Just when player collectors think they have every card of their favorite athlete, they find out about a foreign release of official NBA cards. It doesn’t happen every season but they have popped up overseas in years past with a little twist on their North American cousins. The latest entry is the 2013-14 Panini China basketball cards. Virtually unknown in the U.S., the set delivers on a promise made when the league and Panini renewed their official trading card deal in October 2012. Expansion to China was part of the official announcement, although no details were revealed at the time.
Designed in the U.S.A., made in Italy and sold in China, the cards are hard to find and very little information has been officially released. In China, the cards are available at various convenience stores in their major cities. There are six cards per pack, or “packet” as they’re labelled there and according to collectors, most are sold through convenience stores like 7-11. Kobe Bryant is featured on the packaging and in store displays. There is one NBA2KOnline card per pack.
The new Chinese NBA cards basically take the Hoops set and tweak it. Cards are numbered differently, pictures are often the same used in the Hoops issue and player information is often the same. The set has 377 cards of which 150 are base cards. Cards 136 to 150 are rookies. The distributor's website includes images of the full checklist.
The only differences between the front of the standard North American Hoops cards and the Chinese versions is that the player name has been moved to the bottom of the card and the player's position is now along the top, the "NBA HOOPS" logo has disappeared and another basketball graphic is in the top left corner.
On the back of the card, the different card number and a change to the fine print along the bottom are the only changes a collector will see.
Curiously, the text on the back and front of the Chinese cards is all in English.
One group of insert cards that does look radically different, even with the same player picture from the Hoops cards, are the 35 NBA2KOnline cards. There is a CDKEY on the back for the NBA2K internet site for fans to activate, but the front of the card is what collectors may appreciate. One small annoyance of the 2013-14 Prizms card was that not enough of the front of the card had the Prizms, or Refractors, finish. On the Panini China NBA2KOL cards all of the player photograph and the two basketball designs are coated to refract.
The two cards that collectors will want are the Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant "Extra Rare" cards with "real signatures". Panini says that "packets include a total of 20 limited Bryant and Durant real signatures cards" so that could mean a print run of only ten for each player.
Many of the inserts from 2013-14 Hoops are present, in slightly altered form, in 2013-14 Panini China. Class Action, Hall of Fame Heroes, Dreams, Above the Rim, Spark Plugs and Board Members inserts can be found in packs. There is also a Miami Heat Champions card, and just like the Collectors Choice cards of
the past there are Golden Foil Signatures in Panini China packs. Among the 25 cards with facsimile signatures in that insert set are Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony.
Many collectors have been unaware of official NBA cards with a China-only release. Those who know find them very mysterious. There could be more available on the secondary market than people expect, and an online search for Panini China or Panini Chinese comes up virtually empty. The official title on the packs may not help a lot as "2013-14 NBA Trading Cards PANINI NBA" doesn't differentiate them from many other Panini products. With the similarities to Hoops cards, there could already be some collectors who already have Panini China cards and don't know it.
Based on the prices of European Fleer and Upper Deck and Collectors Choice international cards from the past, the prices of Panini China cards should not be high, except for the rare Durant and Bryant autographs. The NBA2KOnline insert set would be fun to complete while many collectors would like to find a card or two of their favorite player.
Several dozen 2013-14 Panini China cards have been listed on eBay. Click here to see them.