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1948 Bowman Basketball: The NBA Debuts on Cardboard

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by Darren Smythe

When collectors look at the history of basketball cards they usually start with a set that’s a bit of a lone wolf.   It was a time of change as the BAA and NBL were about to merge to form the NBA.  These superstars were the first Celtics, Knicks and Warriors on basketball cards, and there were also cards of players from teams like the Providence Steamrollers and Indianapolis Jets.   One of the big reasons that collectors are interested in the 1948 Bowman basketball is to get George Mikan’s rookie card.  It is card #69 in the set of 72 cards, and features an action shot of the Minneapolis center who was drawing crowds to arenas that once held hoops in low regard.

A PSA Gem Mint 10 Mikan sold for a record-setting $218,500 in 2009.   Mid-grade Mikan rookies usually sell for betwen $1500 and $2500.

The rest of the Bowman set is filled with stars and pioneers of professional basketball.  For example, Jim Pollard was an important player for the Lakers, leading the team in 1948 Bowman George Mikanassists as a forward.   How prices of 1948 Bowman cards are impacted by condition is evident in the two recent completed sales of Pollard cards on eBay.  One Pollard that had poor centering, a large crease and other flaws sold for $30.  Another with very good borders, well-centered and a fairly flawless picture of the Laker sold for $587.

Andy Phillip was one of the great passers in the early years of the NBA.  Late in his career he would win a title with the Celtics.  A higher grade Bowman card of his sold for $97.50.  Ungraded cards, of differing card condition, sold for between $10.25 and $30.

Always easy to find on alphabetical lists, Max Zaslofsky scored a lot of points for Chicago in the BAA and for one season in the NBA.  But the Chicago Stags would go out of business, and Max Zaslofsky’s name was pulled from a hat by the Knicks.  He played there for three seasons, wit1948-49 Bowman Red Holzmanh an All-Star appearance in 1952.  One of his cards sold on eBay in Auguest, 2012 for $28.85.  Joe Fulks was a star for Philadlephia in the BAA and NBA.  He led the BAA in scoring twice, and helped Philadelphia win the BAA championship in 1947.  Several Fulks cards sold on eBay recently, with ungraded examples going for $15.50 to $43.00.  Red Holzman, who went on to fame as the coach of the New York Knicks during the Reed-Frazier-Monroe era, is here, too.

How the sport of basketball has changed is also shown by the cards.  The information on the back of a present-day NBA card wouldn’t have anything similar to that on the 1948 Bowman card of Sidney Hertzberg which said, “He’s tops at holding ball in backcourt when such tactics are necessary”.  It was those tactics that resulted in the creation of the 24-second shot clock.

Not all the cards in the 72-card set feature players, there are a number of cards with a diagram on the front and an explanation of a basketball play on the back.  These show the Screen Play, Single Cut Using Post As Screen For Short Shot, Single Cut With Return Pass To Post and many more.  The cards sell for around $10 on eBay, with a gWax pack 1948 Bowman basketballraded #71 Guards Down Play From A Center Jump card selling for $293.88 due to its Near Mint-Mint grading.

A complete Bowman set sold recently on eBay for $2,325.  A near-compete set that was missing the George Mikan rookie card and five other cards sold for $1,172.99.  The Mikan card has historically been valued at around a third to half the value of the complete set.

While not a planned parallel of some of the cards, there is a variation for collectors to watch for when searching for Bowman cards.  Most cards have a background of blue or red behind the player on the front of the card, but a small number are missing that.  These cards, which have higher prices, have a gray background behind the player on the front of the card.

For collectors who enjoy the design of the original 1948 Bowman cards there is a modern set to also consider.  The 2009-10 Bowman 48 set includes current players like Derrick Rose while also showcasing past stars like Larry Bird, Bill Russell and even a new George Mikan card.  The 2009-10 Bowman 48 Mikan, card #90 can be purchased for around a buck.  The Blake Griffin rookie card in the set is the most expensive card.  There are jersey cards and autographs as well, and parallels to collect that also include Red 1 Of 1 versions as well as Black and Blue parallels.

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].

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