Topps put a different spin on its 1981-82 NBA set, which would turn out to be the last basketball product the company issued until the 1992-93 season.
The company released a national run of 66 cards, and then curiously added three 44-card regional subsets to complete a 198-card base set. The subsets were labeled East, Midwest and West and were numbered from 67 to 110, with a regional designation next to the card number. The national cards were distributed across the country while the regional cards finished off the pack’s 13 cards.
Cards numbered from 44 to 66 are team leader cards, with scoring, rebound and assist standouts for each team. The backs of the team leader cards contain statistics for every player, including rebounds, assists, free throws attempted and made, blocked shots, scoring average and game-high point totals. The card backs had an orange border and a brown inner box for the statistics.
A box of 1981-82 Topps basketball contained 36 wax packs at a price of 30 cents. The regional cards were sold in areas of the country that corresponded to the area — Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit were Midwest, for example, while New York, Boston and Philadelphia were part of the East card subset.
If you were a big basketball fan of the 1980s, then cards of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would be high on your want list. The 1981-82 Topps basketball cards represent the second year cards for Bird and Johnson and neither is expensive in anything other than a gem mint grade.
Players on the “Super Action” cards (in the regional sets) have card fronts different than the national output. Abdul-Jabbar is executing his skyhook in his Super Action card, while Dr. J is soaring through the paint and past the opposition en route to a dunk.
The 1981-82 set is a little light on valuable rookies but does have several players who made an impact in the NBA during the 1980s and ’90s. Kevin McHale and Bill Laimbeer are the big names, but Darrell Griffith, Jim Paxson and Rick Mahorn also debuted in this set.
Plenty of the 1981-82 cards have been graded, with 22,755 submitted to PSA. Of those cards, 3,153 have been classified as gem mint.
The top-graded set belongs to MSUSpartan, which carries a 10.95 set rating and is complete. It is one of five registered sets that MSUSpartan has submitted; his second set — also complete — has a 10.38 rating and ranks sixth overall. The other three sets have yet to be completed, but give it time: his third set is rated 9.58, needs seven cards for completion and is ranked eighth; set No. 4 is rated 7.44, ranked 14th and is 84.85 percent complete. His final set, ranked 17th overall, is 65.66 complete and has a 5.59 set rating.
The set had a nice cross section of NBA stars, and because the company had no product for a decade, it missed out on issuing a Michael Jordan rookie card. For that matter, first-year cards of John Stockton, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, too.
Complete sets of 198 cards have increased in value in recent years as the appetite for vintage basketball has skyrocketed but it’s an important set in the history of the hobby considering who’s in it and the unique nature of the regional distribution that marked the start of Topps’ basketball card hiatus.
You can see 1981-82 Topps basketball sets, singles, lots and boxes on eBay here.