The Doctor was in and so was the Zen Master. The ABA was back. Wheaties were in the mix and Wilt tipped it all off. The 1972-73 Topps Basketball set is a gold mine of 70s hoop goodness, even if some of the players still had their shirts on backwards.
After pushing out a 233-card issue in 1971, Topps kicked it up another notch in ’72 with a tidy, 264-card set that fit nicely on what became the standard 132-card sheet. For the second year in a row, Topps put NBA players in the front of the set and the ABA (#177-264) at the rear.
The cards feature an unusual font style on the front with the team name in block letters at a rising angle along the bottom. Below that is the player’s name and position. The backs are orange and blue with the usual cartoon, a brief write-up and career stats.
If you’re looking for a vintage set with a generous supply of all-time greats, this is the one. There are 29 Hall of Famers included—not counting the All-Star cards—and more appearing on the leader and playoff cards that are part of the set. Wilt Chamberlain was given card #1.
There’s one card, however, that dominates the 1972-73 Topps basketball set. Julius Erving, who had selected the ABA’s offer coming out of UMass, is card #195. Dr. J’s rookie card is among the best basketball cards of all-time, not for its relatively dull photo, but for what he became in a few years. Today, a truly NM/MT Erving rookie will cost $450 and up. Expect to pay $2,500 or more for a ‘9’.
Aside from the Erving, though, the set has only a couple of other notable rookie cards: Artis Gilmore and Phil Jackson. You’re paying for Dr. J and a bevy of established stars like Chamberlain, Pete Maravich (dig the lime green and aqua uniform), Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Havlicek and Jerry West. All can still be found, ungraded and in NM condition, for $20-$50 each.
With the licensing fees to NBA teams and players still a bit of a jumble, some players once again were photographed with their jerseys on backwards, thus not exposing the team name or logo.
Set builders have found several cards that are hard to find in high grade. About two dozen cards have fewer than 15 mint ‘9’ examples on grading company population reports. Most are commons but try telling that to anyone who’s tried to find a high-grade Ken Durrett (#134) or Dave Robisch (#223). Centering seems to be the primary issue with the high-grade scarcities.
1972-73 Topps packs were sold for a dime with 24 packs in a short, flat box. Today, a decent amount of unopened product remains in the market with authenticated packs typically available for $200-300.
Topps also partnered with General Mills for a major promotion on the backs of Wheaties boxes that year. Youngsters could order an uncut sheet for $2 and two box tops or a cello pack for 50 cents and two box tops.
Depending on the condition of Erving and a few other major stars, 1972-73 Topps sets typically cost $300-$500 in near mint or better condition, but of course sets with high-grade stars and rookies sell for much more on the rare occasion they are offered.
You can check out 1972-73 Topps basketball on eBay here.