by Darren Smythe
Panini has brought the Hoops name back to NBA card collecting. It is one of their lower-cost products and can be an introduction to card collecting for children. That is how the original Hoops cards were sold, and there are many collectors today who would remember that their first pack of NBA cards was Hoops.
After Fleer returned to making NBA cards in 1986-87, they had no competition and collectors didn't have a choice until NBA Hoops appeared for 1989-90. Hoops made an instant impact due to the inclusion of the David Robinson rookie card. Basketball fans were waiting to see "The Admiral" in action as he served in the US Navy before making San Antonio a contender. While his rookie card only costs a few dollars now, back then it was the card to have. After the season began, Hoops updated its Robinson card with an action shot so he actually has two Hoops rookie cards.
The first Hoops cards featured the picture of the player in the shape of a basketball key. A similar design was used for 1990-91 Hoops and they were again popular with collectors at the time but there was no equivalent of a David Robinson rookie card that year. Eventually collectors would go back to that set, to find rookie
cards of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. Something unique from Hoops that year were the CollectABooks, while similar in size to the cards they could be folded out to see more pictures and stats.
For 1991-92, the distinctive Hoops key design was moved to a corner of the card and with a much smaller size housed the team logo of the player, with a much larger rectangular picture on the front. There were insert cards available, and two would become very popular, but they were only available in rack packs. The Jordan cards in the All-Star MVPs and Slam Dunk insert sets were something that collectors wanted. The first three years of Hoops also provided collectors with the Hoops 100 Superstars sets. Available at Sears, these sets took the best players from the regular Hoops sets and presented the cards with different colors and numbering.
1992-93 Hoops had Shaquille O'Neal's rookie card to bring in collectors, and he was a big reason why the Hoops Draft Redemption set and the Hoops Magic's All-Rookies insert set went for high prices at the time. Shaq's #1 Magic's All-Rookie card is still popular, there are many sales on eBay around the $20 price area. Collectors had a lot of choice at this time, with Fleer and Topps and Upper Deck producing various sets, but collectors still wanted the Hoops cards due to their comprehensive NBA and NCAA stats on the back, and action photos on the front. For 1993-94, the front was borderless which was a change for the brand, and a one per pack parallel was also introduced. The Hoops Fifth Anniversary Gold cards were a welcome addition. The best card from that year was the rare Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dual-autograph card.
Hoops would have a couple of quiet years, until the rookie class of 1996 got collectors back. Iverson and Marbury had their fans, but it was Kobe Bryant's card in the Hoops Grant's All-Rookies insert set that was, and still is, very popular. Two recent sales on eBay were around the $150 mark. An interesting point for current collectors is that Kobe was the rookie then, and now this year for Panini Hoops he is the one that has the insert set named after him. Kobe Bryant's 1996-97 Hoops rookie card is plentiful, and sells for a couple of dollars.
The 1997-98 Hoops featured a radical design, with the team logo forming the background behind the player. There are some rare insert cards to hunt for, the Michael Jordan High Voltage 500 and HOOPerstars. Hoops would continue to put out sets, sometimes called Hoops Hot Prospects, until their name vanished from hobby stores. The Wade and Anthony rookie cards in 2003-04 Hoops were a highlight of a later set, featuring jersey pieces and autographs.
The 2011-12 Panini NBA Hoops cards brought back the basketball court key as a major part of the card design, although instead of the original design of the curved part of the key being at the top of the card Panini flipped it. The big cards from this set were the Kobe Black Mamba cards, that are sold for around $100, and the Jeremy Lin autograph cards. Lin's card had a picture of him in a New York uniform, compared to his earlier cards when he was a Golden State Warrior, and while his popularity has gone down a bit the cards still sell on eBay for $85 to $100.
Panini didn't include rookie cards in 2011-12 Hoops, as the NBA lockout impacted card production but they did load up 2012-13 Hoops with twice the usual amount of rookie cards. Collectors can get Kyrie Irving's rookie card in the same set as the Cavs' most recent new players, Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters. Autographed versions of Kyrie Irving's rookie card and his Rookie Impact insert card have been sold on eBay for $200 to $300.