You’re almost tempted to stick a stamp on the back and mail them from your favorite vacation spot. 1976-77 Topps basketball cards certainly feel like postcards. At 3 1/8” x 5 ¼” these cardboard behemoths represent the largest flagship sports card set ever made. With a deep Hall of Fame roster and just 144 cards to collect, it’s also one of the most collectible of the 1970s basketball sets
Why did Topps go big in ’76? A bi-centennial gift to youngsters? Wanting to make a big splash in the first year of the merged ABA and NBA? Needing more space to hold the photos depicting the giant Afros of the day? Who knows.
We just know it was a glorious time, giving us both the AMC Pacer and the Indiana Pacers. The Spirit of ’76 and the Philadelphia 76ers. Three’s Company and the three-pointer.
Despite the increase in the size of its cards, Topps didn’t change the price of a pack. You still got 10 cards for 15 cents even if you needed a backpack to carry the packs home from the store.
Stars and All-Stars
The ’76-77 set isn’t about rookie cards. David Thompson, Alvan Adams and Gus Williams are it. This one is strictly about veteran stars. There are 22 regular issue cards of Hall of Fame players in the 1976-77 Topps basketball set, plus ten All-Star cards, which give us additional cards of guys like Kareem, Dr. J, Pistol Pete, Elvin Hayes and Rick Barry.
The set features the final cardboard appearances of a few players, notably Billy Cunningham and Bill Bradley.
Snapshots in Time
Erving is card #1, with Topps oddly choosing an idle Doc, sitting on the bench sipping a cold drink. Often found off-center or with dinged corners, you may spend $100 for a mint, graded example but nice ungraded copies are much less. Barry gets the same bench treatment, but there are other photos that make us forget those forgettable choices. Pete Maravich on defense, anyone?
Topps used some photos taken the year before. That’s obvious from the few images that still show players holding the red, white and blue ball of the ABA. They used a mix of posed action, portraits and action photos (Phil Jackson’s hook shot!), many of which appear to be taken at Washington Bullets games.
The 70s are alive and well here. Bill Walton could pass for a hooping Amish farmer with his long hair and beard. We get headband wearing Sidney Wicks and Don ‘Slick’ Watts, Steve Kuberski’s porn star mustache. Dwight Jones ready for a night at the disco with his beads, Afro and long sideburns. Abdul-Jabbar,the often taciturn center sports a huge grin. Billy “Whopper” Paultz’s mother probably told him to get a haircut—or at least find a comb after seeing his unkempt locks.
Tough Cards, Reasonable Pricing
Those who collect high-end graded cards will find a few big challenges here. #143 Lloyd Free (he wasn’t ‘World B Free’ just yet), #124 Billy Knight, #92 Jimmy Walker, #34 Lucius Allen and #13 Billy Keller are notoriously tough because of centering or placement on the printing sheet that led to damage. Of the 29,000 cards graded by PSA, fewer than 70 of those cards currently exist at the 9 or 10 grade level.
However, the 1976-77 Topps basketball set is very attainable in ungraded, near mint or better condition for $150-$250 as you can see here. Keep in mind, that’s less than $10 per Hall of Famer, with the rest of the set coming along for the ride. Just keep in mind you’ll need those four pocket sheets for postcards to store them.
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