Maybe a visit to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, watching a classic NBA game from the 1960s or 1970s or remembering some great names from your youth triggers it. A hankering to start collecting some vintage basketball cards. You could go all out and buy high priced, high grade rookies of Mikan, Russell, Wilt or the Big O but it doesn’t have to start like that.
Here’s a list of ten cheap old school basketball star cards you can buy for around $150 or even less. Click the players name to see them for sale on eBay.
Those who collect scoring champions, Philadelphia players, Warriors players, Hall of Famers or great nicknames need a card of ‘Pitchin’ Paul Arizin. Arizin wasn’t just an All-Star; he was an All-Star every year of his career. Nobody can beat that record.
Arizin, who started for Philadelphia in the game when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points, scored 16,266 in his NBA career. After winning his first scoring title at 25.4 points per game in 1951-52, Arizin joined the US Marines and missed out on two basketball seasons. A decent example of one of the two Arizin Fleer cards from the ’61-62 series, ungraded but with few noticeable flaws, sold on eBay recently for just $8 Just to show how overlooked he is by collectors, several of his new Panini 1 of 1 printing plates sold for under $5 each.
Clearly underrated and seldom talked about today, true hoop fans know how good he was.
1971-72 Topps Larry Brown (Rookie Card)
Larry Brown’s rookie card from 1971-72 Topps series gives a collector a few pieces of basketball history in the one card. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, Brown’s card from his playing days shows him as a member of the old Denver Rockets.
There have been many jokes over the years about the large number of teams that Brown coached, and if many fans of those teams wanted to buy Brown’s rookie card then the supply would be quickly diminished. Brown coached Carolina and Denver in the ABA, and UCLA, Kansas and SMU in college basketball. He won the 1988 NCAA Championship with Kansas. In the pros, he coached the Nets, Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, 76ers, Pistons, Knicks and Bobcats. His arrival at nearly all those teams almost always led to improvement and he took those Pistons to the 2004 NBA Championship.
A star point guard in the ABA, he led the league three times in assists. There are many Larry Brown basketball cards for his coaching days, and only a small amount that show him as a player. His rookie card can be found in near mint condition for $10-20. After finding the 1971-72 Topps Brown card, collectors can look for his 1972-73 Topps #264 League Leader card and more recent examples from the 2010-11 Upper Deck North Carolina set and his 2010-11 Ultimate Collection Personal Touch autographed card.
A fun card that is full of information, Wilt’s 1970-71 Topps card reminds basketball fans how great he was. The back of the card has a Topps cartoon drawing, that makes him look about 20-feet tall, with the caption “I reached the century mark”. Scoring 100 points in a game was only one of Wilt’s great records in the NBA.
Card #50 in the 1970-71 Topps set also said that Wilt’s “average of 50.4 in 1962-63 is unapproachable”. While that was his scoring average in 1961-62, it is certainly a number that will be very hard to get close to. Of the six-season scoring averages that are closest to Wilt’s great season, four of them were from Wilt himself. Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan are responsible for the other two, which were more than 10 points less than Wilt’s best season average.
Wilt’s 1970-71 Topps #50 can be found in a ‘6’ type grade (EX/NM) for around $25.
A big card, a big star, very big hair… there was a time when nobody was bigger than The Doctor. Decent examples of this card can be found for $15. The card shows Erving as New York Net and he would become a greater star in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers.
’76-77 would mark the first year after the NBA/ABA merger and Erving made the transition with ease, bringing added star power to a league in need of some.
For those who appreciate irony, this Erving card is great. An incredible athlete who threw down some of the most memorable dunks in NBA history, Erving provided many opportunities for courtside photographers to snap highlight plays. Instead, Topps decided on a picture of Erving sitting on the bench with a towel and about to drink from a cup. Ah, Topps in the 70’s.
1969-70 Topps Connie Hawkins (Rookie Card)
A card that collectors can buy crease free for around $15, the rookie card of Connie Hawkins doesn’t quite tell the story of how he got to the NBA although it does mention how he was “finally made eligible for the NBA”. “The Hawk” would play in the American Basketball League for the Pittsburgh Rens, entertain fans with the Harlem Globetrotters and then win the 1968 ABA championship with the Pittsburgh Pipers. He also won that league’s MVP award, before the NBA allowed him to play. In 1961 Hawkins’ name had been linked to a gambling scandal.
As a player he had a style all his own. Hawkins was the innovator of many of the high-flying moves that are highlight plays in the NBA today, but some fans might think of him as being similar to Dominique Wilkins and Shawn Kemp with how he not only elevated for dunks but could grasp the ball in one hand, to either slam it down or drop it in softly for two points.
His Topps rookie card, and all his other Topps cards during his career don’t really capture his above the rim play. One card that does is his very common 2009-10 Panini Prestige but his first Topps card is also a bargain and one that collectors should consider.
1969-70 Topps Elvin Hayes (Rookie Card)
For around $15-20, a collector can purchase a nice looking rookie card of a player who was a central figure in college basketball’s “Game of the Century”, played exactly 50,000 minutes in the NBA, was selected to more than ten All-Star games, won the 1978 NBA championship and averaged 20 points and ten rebounds for his career. Elvin Hayes did all that, and more.
Hayes and the University of Houston defeated Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and UCLA in the “Game of the Century” that was played at the Houston Astrodome in 1968 in front of more than 50,000 basketball fans. Hayes stayed in Houston after being selected first overall in the 1968 NBA Draft.
Four years into his career, the Rockets traded him to the Baltimore Bullets for Jack Marin. After nine seasons, and a championship with the Washington Bullets, Houston would bring Hayes back to finish his career. Many remember ‘The Big E’ from his Houston and Washington playing days and that is a reason to get his rookie card from when he was a San Diego Rocket as it is easy to forget the team started in California.
1948 Bowman Red Holzman (Rookie Card)
There were some very good coaches in the NBA who went by the nickname ‘Red’. But before Red Holzman won 696 NBA games as a coach he was a star player for the Rochester Royals. He played in the NBL, BAA and then the NBA. His card in 1948 Bowman is #32, and while a graded or high-quality Holzman can sell for $50 there are bargains to be found. A Holzman card, with a small amount of creasing on one corner, sold on eBay recently for $15.50.
Holzman won NBL and NBA championships as a player and was in charge of the New York Knicks when they won their two NBA titles during the 1970s, coaching the likes of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and Jerry Lucas. Holzman does have several cards that show him in his coaching role, like his 2009-10 Hall of Fame and 1995 Action Packed Hall of Fame cards, but the legend started long before that with his Bowman rookie card.
1948 Bowman Andy Phillip (Rookie Card)
Before there was Stockton, and even before there was Cousy, basketball had the wizardry of Andy Phillip. He played in five All-Star games, was the first player to record 500 assists in a season and his teams made the NBA Finals in each of his last four seasons. He won a championship with the Celtics in 1956-57 and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961, not to mention his service as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II.
High grade Phillip cards from the Bowman set are expensive but an EX example won’t cost you more than $25.
1957-58 Topps Dolph Schayes (Rookie Card)
From 1949-50 to 1963-64 and then from 1981-82 to 1998-99, there was a center with the last name of Schayes playing in the NBA. Many collectors would have opened a pack of cards and found Danny Schayes, a solid center in the NBA for a large number of teams. His father, Dolph Schayes, was selected for twelve All-Star Games and became a Hall of Famer. His teams made the playoffs 15 of his 16 pro seasons, all with one franchise.
The 1957-58 Topps set is plagued by off-center cards but if you don’t mind that small inconvenience, you can snare a rookie card of someone who was voted one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996 for no more than $15-20.
For the price of a meal from Jack In The Box, a basketball card collector can own Bill Walton’s 1978-79 Topps card. It isn’t his rookie card, and certainly is not one of his most valuable, but this Walton card really reminds people that he was one of the best, when healthy.
On the front of the card it says “1st Team All Star”, and on the back is a mention of how he led the Trail Blazers to the NBA championship with averages of 19 rebounds and nearly 4 blocks in the finals of the 1976-77 season. The other members of the All-NBA first team along with Walton were Julius Erving, Truck Robinson, George Gervin and David Thompson.
Among all the centers who played in the NBA, Walton could have been the best for a combination of passing, rebounding and shot blocking. A career interrupted by foot injuries, Walton went to the playoffs four times in his NBA career and won two NBA titles. Walton averaged a double-double for his first four NBA seasons. His college numbers at UCLA were also impressive, with career averages of 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds.
Graded PSA 8 examples of this card have been selling at $6 to $8 on eBay. An ungraded card can be bought for a lot less. It is a bargain price for one of the best centers to ever play the game.