The basketball trading card market was a barren wasteland during the 1982-83 season and appeared to be headed that way again the following year until the arrival of 1983-84 Star Company basketball turned collecting in a completely new direction. Star cards were like the Moses Malone 76ers–something very exciting that appeared in the mid 1980s but didn’t last very long. Basketball card collectors can be thankful that Star did arrive on the scene or a lot of basketball history would have been unavailable on cardboard.
Star manufactured official NBA cards for 1983-84, 1984-85 and 1985-86. Except for several sets they produced late in their run, all the Star cards are the standard size for sports cards. After Star came Fleer, but before Star the only company making NBA cards was Topps.
How Star Company Basketball Sets Were Born
Why Topps decided to get out of NBA cards is a mystery, and something that in hindsight was a big mistake. Topps made a basketball set for the 1981-82 season and wouldn’t return until 1992-93. They missed out on Jordan rookie cards, David Robinson rookie cards, the boom in popularity that basketball experienced due to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as well as losing their place as the top company for basketball cards. When Topps did return to producing NBA cards they were behind Upper Deck, Fleer and Skybox when it came time for collectors to choose which packs to buy.
At the time it did have some logic behind it. The NBA is always worried about small market teams or those without major stars playing against each other in the finals, and that happened several times in the late 1970s. As the 1980s started, basketball didn’t rate well on television, there wasn’t a huge demand for cards and attendance at games was rarely at capacity. Fans turned out in large numbers to watch Seattle, Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers but many other teams struggled to sell tickets. Topps couldn’t see into the future when basketball– and card collecting–would have a resurgence in Chicago and New York, and then all over the world.
Another reason why Topps didn’t maintain their NBA contract was because they actually didn’t need it. Baseball cards were always king, Topps also had popular football and hockey sets, while basketball was not a core part of their business. Topps didn’t need NBA cards to survive, but they would have made a lot more money if they had stayed in the game and been around to profit when basketball cards boomed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
So Topps was gone and as Malone, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney and Mo Cheeks dominated the league on their way to the 1982-83 NBA Championship there were zero basketball cards. The last time that had happened was in 1968-69.
Fortunately for basketball card collectors, then and now, Star arrived a year later and while they did things differently they still produced quality cards. Star wasn’t a candy maker so they came up with a new idea to distribute their cards to collectors.
For their main set each year, the cards would be sold via mail order in team bags, so someone who was a fan of one team didn’t need to buy packs and trade with other collectors to get all the players they wanted. Those who wanted to have the entire set needed to buy one of every team bag. Smaller sets, that had a theme like the All-Star game or a championship-winning team, were also made available in sealed bags.
One great thing about Star cards was the number of players on each team who are pictured. Elston Turner and Bill Garnett didn’t get many minutes for the Mavericks but are in the set, Carlos Clark was often sitting on the Boston bench but he has a card which has a picture of him, well, sitting on the bench. Rick Robey was often the Suns’ backup to their backup center but he is still in this set.
While complete sets aren’t dirt cheap, they are more affordable than the sets that were to come, thanks in large part to the fact that it arrived a year before Michael Jordan.
Below are the sets that Star manufactured during 1983-84:
1983-84 Star Company flagship set
This is Star’s main basketball card set in their first year of being the league’s official card company. The 275 cards in the set are depicted in a quality design that Star stuck with for three years. They feature a colored border, a large picture, the team logo on the bottom left and the Star logo on the top right. On the back of the cards were player statistics and other information.
1984-85 Star had Jordan’s first NBA card but the 1983-84 Star set also has the first cards of many other future stars of the NBA: Drexler, Wilkins, Worthy, Chambers, Thomas, Rivers, Woolridge, Vandeweghe, Tripucka, Toney, Scott, Harper, Blackman, Aguirre, Ainge, Sampson and Nance. The set is loaded with cards of the new stars the NBA had back then.
When most collectors talk about 1983-84 Star cards they are referring to this set, and not the smaller ones. On card checklists the letters XRC can be found next to many players. This means Extended Rookie Card as the hobby generally hasn’t treated Star cards as “official” rookie cards.
This is the first set that Star ever released. There are 32 cards in the set, with superstars like Bird and Abdul-Jabbar to lesser-known stars of the game like Reggie Theus, Buck Williams and Gus Williams.
Star kicked off its basketball run with this late season issue and despite its notable star power, it’s usually well under $100.
1983-84 Star All-Rookies Set
As the name suggests, this Star set has the ten players from the NBA’s All-Rookie first and second teams. Wilkins, Worthy and power forward Terry Cummings who was the 1982-83 Rookie of the Year are the biggest stars in the set.
Some of the other players included are great outside shooter Trent Tucker and versatile, do-everything combo-guards Paul Pressey and Fat Lever.
1983-84 Star Sixers Champs Set
It was a short series, only four games, but the 1983-84 Star Sixers Champs set has 25 cards that detail how the 76ers defeated the Lakers in the late spring of 1983.
1984 Star All-Star Game Set
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have the best cards from this set issued late in 1984, and maybe Jeff Ruland and Rickey Green have two of the most surprising. Ruland was capable of huge points and rebounds totals back in the day, as a forward/center for the Washington Bullets before injuries slowed his career. Green was a great passer for the Jazz, although when Stockton came along he would eventually be relegated to a bench role. Both were All-Stars.
1984 Star All-Star Game Denver Police Set
This Star set is similar to the 1984 Star All-Star Game and 1984 Star Slam Dunk sets. There are 34 cards in the set issued by the Denver PD.
1984 Star Award Banquet Set
League leaders, award winners and All-NBA players are shown on the cards in this set. Among the 25 cards are MVP Larry Bird, 6th Man Kevin McHale and Defensive Player of the Year Sidney Moncrief.
1984 Star Celtics Champs Set
One of the most famous cards from this set that has 25 cards, is that of Red Auerbach. The cards are a mix of Celtics and Lakers and tell the story of the 1984 NBA Finals. Another interesting card in the set is not a player, or coach or even a person, as #25 is the Boston Garden.
1984 Star Larry Bird Set
This set was great news for Celtics fans, and not as popular with fans of other teams. Only a small number of Topps and Star cards had been produced up to that time that featured Bird and this sealed bag of 18 cards certainly increased the size of Bird collections everywhere. Fans of other teams would get player sets in the following two years as Star released sealed bags full of Erving, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic and Michael Jordan cards.
1984 Star Slam Dunk Set
This small set has 11 cards of players who competed in the All-Star dunk competition. Wilkins, Erving and Drexler are the most popular cards, while Larry Nance also has a card and he actually beat those high-fliers to win the competition.
1984 Trail Blazers Mr. Z’s Star Company Set
Fans of Portland basketball may want to hunt down the five cards from this regional set. Originally included with a pizza, there are cards of Clyde Drexler as well as Mychal Thompson, Darnell Valentine, Kenny Carr and Audie Norris.
19 Great Cards From 1983-84 Star Basketball
1983-84 Star #26 Larry Bird
The MVP of the NBA for season 1983-84, Bird’s Star card isn’t a rookie, or extended rookie, card but it’s popular.
Few flew as high as Wilkins or dunked the ball with as much power.
1983-84 Star #195 Tom Chambers
While he was an All-Star player, many fans know about Chambers only due to his very big slam dunk over Mark Jackson. It is often shown on NBA highlights. The 6-10 forward was a scoring machine in the NBA, and when he played for Seattle and Phoenix often scored over 20 points a game.
1983-84 Star #1 Julius Erving
Dr. J was given the important #1 card in Star’s first big set and as the most popular player on the team that won the previous season’s title he deserved it.
1983-84 Star #100 Clyde Drexler
Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, sometimes out of spotlight of the majority of NBA fans as he played out in Portland but he was never kept off the scoring leader lists and his teams were often in contention. This is his first NBA card.
1983-84 Star #7 Moses Malone
When the 76ers acquired Malone from Houston they added the final piece needed to win the championship. Malone led the way as the 76ers destroyed the NBA in 1982-83.
1983-84 Star #25 James Worthy
A superstar at UNC and then with the Lakers in the NBA, Worthy’s first NBA card is in 1983-84 Star. Collectors can spend big on a graded Worthy or try to find one that will grade just as well but for a lower purchase price.
If a collector has acquired the Worthy card then they need the card of the player who passed the ball to him for all his Showtime dunks.
1983-84 Star #55 Derek Harper
The Dallas Mavericks had a contender in the mid 1980s and point guard Derek Harper was a big reason why that happened. Although in one playoff game he dribbled out the clock because he thought his team was ahead when the game was actually tied. He had a big NBA career and this is his first card.
1983-84 Star #121 Bill Walton
A champion with Portland and Boston, this card presents Walton as a San Diego Clipper. It wasn’t a great time in the big man’s career but fun to see him in the uniform of his hometown team.
1983-84 Star #250 John Paxson
This card represents the start of a very successful career, although he didn’t have a lot of success in his first two NBA seasons as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Most thought of him as just the shorter brother of Jim Paxson. After a trade to the Bulls, he landed in the right spot as an accurate shooter who could punish teams when they sent extra defenders to Jordan.
1983-84 Star #14 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
This was about the time when the Lakers were becoming more of Magic’s team than Kareem’s, although the veteran center still had many games, points and championships to come.
1983-84 Star #138 Mark Eaton
This is the first NBA card of a player who was often overlooked but rarely looked down on. The 7-4 Eaton was an amazing defender for the Jazz who was always among the league leaders for blocked shots. Individual Eaton cards are inexpensive when available.
1983-84 Star #61 Bernard King
King had a career that was filled with controversy and injuries, and also a lot of high-scoring basketball games. Those who saw the ESPN documentary about him and, college and Knicks teammate, Ernie Grunfeld might want to pick up some of his cards and this Star card does present him as a New York Knick where he had some of his best seasons.
1983-84 Star #241 George Gervin
Gervin was an unstoppable scorer, famous for his finger-roll, and his card can be found in the sealed Spurs team bag which sells at a low price and includes John Paxson, Artis Gilmore, Fred Roberts, Johnny Moore, John Lucas and other San Antonio players.
1983-84 Star #34 Kevin McHale
A famous player, a famous coach and he also appeared on the TV show Cheers. Kevin McHale was not only one of the greatest scorers ever in the low post but could make a difference on the defensive end too with his long arms.
1983-84 Star #27 Danny Ainge
Before this card, if a collector wanted a card of Ainge playing a pro sport they needed to buy a baseball card. This is Ainge’s first NBA card, as he went from being a Toronto Blue Jay to a Boston Celtic.
1983-84 Star #94 Isiah Thomas
Thomas won two NBA titles, played in many All-Star games, and didn’t get an invitation to play for the original Dream Team. Sometimes being a “Bad Boy” has its consequences. Those who collect Pistons cards will want to find one of these cards, as well as Zeke’s card from the earlier 1983 Star All-Star Game set.
1983-84 Star #73 Ralph Sampson
Many fans are still not sure as to whether he was a superstar, an injury-prone player or a top overall pick who never got near his potential. When this card was made the 7-4 Sampson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. Hakeem Olajuwon would be added to his Houston Rockets team and they would play in the 1986 NBA Finals. Knee problems and a trade to Golden State would derail Sampson’s career.
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