The NBA of 41 years ago may not have borne much resemblance to the game today but some things haven’t changed. The Golden State Warriors are the kings of the court and the Los Angeles Lakers are not playoff-worthy. The 1974-75 Topps Basketball set marked the last in a three-year run of tidy 264-card sets and welcomed some new stars who’d be active in the game long after their playing careers had ended.
The first thing kids noticed in the late fall of 1974 was that the price increase was apparently here to stay. The ten-cent packs of baseball had given way to 15-cent wax when football cards arrived. For their dime, youngsters (and the adult collectors that were around) received ten cards. There was a scratch-off game card in each pack.
As was the case in 1971-72 and ’72-73, the first 176 cards featured NBA players while #177-264 depicted the ABA. Looking back, we can now say more than 10 percent of the cards in the set featured players who would eventually land in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Big Men in Transition
The set led off with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was in his final season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Typically off-center or suffering from the wear and tear of being card #1 in a numerically sorted stack, it’s among the toughest cards to find in high-grade with NM/MT and MT graded cards fetching a hefty price.
Abdul-Jabbar’s pivot nemesis, Wilt Chamberlain had fled to the ABA a year earlier where he was supposed to serve as player-coach of the ABA’s Conquistadors. Legal challenges and Wilt’s indifference led to his departure and the ’74-75 Topps card of Wilt was his last and neatly serves up his career stats a/la Mickey Mantle’s 1969 issue.
While one famous big man departed, another arrived. UCLA’s Bill Walton made it onto a card for his rookie season with the Blazers. Easy to find, even in higher grades, the Walton rookie remains bargain-priced. Another key rookie card in the set features George Gervin. Much more difficult to find with good centering and no corner wear or print marks, the Gervin card can be maddeningly difficult with even graded 8s commanding nearly $100 as of this writing.
Future Coaches and More Farewells
Doug Collins and George Karl, two future long-time coaches, also make their debuts. Future Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson is included, still plugging away for the Knicks.
The 1974-75 set also marks the final cards in the careers of Hall of Fame guards Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.
Subsets and Backs
The 1974-75 set added Team Leader cards to the mix, many of which feature extra images of Hall of Famers. Leader and Playoff Cards returned. The New Orleans Jazz had entered the league in the off-season and the club’s expansion draft picks are listed on the back of a team logo card—a neat touch.
The backs of the ’74-75 cards are printed in horizontal fashion with a cartoon, stats and, where there was room, some text about the player.
Lower Supply of Graded Examples, HOF Roster=Value
Perhaps because of the deep purple colored backs which tend to show wear, graded examples of the 1974-75 Topps basketball cards are in much shorter supply than those issued the year before. While over 23,400 ’73-74 Topps have been submitted to PSA, only 18,669 ’74-75 cards have been sent in for grading and authentication. There are 7,762 cards rated mint 9 in ’73-74 and only 4,752 from ’74-75. At present, just 317 PSA 10 graded cards from 1974-75 have been issued. However, higher grade cards from the 1974-75 Topps Basketball set remain very low for the most part.
Complete, ungraded sets generally range from $175-300—not a bad price considering the Hall of Fame haul.
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