In the Bicentennial winter, the red, white and blue American Basketball Association was on its last legs.
Before the next season, a merger agreement put four surviving ABA teams into the NBA with the rest alive only in memory. For collectors, the last images of the Kentucky Colonels, Spirits of St. Louis, Virginia Squires, San Diego Sails and Utah Stars live on in the 1975-76 Topps basketball card set.
Moses and 36 Pack Boxes Make Debut
The 330-card behemoth included 220 NBA players and 110 from the ABA. Included in the latter group was the rookie card of a once slender teen named Moses Malone, who had made headlines for his move to the pro ranks straight from high school. His time in Utah would be brief but his NBA career would last 21 years and include three MVP awards.
Full boxes of wax packs now contained 36 instead of 24 packs, priced at 15 cents each for the second straight year. Topps even touted the size of the checklist with the words “Biggest Series Ever” on the box.
That 70s Set
There’s a card with Pete Maravich that shows him sporting a goatee (and it’s double printed so you won’t spend much to add some classic ’70s NBA cred to your collection), Bill Walton posting up with his ponytail and headband, more action photos than Topps had ever put on a hoops set before and, for the first time, team checklists and team leader cards.
There was Red Robbins and his glorious carrot top. George Karl holding the ABA ball and, well, you haven’t really collected until you’ve landed the Seattle SuperSonics team card, picturing coach Bill Russell and his charges posing as they board a jet airliner.
Blue, Green and Gray Nightmare
The negatives? Ever try sorting a few hundred 1975-76 Topps basketball cards? The color combination and low print quality make some numbers virtually unreadable. The photos on the front of the cards, while providing some of those cool ’70s action images of memorable players (hello, Phil Jackson), are often dark. Topps did much better with the outdoor photography on its 1974 baseball and football cards and even hockey wasn’t bad.
Issued all in one series, there are 21 other double prints in addition to Pistol Pete. Centering, as usual in this era, is a mixed bag. A few cards, most notably #53 and #104 LeRoy Ellis, are almost all badly off-center and thus having a truly mint, centered set isn’t even possible. However, for the most part there are plenty of high-grade singles, lots and sets on the market.
A PSA Gem Mint 10 #254 Malone sold for $4,550 in 2015 but for the average collector, there is very little standing in the way of piecing together a nice set. Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West had retired and after acquiring a few stars like Julius Erving, Maravich and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a couple of star-laden leader cards, most of the set shouldn’t cost more than a buck or two–if that. Complete sets can be found for $175-350 with most cards grading EX/NM or better.
You can see 1975-76 Topps basketball cards on eBay here.