When looking at the list of the 1970's best basketball rookie cards, it's filled with bargains. Save for a couple of exceptions, most can be found for well under $25, particularly if you're not overly concerned about a small corner nick or if the centering is off to one side. Heck, full sets from the latter part of the decade can cost less than the average box of contemporary basketball cards.
Much like the other major sports, 1970s basketball cards are highlighted by bold designs. Many of the players and jersey styles from the time were equally wild. The result is a decade of colorful cards, bold text and big hair. However, for card collectors, there weren't a lot of elite names to debut in the league during the period, at least elite in the hobby world.
Despite an expanding NBA and the emergence of the ABA as a legitimate competitor, the game's overall popularity waned by the end of the decade. The 70s can be seen as an extended transition from the days of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell to the NBA's explosion in the 1980s and early 90s thanks to the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
For collectors looking to go vintage, basketball rookie cards from the 1970s are a reasonably priced option, even when you're venturing into high-grade singles. While not all the names are iconic, the cards themselves certainly stand out.
Below is a list of basketball's best 1970s rookie cards with value being the primary consideration.
Top 10 Basketball Rookie Cards from the 1970s
Click on the card name to shop for singles on eBay.
David Thompson was a standout at both the college and professional levels. The Hall of Famer was named the 1974 NCAA Final Four Outstanding Player after leading North Carolina State University to the National Championship. He followed that up the next year by being recognized by several major bodies as the best college player. Thompson's pro career included the ABA Rookie of the Year Award, one ABA and four NBA All-Star appearances, and a pair of All-Star MVP honors. The 1976-77 Topps David Thompson rookie card is highlighted by an over-sized tall-boy design. The photo is somewhat drab with the sidebar adding much of the card's personality.
As a player, Pat Riley spent a lot of time with the bench. Despite helping the Lakers to the 1972 NBA Championship, he never made much of an impact. But he took the bench to heart and became one of the game's best coaches. He was an assistant coach when Los Angeles won the NBA title in 1980 and was the main man behind the bench for five more (four with the Lakers and one with the Heat). Riley's 1970-71 Topps rookie carries an awkward photo but an iconic design. Like 1976-77, the set came over-sized as Topps tried something a little different.
Another great basketball mind, the 1972-73 Topps Phil Jackson rookie card makes the list thanks to an outstanding coaching career, not for his playing prowess. That said, his hair and mustache are pretty epic. Jackson led the Bulls and Lakers to a combined 11 NBA Championships. He also helped mold two of the game's greatest stars, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
If you can get over the fact that his face is tough to distinguish, the photo on Moses Malone's 1975-76 Topps rookie card is impressive, capturing a lot of action in both the foreground and background. A three-time NBA MVP, Malone helped the 76ers sweep the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 finals. Among the league's top ten all-time leading scorers, Malone was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001. Even still, collectors should be able to find a professionally graded near-mint copy of his rookie card for under $50.
The "Iceman" ranks as one of basketball's all-time offensive greats. Yet, the 1974-75 Topps George Gervin rookie card still sells for less than $50. It's not the prettiest card in the world, but it's another example of a highly undervalued card. A tremendous shooter, Gervin was an NBA All-Star for nine consecutive years between 1977 and 1985. The four-time scoring champion was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
An all-round player, Dave Cowens is one of only four players to lead his team in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks in a single season. The two-time NBA champ and seven-time All-Star was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991. He is held in high regard as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.
One of the game's most beloved and respected players, Rick Barry is the only player to lead the NCAA, the ABA and the NBA in scoring. Both an ABA and NBA Champion, Barry played a total of six teams between the two leagues. No matter where he played, Barry was among the game's elite. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1987 and was named one of the NBA's 50 greatest players in 1996.
One has to wonder if the 1974-75 Topps Bill Walton rookie card was the inspiration for Michael J. Fox's makeup in Teen Wolf. The colors, styles and hair leave little doubt as to the era this card is from. Walton was a superstar even before he played in his first NBA game. A three-time Naismith College Player of the Year and two-time AP College Player of the Year, Walton helped lead UCLA to a pair of NCAA Championships. Although injuries plagued his NBA career, Walton still amassed several accolades and won a pair of NBA World Titles. He then went on to a successful broadcasting career.
Widely recognized as one of modern basketball's greatest innovators, Dr. J helped usher in an era of fast-paced play and highlight-reel dunks. While the 1970s brought many superstars to the game, few reached the pedestal Erving is placed upon. A two-time ABA champion and one-time NBA champion, Dr. J is one of the all-time basketball greats. The 1972-73 Topps Julius Erving rookie card is, to many, the most iconic basketball rookie card of the decade. It's also one of only a couple that is likely to cost you more than a couple of hundred dollars.
"Pistol" Pete Maravich is, arguably, the greatest college basketball player ever. His 3,667 points are still an NCAA Division I record. His per game average at LSU: 44.2 points. While Maravich was a five-time NBA All-Star, injuries worked against him and, ultimately, cut his career short. Sadly, a heart defect led to Maravich's death in 1988 at the age of 40. The 1970-71 Topps Pete Maravich is one of the most beloved basketball cards of all-time. The tall boy design is simple and understated. It's one of the only hoops rookie cards from the 1970s to be a classic that transcends just basketball cards and into the hobby as a whole.
Related Topics: Basketball Cards: Guides