1980-81 Topps Basketball Cards

1980-81 Topps Basketball Cards

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On one hand, this was a set that featured something Topps had never tried before. Featuring three cards in a panel is something that had been done in insert sets, but never as part of a base set. On the other hand, it created one of the more iconic cards of its era by pairing up two legendary rookies and one of the game's biggest stars.

There are 264 numbered cards in the 1980-'81 Topps basketball set, which breaks down into 88 perforated panels of three cards each. However, Topps used two printing sheets and changed the players around. As a result, a complete panel set includes 176 different items, which actually holds two complete sets. That might seem confusing to a collector starting on the set, and it has certainly affected the set's collectability over the years.

Each individual card is 1 1/6 inches by 2 ½ inches. A player photo is surrounded by a solid-colored line that appears to spell out the name of his team in a cursive style at the bottom of the card (it's the same font that was used in the 1978 Topps baseball set). Below the team name are the player's name and position. The backs are fairly basic since there is so little space: a black line across the top includes the player's name and a card number, with vital stats below it. A very short write-up is found, and then the stats for the 1979/80 season and a line of career totals. Off to the right is a small blue box with a cartoon inside about a highlight from the player's career. Cards are printed on white stock, which makes them a lot easier to read.

Since the number of cards doubled from the previous year, subsets return to the basketball set, each with different back designs. Team Leaders in several different categories are scattered through the set. There are also Slam Dunk cards that run from card #253-264. All-Stars appear on cards #1-18, and they feature checklist backs.

The key card to the set features the rookie cards of both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, with Julius Erving's Team Leader card in the center. The Bird and Johnson rookie appear on other panels, but they're not valued anywhere near as highly as the two players together. Cards that have been detached are considered to be damaged and rate no higher than Poor condition.

With the larger set size, there are a lot more rookies than could fit in the past several years' worth of sets. Besides Bird and Johnson, notable rookies include Michael Ray Richardson, Purvis Short, Freeman Williams, Maurice Cheeks, Bill Cartwright, Tree Rollins, Michael Cooper and Sidney Moncrief.

Key 1980-81 Topps Basketball Cards:


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Chris is an avid vintage sports card collector who is The Cardboard Connection's resident expert of all things vintage.

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