After 13 straight years of producing basketball cards, the iconic Topps brand was seated squarely at the end of the bench after the 1981-82 NBA season. The New York-based card maker didn’t check back into the basketball card game until the 1992-93 campaign.
Attempting to make up for quite a bit of lost time, they cooked up a set using a brand name that’s still familiar to collectors today. The 1992-93 Topps Archives basketball set covered popular players from the “missing years” of 1983-1991.
The product packaging for what was supposed to be a part of the company’s triumphant return to basketball, was pretty underwhelming. The box and pack design offers shades of blue beams as the backdrop with a large, generic looking basketball with the Topps logo towards the bottom of the ball as it announces the Archives NBA Basketball Picture Cards on a new logo. “The Rookies” appears in parentheses with the years 1981-1991 listed below. The box artwork also features a corner sliver with hardwood backdrop that states the intention of the set as it features archives quality rookie cards for 1981 to 1991 using “Topps High Definition photo technology.” The box art also makes mention of the special 1981 to 1991 Number 1 NBA draft picks subset. The pack artwork consists of the same stylings and information listed on the box.
Production of the Archives offering was relatively limited, by junk era standards, as “only” 10,000 of the 24 box cases were produced. Boxes consisted of 24 packs per box as each pack contains 14 cards and one Stadium Club membership card.
A factory set was also produced in which you could find gold parallels for each base card.
The 150- card base set consists of 139 current NBA players who, thanks to the unfortunate hiatus, never had a true Topps rookie card. Digging into photo files, Topps utilized rookie year images coupled with the baseball card designed from the corresponding year to produce a really unique offering.
The base set opens with an 11 card subset that features each of the number one picks for the NBA Draft from the 1981 through 1991 drafts. The card backs even offered the entire first round draft order and selections for the featured year. Portland Trailblazers fans can once again relive the fact that they chose Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft.
After coming off the scorer’s table with the draft picks subset, the rest of the base set features player cards arranged by year in ascending chronological order and alphabetically within each season.
For instance, you will first find the 1981 Topps baseball designed rookie cards of Mark Aguirre, Danny Ainge and Tom Chambers all the way down through Isaiah Thomas and Orlando Wooldridge. Guard Danny Ainge did have actual baseball card RCs in 1981 in Donruss, Fleer and Topps Traded as a Toronto Blue Jays prospect.
The 1982 styling offers rookie images of all time great Atlanta Hawks scoring and dunking machine Dominique Wilkins and Los Angeles Lakers key championship cog James Worthy. Just holding the Archives card, you can envision what that actual ‘Nique RC would have felt like back in 1982 smack dab next to a real Cal Ripken, Jr. rookie card.
The 1983 design that we know so fondly from our Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs rookie card features Clyde Drexler and Byron Scott, who made their pro debuts during the 1984-84 season.
And of course in ’84….
Michael Jordan gets the “what if” treatment. It’s one of MJ’s most underrated cards, in our opinion, even though it’s obviously not a true rookie card. Also featured on the ’84 design are Hall of Famers Akeem Olajuwon (the league’s top draft pick in ’84), John Stockton and Charles Barkley.
The Jordan card features a slam dunk contest photo of him soaring toward the rim for a one-handed dunk while wearing the old cursive, red Chicago #23 Jersey and the Air Jordan 1s on his high flying feet.
In the ’85 design, we get New York Knicks all time great center Patrick Ewing, the league’s third all-time leading scorer in Karl Malone (with a great looking photo), Indy legend Reggie Miller, Dream Teamer Chris Mullin and Slam Dunk Champion Spud Webb.
The thick black bordered 1986 styled set found would-be rookie cards of Detroit Pistons bad boy Dennis Rodman and Cleveland Cavaliers sharpshooter Mark Price.
The famous wood grained bordered 1987 Topps cards show us what a Scottie Pippen rookie card would have looked like (Topps chose a picture that looks just a tad like his actual 1988-89 Fleer RC) as well as longtime teammate Horace Grant and a few other notables with the same design as your uncle’s station wagon from the same year.
The 1988 set would have found number one overall pick Danny Manning, Dan Majerle and all time scoring great Golden State Warriors guard Mitch Richmond.
Moving to 1989, we get David Robinson,Tim Hardaway, Hall of Fame Vlade Divac and Croatian sensation Drazen Petrovic, among others.
The 1990 we glimpse two of the most electric teammates of the ’90s in Seattle Supersonics high flying Shawn Kemp (a gorgeous card of the Reign Man at the rim doing what he does best) and point guard and defensive wizard Gary Payton. If Topps had produced them in ’90, they would have definitely challenged the Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa rookie cards from that year for notoriety and popularity.
Chipper Jones’ 1991 rookie card would have found friends in the basketball world with pretty much every player from the starting five of UNLV, including number one overall pick Larry Johnson.
There was a Master Photos insert set that consisted of the 12 number one overall picks since Topps’ last b-ball offering. The card front was just a smaller picture of the front of the draft picks card found in the set they had a lot of white border in the Topps Archives NBA basketball logo at the top with a master photo framework around said card. A 5×7 Master Photos card was also available.
The card backs offer a small square current year in action shot of the player that overlaps a red yellow and white box containing all of the biographical information you would expect in statistics from college in the NBA are found below. The set name player’s name and team are printed in the upper left-hand portion of the card. The background of the card has different sheets of blue with a light beam design across it.
As far as value, don’t expect to retire off any cards in this set. Complete hand-collated base sets can usually be had for under $35 on eBay. The gold factory sets are typically available for $300-$350.
The 1984-styled Michael Jordan card is plentiful at just a few bucks while high-grade copies are typically $500-$600. The gold parallel runs close to $2,000, but the set doesn’t offer a ton of monetary value otherwise.
Unopened boxes are a pretty easy score at $125-$135 at the moment.
Although the product doesn’t carry much weight today, it was a very unique and fun way for Topps to get back into the basketball card market as it made a big splash with other products that year including the return of the flagship Topps brand and the introduction to the Stadium Club product on the hardwood. In hindsight, the Archives release was a logical and fun addition to a growing portfolio as Topps made its return to the sport.