The pro game was struggling when the 1977-78 Topps basketball set hit the market. America was smack in the middle of disco fever but there was no dancing in the NBA offices. TV ratings were abysmal, even with the addition of four fresh teams from the ABA.
The malaise was reflected on cardboard.
1977-78 Topps Basketball Brought Smaller Cards; Smaller Checklist
After going giant size with its 1976-77 issue, Topps reverted to the standard 2 ½ x 3 ½” card size but more importantly, it took just one sheet to hold every card in the set. In fact, for the next three years running, Topps went with a 132-card complete set, leaving just enough room for each team’s projected starting five and a sixth man to appear. The quantity of cards was less than half of what Topps had produced for its set just two years earlier.
Collectors also discovered that the ’77-78 set was printed on two types of card stock—white and gray. The white back variety does give the cards a much more appealing look. It’s likely Topps changed suppliers or just opted for a slightly cheaper stock during the print run.
Abdul-Jabbar had just turned 30 years old but he’d already captured a record-tying fifth MVP award for his work in the 1976-77 season and Topps gave him the #1 card position on the checklist. Fresh from a successful transition to the NBA, Julius Erving would be #100.
In Action; No Action
Most of the photos used were taken during games but there were a few posed shots as well. Unfortunately, the photography was one part blah and another part ho-hum. Pistol Pete Maravich, who could still do just about anything with a basketball, is shown seated on the bench, which is where we found high-flying Dr. J for the second year in a row. Were there literally no decent shots available picturing Erving at the rim? Today, it would be considered a disgrace, but one should keep in mind that arena photography at the time—and getting those photos to cardboard—was still dicey business.
There was a nice shot of Darryl Dawkins, jersey untucked and going up for a two-hand jam and it makes for a great rookie card of the late man who hailed, as he said, from the planet Lovetron. Rookie cards of Robert Parish and Adrian Dantley are here, too. None of the three should cost more than a few dollars in NM, ungraded form but last year, a PSA 10 Dantley sold for $4,605 and a 10 of Parish brought $2,400.
The 1976-77 Topps basketball set also brought us John Havlicek’s last card, one that shows him partially obscured by a Washington Bullets player.
The backs of the cards, thankfully, offer another year of cartoons in which we learn about a player’s quirks or off-season habits. Bird Averitt, we’re told, liked to bowl while Scott Wedman had a bit of a green thumb and Tom Boerwinkle was a stockbroker in the off-season.
From a grading perspective, several cards have proven somewhat elusive in high-grade including #16 Kevin Porter, #28 Larry Kenon, #68 Mike Banton, #87 Lucius Allen, #91 Al Skinner and #113 Bruce Seals.
The 1977-78 Topps basketball set is relatively cheap. Ungraded complete sets in near mint condition are still relatively easy to find at under $75 and except for graded, mint examples, most star cards won’t cost you more than you’ll spend on a fast food lunch from the dollar menu. You can see singles, lots, sets and some unopened material on eBay here.