Lockout Could Lock Down NBA Rookie Card Crop

If the NBA is reaching “nuclear winter”, as commissioner David Stern so dramatically put it, the fallout will reach the trading card industry.  No deal between owners and players means no officially licensed NBA cards dated 2011-12.  It could mean this year’s rookie crop won’t have official rookie cards until 2012-13 and it puts a hole in the hearts of collectors who look forward to seeing the season depicted on cardboard or hunt down chase cards hidden inside packs.

Panini America is the NBA’s card partner.  On November 17 of last year, the company had already released three products:  Prestige, Limited and Rookies and Stars.  This year, they’re still on the sidelines, unable to start the presses until the ink dries on a new labor contract.   The league’s proposal for a 72-game season starting December 15 was shot down Monday. With the players moving to decertify their union and head to court, a deal doesn’t seem imminent and has led some to believe that the chances of there being any season at all are slim.

The beneficiary of the problems may be Upper Deck.  The company has no official NBA license, but they do have the exclusive right to show players past and present in their collegiate uniforms–logos and all.  So far, Upper Deck has released two products–2011-12 All-Time Greats and, most recently, SP Authentic. 

All-Time Greats has a strong lineup of Hall of Famer autographs including:

* Michael Jordan
* LeBron James
* Derrick Rose
* Julius Erving
* Magic Johnson
* Bill Russell
* Larry Bird
* Steve Nash
* James Worthy
* Jerry West
* John Havlicek
* David Robinson

Collectors actually have a one in six chance of pulling a Jordan autograph out of a box, if they’re willing to take the plunge at $300+ per box.  Click hereto check prices and availability of ATG.

A few of this year’s draftees do have cards in the newly released SP Authentic, notably Tristan Thompson, the fourth overall pick, plus Jimmer Fredette, Kahwi Leonard, Markieff and Marcus Morris, Josh Selby, Nolan Smith and JaJuan Johnson among others.  They’re pictured in their college uniforms, but autographed cards are part of the mix.   A Fredette signed card recently sold for $175, a bit steep it seems, but it could illustrate how desperate collectors may be for some signed basketball rookie cards (look for a box break of Authentic this week).

Collectors seem to be buying. As of late Tuesday, over 1700 SP listings were on eBay. Click hereto check prices and availability of Authentic.

If the NBA season does come to an end, it’ll be interesting to see whether committed basketball collectors will drift back into products from the recent past or jump on the Upper Deck bandwagon in an effort to buy current product.  Or, will they sit this one out completely?