They were no longer newcomers to the trading card market. By 1992, Upper Deck had become a well established major player in an exploding hobby. As a new basketball season approached, they picked and rolled and did whatever they had to do to offer a card of one of the most impactful rookies in the sport’s history. The 1992-93 Upper Deck basketball set won’t go down as one of the greatest ever made, but it’s definitely one collectors remember with a certain fondness.
The rookie crop was strong coming out of the gate, as it featured Georgetown Hoyas center and future Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning, one of the greatest college basketball players in history Duke’s Christian Laettner, a man who turned out to be one of the most clutch players in playoff history in Robert Horry, a score first shooting guard who could fill it up like few others in the draft class in Ohio State’s Jimmy Jackson and one of the most enigmatic players of his era in Latrell Sprewell. None of them even remotely compare to the most impactful rookie in the 1992 draft, one of the most unstoppable forces in professional basketball history and one of the biggest personalities the sport has ever seen in the Orlando Magic’s number one overall pick LSU Center Shaquille O’Neal.
The Upper Deck set was distributed in two series. The first series offered base card numbers one through 310 followed by a second series that consisted of card numbers 311 to card number 510. There were no factory sets produced.
The product packaging for Series 2 featured a basketball falling through the hoop of a broken backboard paying homage to you know who. The imagery on the hobby and jumbo boxes featured Michael Jordan slamming the ball through said broken glass and hoop as well as images of various cards highlighted in the set. The low series came in a nice royal blue box and the second series was found in a black box that looked really cool at the time.
The product can be found in hobby boxes consisting of 36 packs per box and 15 cards per pack as well as jumbo boxes consisting of 20 packs per box of 27 cards per pack. The second series boxes had a mix of both low and high series cards, making the high series cards a tad bit tougher to find.
You could also find the cards in Michael Jordan’s locker. Well, maybe not literally but in a very unique packaging that paid homage to the greatest of all time. Each locker box contained four 27 card Locker Jumbo packs. The plastic locker itself was designed to be used as a storage container for your new UD cards.
1992-93 Upper Deck Basketball Base Set
The base cards feature full color action shots with white borders, the team name is a gold foil stamped across the top of the card and the border design at the bottom consists of a team specific colored stripe that flows from one team color to the other with small stripes inside the larger stripe to add some texture to the design the entire card to the sign is edged in gold.
The cards themselves are a nice, semi gloss finish that make them easier to handle than many other products from that time. The cards have a very clean, simple, yet classy design look with really outstanding images in many cases. Look no further than Michael Jordan’s base card (#23, of course) or any number of other star base cards in the set. Don’t overlook some of the classic photographs used on the backs of the cards as well (See Scottie Pippen card #133).
The first 23 cards featured NBA draftees. Cards #36-61 were team checklists. There were several other subsets, too, including a second series run of cards from the All-Star Game, Top Prospects, Scoring Threats and the artsy “Fanimation” cards that closed out the final series.
Heroes and Other Inserts
There are a number of fun subset and insert sets that don’t hold much value but are integral in the early 90’s set and it’s design and collation. Upper Deck offered what you would now expect from early to mid-1990s inserts.
Among the inserts: a pair of Upper Deck’s familiar Basketball Heroes sets featuring Larry Bird and then Wilt Chamberlain.
There are also Award Winner holograms featuring the league’s award winners and league leaders from the previous season including Rookie of the Year Larry Johnson, scoring champion Michael Jordan, rebounding king Dennis Rodman and assists leader John Stockton to name a few.
You could also find a 15,000 point Club set honoring all active members and a number of other subsets like All Division Team, All-Rookie Team and Rookie Standouts, where you could once again find Shaq, The Jerry West Selects inserts offered the Hall of Famer’s insights on some of the league’s top players.
The low series included single print cards paying homage to the recently retired Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (Low Series) and the 20,000 point milestone reached by Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins (High Series).
The most significant card in the Series 1 product was the Trade redemption card issued in the series packs that could be redeemed for O’Neal’s first Upper Deck card. The redemption card found in packs was a very generic horizontally designed card that had a shadow on a brick wall dunking the basketball and the words Trade Upper Deck spray painted on another piece of the wall. It wasn’t the most attractive card ever but everyone pulling those out of packs knew exactly what that card got you. The chase brought a level of excitement like we hadn’t seen before.
The back of the card stated that Upper Deck would “trade” you a special card of the number one overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft– and we all know who that was. All you had to do was mail the Trade card and an SASE to Upper Deck’s address. You even got the redemption trade card back with a nice hole punched through it and a ‘Traded’ stamp across the card.
Due to a ongoing licensing agreement with Classic Games, Shaq could not be featured in the set until the aforementioned high series that season. The Deisel’s short print, true rookie card was actually featured and distributed in the higher series packs. The Trade Card version of the O’Neal rookie literally says ‘Trade Card’ at the top while his true rookie says ‘#1 NBA Draft Pick’ in the same spot.
The imagery of the card itself is outstanding as it features a progressive action shot of Shaq en route to delivering a ferocious two-handed dunk. He’s featured in his pinstripe white number 32 Orlando Magic uniform and his iconic first pair of Reebok signature shoes.
Card 32 featured the rookie card of Doug Christie and card number 33 features the rookie card of Jim Jackson with those two rookies distributed in the high series.
There were a number of minor error cards in the set, many of them due to an issue with the Upper Deck hologram found on the card backs.
As a side note, don’t sleep on the underrated McDonald’s release of Upper Deck cards from this season. You can find the usual NBA stars and top rookies including Shaq and Mourning in different poses. If you couldn’t get your fix of regular 1992-93 basketball cards, just hit up the drive thru at Mickey D’s and grab a pack with your Big Mac and french fries.
With the somewhat recent resurgence of the sports card market, this set has seen some newfound, or at least long lost love come back around, as many of the highest graded cards have sold for record prices in the past two plus years and have found their way into personal collections.
The 1992-93 Upper Deck set may not rank as one of the greatest of all time but it does have a very special place in the hearts and collections of many basketball fans and card collecting enthusiasts in the 90s, as it featured an all-time iconic rookie card (chase included) and a number of Hall of Famers and legends playing in their respective prime. In an era and at a time when there were a number of products vying for collectors’ attention and dollars, Upper Deck stood tall above all others this particular season.