The NCAA Tournament will create its own stars over the next three weeks. For some, it will be the greatest moment of their athletic lives and we’ll never see them on an NBA court.
For others, it will be a springboard to a great pro career.
Even though many will spend several years in the league, what they accomplished in college may overshadow what they do for a paycheck.
If you’re a college basketball junkie and a card collector, we’ve put together a March Madness starting five…a quintet of the best 1970s NBA rookie cards of players who made their name in college basketball.
1972-73 Topps Austin Carr. Simply put, Carr put Notre Dame basketball on the map. What was once just a diversion between football and spring football became a hot ticket when Carr stepped on the court. Playing in an era when freshmen were ineligible, Carr scored 2560 points, averaging 34.5 points per game over three seasons. Carr’s greatest game is still talked about today. His 61-point outburst against Ohio University in 1970 remains an NCAA Tournament single-game record. His Cavs’ rookie card can be had for a song.
1969-70 Topps Elvin Hayes: The Big E met Big Lew in the first nationally televised college basketball game in 1968. The two centers drew 52,000 fans to the Astrodome. Hayes didn’t disappoint, scoring 39 points but UCLA and Alcindor got revenge in the tournament. Hayes scored 36.8 ppg in 1968 and averaged 31 points and 17 rebounds for his career. He once had 37 rebounds in a game. He had a great pro career, but Hayes was a legend at Houston. One of the key cards to the ’69-70 Topps set and not nearly as expensive as the Alcindor rookie.
1976-77 Topps David Thompson: Believe it or not, there was a time when dunking wasn’t allowed in college basketball…a pity for those who knew of the athletic ability of David Thompson. A dazzling performer, Thompson was Michael Jordan’s idol when he played at North Carolina State in the early 70s. Thompson led NC State to a perfect record in 1973 and an NCAA championship in ’74 when they beat UCLA. Coach Norm Sloan let him dunk in game just for fun, then pulled him out to a standing ovation after the ‘Pack was hit with a technical foul. Thompson’s #44 is the only one ever retired by the school. For true hoop fans, Thompson’s card is a must have…and it’s cheap.
1974-75 Topps Bill Walton: Some consider him the greatest college basketball player in history. A pure center with outstanding fundamentals, Walton was NCAA Player of the Year three times. With Walton manning the middle, UCLA won 88 straight games during his career. His 44-point effort in the 1973 championship game is the single-greatest offensive performance in college basketball history, a nearly flawless 21 of 22 shooting exhibition. His rookie card is undervalued, largely because of his legendary college career.
1970-71 Topps Pete Maravich: There have been thousands of college basketball players over the past four decades. And then there is Maravich. He actually had a stellar NBA career but Maravich will forever be identified with floppy socks and the gold and purple colors of LSU. The numbers seem impossible, even if the Tigers’ offense was built for him to do virtually everything. His 44.2 ppg scoring average is to college hoops what Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak is to baseball. The odds of anyone breaking it are extremely unlikely. 3667 total points…in three varsity seasons. Keep in mind that Maravich never played with a three-point line either. If he had that luxury, a study showed he would have averaged 57.
Sadly, Pete passed away at age 40 and he’s also the answer to the trivia question posed earlier. He never played in an NCAA Tournament game.
There is tremendous demand for a high-grade Maravich rookie card but fortunately it’s not rare in lower grade. One of the three or four most important basketball cards of all-time.