From the jump, Skinnies basketball seemed to be a sports card version of Garbage Pail Kids, a roundball representation of Beavis and Butthead, Mad Magazine or even Wacky Packs.
These unlicensed basketball cards take it a step, make that 20 steps, further. Many are off color, inappropriate, and in some cases flat out offensive. The 177 card set takes aim at pretty much every named player in the NBA, with some players taking shots more than once.
The genesis of the company and the cards is a rather interesting one. Brothers Paul and Joseph Mauro, of Northport, New York were the men behind Skinnies and First Amendment Publishing.
Joseph, an attorney, became interested in sports cards while doing case study at New York Law School. One particular suit we studied prohibited a company from doing trading cards of serial killers. In turn, Mauro created First Amendment Publishing and produced a card set called Sex Maniacs and a comic book of Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuocco. Really.
The Skinnies basketball product was the company’s first foray into sports cards as they envisioned a cutting-edge product taking an old market in a new, in your face direction.
The images, sketches, drawings and scribbles, are all wild caricatures. Not a single player is found in a positive light over the span of the nearly 200 card set…and that’s the point. If you ever bought a Wacky Pack, you get it…but these aren’t about products, they were parodies of active players.
The bright yellow sealed boxes have cover artwork featuring Michael Jordan in a Gatorade 23 Jersey and (presumably) Hanes underwear while dunking a Wheaties box that has cash money flowing out of it into the air around him. In other other hand he’s holding a bag of McDonald’s food. It was all, of course, to poke fun at Jordan’s numerous endorsements.
Imagery of Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing’s cards are both featured on the box art as well.
The brightly colored yellow boxes of Skinnies make no bones about the angle and direction. Skinnies are, as the box states, “trading cards with a point.” Apparently, the point was to upset every single player in the NBA.
“Not a licensed product of the NBA and proud of it!” they state. It’s not hard to imagine the league was less than thrilled..
At the time, many shops and retailers that carried Skinnies were selling them for around $30 per box and about $1 per pack.
Speaking of the packs, the material wasn’t the standard wax or cello, it was a very stretchy plastic that made them very difficult to open.
The cards are a tad larger than standard cards on a white stock with a basic color themed borders that encompasses the artwork. Below the artwork you will find the player’s name, the city in which he plays and a comment or nickname directed at said player, “Mr. Endorsement,” in Jordan’s case.
The card backs have the same bright yellow pop as the box art with a huge portion of the top dedicated to a quote from a member of “the press” while the bottom third of the card has snarky commentary from the “#1 fan” who looks like he was pulled out of his mom’s basement. If you think the names and images on the front of the cards are rough, all it takes is one flip of a card back and you’ll have an eyebrow raising experience. The upper portion of the card is a member of the “press” going in hard, but often fair, on the player featured. There are a few instances of non-negative comments but by in large they are rather harsh. The bottom half of the card looks to be a degenerate fan going even harder on the poor player on the front. This fan’s comments and account range from lame to ignorant to outright offensive.
The players in the Skinnies set are subject to an interesting ranking method as they are either ranked gold, silver, or bronze. The ranking is indicated by the border around the front of the card. There are ten rookies in the set, all of whom have a green border to highlight their “inexperience.”
Collectors can check out the explanation cards found later in the set to really break down by whom and how the players were ranked.
The rather large set has three official subsets, including Big White Stiffs, NBA Jerks, and NBA trash talkers. There is also a Fat Four subset that pokes fun at a few of the heavier players in the league.
You can easily go through every card in this set and review the absurdity of it, but I will spare you that long of a read and just cover some of the more notable cards.
Scottie Pippen comes in at card number 22 in the set and is featured as MJ’s caddie. Jordan is in the background (in full uniform) and in mid golf swing as Pippen is in the foreground carrying his clubs. To add insult to injury, they even misspelled Scottie’s last name. Ouch.
Former Detroit Pistons bad boy Dennis Rodman is in the crosshairs at card number 15. By that point, “The Worm” had moved his talents and tirades on to San Antonio to continue his legendary rebounding and championship winning career. The card depicts a wild, deranged, wide-eyed Rodman staring at a bright basketball looking moon as he turns into a hairy werewolf in the grass beside a body of water.
Always a lightning rod for hate, Christian Laettner is found about 30 cards into the set dressed as a pageant queen. The Duke great is penciled in make-up, earrings, a dress, sash and all. “The Princess” is staring into his mirror, mirror on the wall making sure his hair is on point.
Orlando Magic young hooper/rapper Shaquille O’Neal gets punches thrown his way next. At card number 69, Shaq is shown as some sort of beast on his hind legs with a mic in his hoof, rapping in front of a basketball hoop and some adoring fans. The card refers to him as “the rapping jackass.” On the back of the card, he’s called everything from a buffoon, a fool, a boob and other derogatory terms.
John Stockton’s card insinuates the Jazz guard was nothing more than Karl Malone’s paperboy.
At the time, a young point guard for the Kings, Duke legend Bobby Hurley gets the “gym rat” treatment….
Bill Laimbeer didn’t have many fans or many friends in the NBA outside of The Motor City. He was the Bad Boy’s hard fouling, elbowing, punch throwing, cheap shot instigator. He’s featured on his Skinnies card with his mugshot in the crosshairs of a gun scope. “Mr. Popular” he was not but this card takes it a step too far by today’s standards.
On the back of the Laimbeer card, the #1 Fan actually states that he wants to shoot him, among other insults. Many of the card backs have crazy fan quotes from personal insults to stereotypical comments that are way out of bounds, even by fanatical sports standards.
The insults weren’t only dedicated to current NBA players either as the shrapnel made its way to many personalities that had ties to the league. There’s a subset called NBA Notable in which Iconic reporter and announcer Bob Costas gets a “Mr. Smug” button on his suit as an angry #1 fan in the background stands behind him with a baseball bat.
Everyone’s favorite late night talk show host and sports fan, Arsenio Hall, was also featured, literally pictured kissing the backside of an NBA player.
Labeled “The Butt Kisser”, the back of his card mentions all of the great NBA players to appear on his show and makes note of his reactions and interactions with the players.
After the Arsenio card at 108, we get into the NBA Jerks subset. A handful of less than savory players are awarded the “Jerk of the Year” for their attitudes and actions on and off the court. This illustrious subset features Bill Laimbeer, the Knicks’ Greg Anthony, Phoenix Suns teammates Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley, as well as everybody’s favorite whipping boy Christian Laettner.
As you might imagine, at this point, the gloves are completely off when describing these NBA Jerks. The number one fan takes up the entire card back, trashing these guys from top to bottom, many times in completely inappropriate fashion.
Now the set moves on to the Explanation cards, literally. It must have been at this point that the card designers and producers realized they might need to explain themselves a bit. Insert, no pun intended, an explanation card.
Shortly after the brief explanation, the three card Michael Jordan retirement subset is found. Numbered within the set in reverse of the retirement card number on the front, they range from bad to not so bad. Even the greatest of all time was not off limits. The first card pictures Mike at a press conference surrounded by media and microphones.
Although there were positive comments on the card backs that Jordan appeared on, the second retirement subset cards was an drawing of Jordan throwing dice at a craps table in what was presumed to be a casino, with degenerate gamblers surrounding the table looking on.
There’s the sponsorship money grab card and a few others in the set that were not exactly flattering, even for a player who was clearly the best of the era and well on his way to becoming the greatest of all time.
Big White Stiffs was one of the three subsets in the set. As you can imagine, this features a handful of players and discusses how little value they bring to their team, to put it nicely. This subset features the likes of Will Perdue, Jon Koncak, Jack Haley and others.
The subsets were sprinkled in toward the end of the set and not in any particular order.
The last of the three subsets was a three card set of Trash Talkers, featuring Barkley, Tim Hardaway and Chuck Person. The three players with the biggest gift of gab were sketched coming out of a classic silver garbage can, mouths wide open, fingers pointing toward the card holder.
The cliché fish bones, empty bottles, garbage bags and random trash were strewn around them as they leapt from the trash can.
After the smattering of subsets were back to regular cards and terrorizing players back in the base set.
New Jersey Nets forward Derrick Coleman was always immensely talented on the court. He played the game of a much smaller man and could change a game in an instant. DC was known as a less than great teammate and had his share of off the court issues and at card number 147, Skinnies jumped all over it. Coleman is seen, literally, backstabbing teammates in the locker room while telling the reporters to hang on for a minute… while he continues to stab his teammates.
One of the most prolific scores of the era and one third of the legendary RUN TMC, Chris Mullin found his way into the cesspool of skinnies. Seen playing a banjo on his front porch in cut off jean shorts, Mullin is referred to as a hillbilly and portrayed like he was just plucked from the movie Deliverance.
While it’s obviously just a poke at Mullin’s crew cut look at the time, in reality Mullin was a playground legend and grew up in New York City, just about the farthest thing from the sticks.
Interestingly enough, there was also a Rick James promo card touting the upcoming Sex Maniacs II set, which might tell you all you need to know about First Amendment Publishing.
1990s Skinnies Basketball is fairly rare today with only a few dozen listings on eBay at the moment–and no complete sets or unopened boxes.
We’ve left out some of the most outrageous images in this short lived set that has to rank among the more unusual sports card issues of all-time. While some of the commentary is still humorous some 30 years later, by today’s standards it’s honestly a little tough to look back at some of the cartoon artwork that depicts certain players, even with the full understanding that it was meant to be a hard core parody.