After years of success in the baseball card market, the Topps Company of New York expanded their product line in 1957-58 to include the first manufactured basketball cards since the Bowman set of 1948. The ’57-58 set is considered to be one of the Big 3 in terms of desirability amongst basketball card collectors, with the other two being 1961 Fleer and the aforementioned Bowman set.
A Closer Look
The 1957-58 inaugural Topps set consisted of a total of eighty (80) cards, all of which are considered to be in existence in various forms of rare; very, super, and ultra. Notorious for being off-center and miscut, high-grade examples can command top dollar on the secondary market. The set includes the rookie card of one of the game’s all-time greats in Bill Russell (card #77). Additionally key cards in the set include Dolph Schayes, Bob Cousy, and Bill Sharman to name a few.
It would be 11 years before Topps would produce another basketball set. In 1968, the brand returned when the company tested consumer response with a small twenty-two (22) card release. While small in quantity, it was huge in quality in terms of the players included on the checklist: Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Willis Reed, Oscar Robertson, Lenny Wilkins, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Earl Monroe and more. The growing interest in the game of basketball proved timely for Topps as the set was a success. The brand was expanded the following year to a much larger offering of ninety-nine (99) cards.
Key Sets Through the Years
Some of the more notable and popular sets of Topps Basketball cards included the aforementioned ’69 set and some of those running into the early ‘70’s. The 1969 set ushered in a new era in trading cards as these were produced in a much larger size. Measuring 2-1/2″ by 4-11/16″ these cards became affectionately know to collectors as “Tall Boys”. It proved to be a fitting moniker given their size and the players represented. These oversized cards continued for a couple of years before taking a break and then making a return in 1976.
In addition to the “Tall Boy” sets produced through the years, one of the most important and desirable Topps Basketball brand sets was released in 1980 and featured the rookie cards of Hall of Fame legends, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Some of the cards in the set were printed in a 3-panel format with perforations allowing kids to separate the cards. Those that did are dreading that decision as the real value is in cards that weren’t. In addition to the two premier rookies, superstar Julius “Dr. J” Irving is on the additional panel making it one of the most desirable cards in the hobby today.
An Opportunity Missed
For whatever the reason(s), Topps left the basketball market after their 1981 release, not to return until the height of the “junk-wax” era in 1992. In so doing, the company missed the opportunity to produce a rookie card of the greatest player to ever play the game, Michael Jordan. Unfortunately for Topps, Jordan was not the only superstar to be denied production of a Topps Rookie Card. Other players of his era included in this hobby travesty are Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman just to name a few.
Growth of the Hobby
Over the next 20 years, the popularity of basketball exploded, in part due to the emergence of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty during the 1990’s. During this period of growth, interest in NBA trading cards created worldwide demand. Topps utilized product configurations that were becoming popular across multiple sports including the inclusion of game-used uniforms and athlete autographs, onto and within the trading cards themselves. New printing technologies including Chrome, Refractors, 3D and others were employed to create cards with an ever widening appeal and collectibility.
Topps Basketball Today
As of 2009, Topps was, once again, no longer a manufacturer of NBA licensed trading cards, as the league had awarded an exclusive licensing agreement to rival, Panini America. The multi-year deal was extend to in 2012 and only time will tell if and when Topps returns to the NBA basketball card market.
Topps Basketball Card Sets
Browse our database of Topps Basketball trading card sets, which feature product reviews, set checklists, expert analysis, price comparisons, and more.