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Fleer Getting Back to Basketball Cards

by Paul Angilly
February 22, 2005

An old friend is returning to the NBA trading card arena, as Fleer has announced plans for a 2004-05 NBA Hoops set.

The history of the NBA Hoops brand should be well-known by any serious NBA card collector: It was first issued by a new company during the 1989-90 season, at a time when -- ironically -- its only competition was Fleer’s annual set. The new brand carried the label of "The official NBA basketball card," following in the heels of the premiere 1989 Pro Set football card issue, which had a similar banner as the official NFL card.

Fleer had been the only major producer of NBA sets from 1986-87 through 1988-89, producing a 132-card set each year. The entry of NBA Hoops into the market upped the ante tremendously, as the Hoops brand offered a much bigger (352 cards) and better-designed set.

Just as Pro Set and Score’s entry into the market had driven up demand for football cards earlier in 1989 (and just as the entries of Pro Set, Score and Upper Deck into the market would do for hockey the following year), NBA Hoops’ new set not only brought in new collectors for that product, it also spurred demand for earlier Fleer issues -- driving Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 Fleer rookie card past the $100 mark for the first time.

That first NBA Hoops set also opened the door for more companies to enter a basketball card market that had been virtually left for dead after Topps stopped issuing sets after the 1981-82 season. Skybox (which would take over the NBA Hoops brand before the 1992-93 season and eventually be absorbed by Fleer) entered the market as a new company in 1990-91, followed by Upper Deck in 1991-92 and the re-entry of Topps in 1992-93.

The traditional NBA Hoops set was issued every season through 1999-00 -- by which time the brand was under the Fleer/Skybox umbrella. Fleer also issued a Hoops Decade set that season, honoring the history of the brand by featuring current players with the original 1989-90 NBA Hoops design. Ironically, that was the last of the traditional NBA Hoops sets issued until this season.

The following season, Fleer introduced what it referred to as "a turbo-charged version of the traditional favorite," called Hoops Hot Prospects. While the traditional NBA Hoops sets were known for their large base sets with no short prints and simple but attractive designs with lots of information on the backs, the new brand focused (as its name would suggest) on short-printed rookie cards complete with jersey pieces and a flashy design.

The Hoops Hot Prospects brand has continued through this season as a higher-priced issue with a small base set (110-120 cards) that includes short-printed rookie cards with jersey pieces and/or autographs. There was also a one-shot Hoops Stars set issued in 2002-03 which brought back the larger base set (200 cards), but which still featured a far-too-flashy design and 30 short-printed rookies.

The new 2004-05 NBA Hoops set, due out this week, borrows its design (at least on the front) from the 1994-95 Hoops set: a full-bleed photo with just a single colored band across the card near the bottom that includes the player’s name, team and position.

There are 200 cards in the base set, including 25 rookie cards serial-numbered to 1,750 (found approximately 1 per 6 packs) and 10 "Hoops History" subset cards, serial-numbered to 1,989 (found about 1:14 packs), featuring retired stars from the past 15 years. Five-card packs have a suggested retail price of $2.99, with 24 packs per box.

There are plenty of inserts, too: autographed cards found approximately one per four boxes; "Supreme Court," "Hot List" and "Great Shots" insert sets along with game-used versions; and "Nameplates" inserts, featuring star players with swatches cut from their game-used jersey nameplate patches.

Topps Total will be largest set in 10 years: The Topps Total brand is expanding into the basketball card market this season, and it will feature the largest NBA base set since the 450-card 1994-95 NBA Hoops issue.

Topps Total was first introduced as a baseball card brand with a 990-card base set in 2002, in response to requests from collectors for a larger checklist (Upper Deck responded to the same requests by issuing its first 40-Man set the same year, totaling a whopping 1,182 base cards). The Topps Total line extended into hockey with a one-time set in 2002-03, then into football with sets in 2003 and 2004.

The first Topps Total basketball set will feature 440 cards, including all 12 players from each team in the league, all 30 head coaches, 30 assistant coaches and 20 team mascots. There will also be 30 team checklists, 20 "Total Package," 20 "Total Domination" and 10 "Total Success" insert cards available, along with 18 different autographed cards. Silver-border parallel cards will be found one per pack.

There will be 10 cards per pack with a suggested retail price of 99 cents, with 36 packs per box.

UConn fans will find the full lineup of former Huskies currently playing in the NBA in the Topps Total set, including inexpensive rookie cards of Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. The checklist of former UConn players is (with card number in parentheses): Ray Allen (25), Caron Butler (63), Donyell Marshall (104), Richard Hamilton (138), Jake Voskuhl (255), Clifford Robinson (290), Gordon (321) and Okafor (345).

Okafor is also featured on one of the "Total Signatures" autographed cards, is pictured on the Charlotte Bobcats’ team checklist card and appears in the "Total Domination" insert set. Gordon, Allen and Hamilton appear in the "Total Package" insert set.

For the record, the largest NBA base set ever issued was 1991-92 Skybox -- checking in at an incredible 659 cards (a first series of 350 and a second series of 309). Needless to say, that issue included a great number of special subset cards, given that there were only 324 players on the 27 active NBA rosters at the time.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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