In honor of the NBA playoffs, we look back at the golden era of hoops cardboard, offering ten cards that show your old school side.
They went from tall to small, then back to small again.
Topps basketball cards were all over the board in the decade in which they dutifully produced sets each and every season. They’re far from fancy and some years Topps didn’t have the rights to show logos so the players wore shirts backwards when the photographer snapped.
It was like it or lump it for basketball card collectors but even if you’re just a fan wth a jones for the past, we’ve got a list of ten cards that should be in any respectable collection–and with a couple of exceptions, they’re all well under $100 even in great shape.
1) 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor. Easily the priciest of the bunch, you can’t touch this rookie card for much less than $400 in nice shape. He’s no Honus Wagner, but the kid from UCLA is the 1970s hoop holy grail. The skyhook. The goggles. The championships. They said he’d be the best and they were right. His rights in the spring of ’69 were decided by a flip of the coin. Expansion teams Milwaukee and Phoenix had a 50-50 shot…and the rest is history. If you’ve got Kareem then you must have…
2) 1969-70 Topps Neal Walk. Sadly for the Suns, second place was not Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. Walk was a solid college player who drew an NBA paycheck for several years. Walk’s rookie card sitting next to the Alcindor makes for a great conversation piece. And you’ll pay about $425 less.
3)1970-71 Topps Pat Riley. Good player, better coach. He looks entirely different on the front of this card than he did while parading up and down the sidelines in LA and Miami. Fans under 30 may not even realize he spent 11 years in the league, including four with the San Diego Rockets before this card came out.
4) 1970-71 Topps Jerry Sloan. Another guy who went on to become a great coach. Sloan’s longevity in Utah was forged out of a hard-nosed decade with the Chicago Bulls. He’d already established himself by this time–a small school player who was a no-nonsense player and a no-nonsense coach.
5) 1971-72 Topps Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was nearing the end of his most productive years by this time, but he had enough in the tank to lead the Lakers on a 33-game winning streak, a 69-13 overall record and to their first NBA title in Los Angeles. A magical year for Wilt the Stilt, who left us too early.
6) 1972-73 Topps Phil Jackson. Rookie card for another small school overachiever. How can you collect basketball cards and NOT have a Phil Jackson rookie?
7) 1972-73 Topps Julius Erving. Dr. J’s rookie card should be worth more than the $200 or so you’ll pay for a near mint copy. About this time, the NBA started thinking that merging with the ABA was better than competition. The Virginia Squires are remembered for only one thing. There are worse things in life.
8) 1974-75 Topps Bill Walton. We discussed this card in another story and judging by the number of times it’s been read, it seems most people agree that it’s vastly underrated.
9) 1975-76 Topps Bill Bradley. Topps was feeling energetic when this issue came out. 330 cards made it the biggest set of the decade. Unfortunately it’s all too forgettable. Try reading the numbers on the backs of some of these. Blue and green together don’t mix. The only NBA player to become a United States Senator, Bradley’s later career issues are much cheaper than his rookie card.
10) 1976-77 Topps Pete Maravich. It’s not Pete’s first or last card, but it represents the peak of his NBA career. Pistol Pete averaged 31 points per game that season–plus 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He was a first-team All-Star. A giant card for a giant talent. Pete Maravich must be in every basketball card collection. It’s the law.
Basketball cards by year