1993-94 Topps Finest basketball was an upping of the ante in the sports card technological arms race right from the jump.
After a wildly successful launch of 1993 Finest Baseball, Topps went over to the scorer’s table and checked themselves into the game on the hardwood by launching the brand with its NBA license.
The wild, busy, 1990s typical and all new all chromium design coupled with a solid rookie crop and all of the superstars and veterans you would imagine makes this set a cornerstone release in its own right. This was an early leveling up in the card market in terms of quality, presentation and at the very least, perceived added value.
Two Box Options
The inaugural Finest Basketball product has two configurations: the regular 24-count hobby boxes that have seven card packs and Jumbo boxes with the same number of packs but twice as many cards in each.
Hobby boxes have been selling for around $900 in recent days with Jumbos starting at around $1,500.
The base set consists of 220 colorful chromium cards.
There is a single 40 card subset that features the 10 ‘Finest’ players in each of the NBA’s four divisions, inserted one per pack or two per jumbo pack. The checklist is a roster of heavyweights that includes Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dominque Wilkins to name a few. Ironically, they are featured on a brick background that seemingly breaks through the standard card design but that also makes it easier to pick out as a special subset.
The lone actual insert set in the product is called Main Attractions, with 27 cards that were exclusive to the jumbo packs. The cards have a textured looking design with yet more bricks in the design and a ‘Main Attractions’ logo in the corner. The fun set features some of the better players in the league and the theme seems to focus on All Star Game stats and information on the reverse of the card. You will find Shaq, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Reggie Miller and others.
The revolutionary and borderline iconic shining example of the impact of the Finest inaugural release are the groundbreaking refractor parallels. Every card in the set was also printed with the new technology and in much rarer form. To refract, by definition, is the idea of forcing light to bend as it passes through a particular object when done so at a certain angle. That is precisely what these cards do. Refractors still carry a lot of weight in the hobby today and we all know what we’re getting when they are pulled from packs.
From Finest products to Topps Chrome to Panini Prizm and beyond, refractors have become synonymous with the hobby and quality, rare and valuable parallels. It’s a technology that is still prevalent and sought after nearly two decades after its inception and that really is saying something.
The Jordan Refractor is the set’s top card, with PSA 9 examples recently selling for around $3,000 and 8s at about half that. PSA has graded almost 400 9s and just 41 10s to this point.
Jordan’s PSA 10 Refractor is valued at about $19,000 but copies rarely hit the market.
The Finest Basketball packaging that year is interesting to say the least. The box artwork consists of more shapes and colors than a Hunter S. Thompson movie oddly coupled with a very nondescript, some may even argue generic, basketball player with a generic uniform featured on the box cover. Topps touts the product as “hi tech” right on front. The individual card packs feature virtually the exact same artwork as the box itself. Quite the yawn inducing imagery for such a high energy product.Design
The cards scream classic early 90s with a bold, colorful, busy look. Each card offers a multitude of colors and shapes on the chromium finished stock. The standard card design is a colorful eye teasing sensation with the Topps and Finest logos showcased at the bottom of the cards and a blue nameplate in the upper right hand corner of the card. The thin gold border flows above the logos at the bottom of the card and above the nameplate at the top of the card.
One interesting and head scratching negative facet of the card design is that many of the actual images of the players seem to be too cropped or too zoomed in as many shots cut off all important arms, legs and appendages in general, drastically taking away from what could have been a beautiful image. Look no further than Larry Bird’s card (number two in the set). You can’t see the ball or his hand as he’s ready to release his classic shot. It’s essentially a tribute card as the Celtics great was already retired.
Shaquille O’Neal’s base card is so zoomed in that you can’t tell if he’s grabbing a rebound, blocking a shot or trying to grab a jump ball.
You could find a multitude of other cards in the same boat. What is Otis Thorpe doing on card #16 by the way? Or poor Clarence Witherspoon on his Atlantic’s Finest card number 91? No one really knows.
The rookie selection is a solid one featuring the highly anticipated high-end rookie card of Fab Five phenom and number one overall pick Chris Webber. Memphis State point guard sensation and Orlando Magic draft pick Anfernee Hardaway will take the silver as the second best rookie in the set. You could also find rookie cards of Toni Kukoc, Nick Van Exel, Sam Cassell, Jamal Mashburn, Vin Baker and Shawn Bradley.
Some may scoff at the thought of adding this particular set to any all-time great basketball set list but one could argue that it stands as one of the more important basketball sets of the era. Finest got the jump ball and immediately offered some fun and innovative cards coupled with the groundbreaking technology and an envelope pushing design. Finest Basketball let everyone know the brand was here to stay and while Topps eventually left the basketball card market, collectors still have nostalgic feelings for their first shiny basketball issue.