After sitting on the sidelines for eleven years, Topps made its return to the basketball market in 1992. With interest in pro hoops soaring and the trading card market in the midst of a huge boom period, the NBA and its players were glad to add the long-time card maker to its growing fold of licensed manufacturers. With the immense popularity of not only Michael Jordan but the entire 1992 Dream Team, coupled with a once in a lifetime rookie on the horizon, Topps laced up the kicks and got back on the court.
The 1992-93 Topps Basketball set wasn’t tremendously fancy. It was more along the lines of what the company had long been doing with other sports but anything Topps did was always a big deal at the time.
The packaging across all packs and boxes featured a light Carolina Blue coupled with a bright yellow and some orange accent colors to boot.
There were Hobby boxes (which feature 15 card packs and 36 packs per box) and three types of larger packs produced. Suggested retail price for hobby packs back in 1992 was 69 cents per pack.
Shaquille O’Neal didn’t disappoint.
O’Neal’s Topps rookie card, although always the star of the set, gained even more traction during the pandemic, shooting out of its $5 slumber and back into the forefront of popularity among basketball fans.
The image is a classic. He’s posted up, dominating overmatched Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Bob McCann in the paint, begging for the ball in his Orlando Magic home white pinstripe uniform. If you look closely enough, you can even get a sneak peek at his first pair of Reebok signature shoes.
O’Neal did not appear until Series 2 due to a licensing agreement with Classic Games, which produced the earliest Shaq cards.
The base 1992-93 Topps set consists of 396 cards, broken down into two series with the first carrying card numbers 1 through 198 and the second series occupying numbers 199 through 396.
Topps honored Larry Bird with card number 1. Bird had just retired from the game after ongoing back trouble limited his minutes throughout the 1991-92 season, although he did play for the ’92 US Olympic “Dream Team.”
The card design itself offers a crisp white card border which features a large colorful action shot of the player framed by two color border stripes wrapping around the card. The player’s name and team name appear in two different team related colored bars across the bottom of the picture. The majority of the true rookie cards have a gold foil ’92 Draft Picks’ emblem on the card fronts. The card backs have biographical information on a light blue panel as well as statistics and a brief player profile on a yellow panel. The card backs also feature a cropped up close mugshot of the player featured. It’s a relatively simple yet effective design.
In addition to Shaq, there were 54 other true rookie cards including Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Tom Gugliotta and Robert Horry. Even the enigmatic Golden State Warriors shooting guard Latrell Sprewell and a man dubbed as ‘Baby Jordan,’ Miami Heat guard Harold Miner, were among the popular cards of the time.
There is no shortage of non-rookie Hall of Famers in the set and many have multiple cards. Of course, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and every other major player of the era is featured and they’re also spread across a number of subsets including including All-Star, 50 Point Club and 20 Assist Club. Cards numbered 2, 3 and 4 are highlights from the 1991-92 season.
Beam Team was a seven card insert with each card featuring three NBA superstars beamed up and teamed up together. You can find a second O’Neal rookie year card as he’s pictured alongside Chris Mullin and Glen Rice. The Beam Team card design is a horizontal one with the Topps logo and the words Beam Team written in huge white letters at the top.
There are three individual images of three different players across the face of the card that are each framed by a neon box as neon lines shoot across the backdrop of the rest of the card. You just had to be there.
Topps Gold was the company’s go-to parallel set in the early 90s and they’re part of the basketball release, too.
They were inserted one per 15 card plastic hobby pack, two per 18 card mini jumbo pack, three per rack pack and four per 41 card magazine jumbo pack. You can also find 12 gold parallels in the Topps Factory Set that was also produced later in the year.
The 1992-93 Topps set was a wildly successful return to the hoops landscape which also included a more premium 1992-93 Stadium Club release the very same year, among other special offerings. Make no mistake, the flagship Topps release was a trend setter for the company moving forward which led to more innovation and more success in the following years. The product has found a renewed love and appreciation and sits where it belongs in the conversation as one of the more important basketball releases of the early 90’s.