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Spicy Mix of Scarcity, Star Power Make Jambalaya Delicious to Collectors

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It is just an insert card with rounded corners.  That could be one way to look at them, but nobody actually does.  Jambalaya basketball cards are revered by those who collect modern era issues.  They’re a tough pull and that has made the legend of Jambalaya grow since the 1997-98 NBA season.  While the brand spread to other sports, it’s genesis was in hoops and is the basis for its popularity.  A glittery, unique design, combined with the oval shape makes it one insert that’s unmistakable and one that’s survived quite nicely without an autograph element.

Debut of a Scarce Chase Card

1997-98 was a big year in basketball with Jordan and Pippen still on top, Shaquille O’Neal dominating in the paint, Tim Duncan and his fundamental play had Tim Duncan Jambalaya 1997-98just entered the NBA and there was huge hype about the 1996 draft class which include Kobe and Iverson.  They were all part of the first Jambalaya insert set, with cards reportedly in one of every 720 packs of E-X2001.

The first Jambalaya set also featured, among the 15 cards in the set, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and Kevin Garnett 1997-98 Michael Jordan Jambalayawho were very popular with card collectors at the time.  There was something else that added to the greatness of the original Jambalaya and that was the photo selection.  Jambalaya has the best Keith Van Horn card around, a great action shot from above the basket as he flies in for a dunk.  Shaq and Timmy are bringing the power dunks, Dennis “The Worm” Rodman has a picture that makes sense as he is getting a rebound, “Air” Jordan is effortlessly flying through the air, every card in Jambalaya captured the speed and excitement of the player and the game.

There are many design elements that combine to make the front of the Jambalaya card one that is instantly recognized by many card collectors.  There are the rounded corners and the black border of the card.  The player’s name, team and position are on the left of the card, the E-X logo and the jersey number of the player, which is in a basketball, are on the right.  The card is split down the center by the word Jambalaya, with different colors on the right and left sides.  The player’s picture takes up a lot of the card and along the bottom of the card is Jambalaya in gold foil.

There is a lot going on with the front of the card, and the back of the Jambalaya is less complex.  The card number is up the top, and below that is the word Jambalaya.  The rest of the card has a player picture and biographical information.  Other details on the card are the logos for the NBA, Skybox and the player’s team as well as copyright information for NBA Properties and Fleer/Skybox Kobe Bryant Jambalaya 1997-98International.

1997-98 Set

It isn’t a surprise that the most expensive basketball card boxes from 1997-98 are E-X2001.  Collectors are paying between $300 and $335 for a remote chance of finding a Jambalaya card, or they are investing in the sealed box with the idea that in the future the price could go even higher as collectors try to find a mint Jordan Jambalaya.

A 1997-98 Jordan Jambalaya graded BGS 9.5 sold for $5,188 in January while a Duncan, ungraded, brought $420 in late March on eBay.

Return from Exile

Jambalaya took a six-year hiatus, then returned at the right time, as an insert in 2003-04 E-X, for LeBron James’ rookie year.  Why it wasn’t included in previous sets is a mystery, and while there was the 1999-00 E-X E-Xceptional Red, Green and Blue insert cards with rounded corners they didn’t capture the imagination of collectors.  The inserts were pushed out one in every 480 packs.

LeBron wasn’t the only big name in the 2003 draft, and in Jambalaya that year, as there was also Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a few players who didn’t reach those heights in Mike Sweetney, T.J. Ford and the one and only Darko Milicic.  Those who got all the first Jambalaya cards could add more Bryant, Iverson, O’Neal and Duncan Jambalaya cards from 2003-04.  Yao Ming, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady are some of the other superstars who also make an appearance.

The cards do have many similarities to the 1997-98 Jambalaya cards but one change was the two colors on the front of the card are specific for the different NBA teams.  Milwaukee’s green and purple provide the background for T.J. Ford while Darko has red and blue of Detroit.  A Bryant card from the issue graded Tracy McGrady 2004-05 E-XL Jambalaya XL parallelBGS 9 sold for over $1,100 earlier this year.

2004-05

There was more Jambalaya to be found the next year, with ten cards in 2004-05 E-XL Jambalaya.  Something new was added too, a parallel version.  It wasn’t easy to find a regular Jambalaya card in packs and nearly impossible to get the E-XL Jambalaya XL parallel.  Compared to the previous season, the player pictures were more exciting and closer to the idea of the original Jambalaya.  Along with the action shots of Bryant dunking and Iverson driving the lane, Jambalaya also has a great picture of Shaq as he shows how strong he was as a member of the Miami Heat.

LeBron James 2004-05 JambalayaSomething interesting about the 2004-05 E-XL Jambalaya checklist is the amount of players in it who went to the NBA right from high school.  Bryant, McGrady, Garnett, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron, half the insert set didn’t play college basketball.  There is one noticeable difference in the Jambalaya cards compared to the cards from the year before, the E-XL logo is a round shape on the front.

2006-07

When Jambalaya arrived in 2006-07 E-X there were the usual active superstars of the NBA, plus some retired legends.  The cards were also easier to find than in previous years.  That doesn’t really keep the cost of Jordan and LeBron Jambalaya cards down too much, plus there are plenty of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson fans who would like a Jambalaya card for their collections.  MJ Jambalayas from this year sell for around $1800.

Jambalaya made another change in 2006-07, the information on the front of the card had been flipped around.  The brand logo was in the same spot, but the player information moved to the right side and the player’s jersey number was sent to the left side.  The back of the card was also redesigned, with the player picture and team logo in the middle with player information below that in a more structured setup.  Some of the new additions to Jambalaya were Manu Ginobili and Peja Stojakovic, while fans of Hall of Famers can find players like Julius Erving, Bill Russell and John Stockton.

Return as a Retro

While Jambalaya had disappeared from NBA card production, it made a welcome reappearance when Upper Deck brought it back in its 2011-12 Fleer Retro issue featuring  players in college uniforms as well as LeBron in his high school uniform.  It also has some interesting player additions, with Larry Johnson and Dominique Wilkins appearing for the first time.  While nowhere near the price and popularity of the Jambalaya NBA cards, the Upper Deck Fleer Retro cards do have autographs but as there was only a single example made of the Jordan and LeBron signed Jambalaya cards.

Jambalaya is actually a spicy food that has links to Louisiana, and was what Newman ordered from “The Soup Nazi” on a Seinfeld episode, but for collectors Jambalaya basketball cards are one of the most sought-after insert cards of all time.  It is a type of card that companies have tried to use as an inspiration for new card designs but few have been able to match what makes Jambalaya so special to many card collectors.  There are rarely more than a few dozen of these on eBay at any one time but you can see what’s being offered here.

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