobby. Kobe Bryant has many more titles and records than LeBron, but his hobby legacy isnt what it could be. His rookie year was during a time where the big cards werent rookie auto patches, and that means his legacy is built around cards that are many years after his rookie season. Lebron’s rookie year coincided with the biggest modern set in existence, 2003-04 Exquisite Collection, and as a result, his rap sheet starts with a rookie card that can be traded for a fully loaded Mercedes.
Oddly enough, his competition in this series is Stephen Curry, whose rookie card is at the complete other end of Exquisite's run, some 7 years later. Curry’s Exquisite rookie card closed out the NBA license that Upper Deck had built into a top brand, coming full circle with what started in 2004. Although his rookie is a fraction in value of what LeBron’s is worth, that might be changing somewhat as soon as this finals is over. Curry represents the new guard in the NBA, and with an MVP and a potential NBA title under his belt, there may be a future where Curry’s career is talked about in the same breath as the league’s elite.
With that, the question becomes whether or not this finals is the best thing that can happen to the hobby, as two (or three if you count Kyrie Irving) of the brightest stars face off in a historic battle for supremacy. The answer is maybe. I say maybe, because this finals does more for cards that ALREADY exist, not ones that are likely to be coming in the future. Panini has no ability to produce Lebron James licensed autographs at the moment, and Curry's cards from years other than 2009-10 arent exactly elite – yet. Panini has also shown that they are almost incapable of living up to the standard that Upper Deck was able to set, and dont even get me started on their efforts to recreate Topps Chrome. Panini hasnt been able to carve out the niche they need in Basketball to be successful, frequently highlighting ineptitude in a way that only makes older cards that much more desirable.
Either way, its going to be interesting to see how this series plays out, especially without Irving on the floor to help the Cavs. Curry is likely on his way to his first title, and in the process, hobby immortality. Its hard to ignore a player’s potential when he can pull off the trifecta – League MVP, World Title, and Finals MVP. Lets just hope my kiss of death doesnt backfire, as there is nothing more satisfying than a new sun in the hobby universe.