It could be argued that the 1996-97 basketball season and the corresponding card products where the height of 90’s basketball. With the iconic rookie class and seemingly every product pushing the envelope more than the one release before, it was a great time to be a basketball card collector.
The 1996-97 Skybox E-X2000 Basketball product was a shining example of that classic 90’s basketball style that still shows its influence and effect in the hobby today. The set featured high quality, futuristic base cards, the now wildly popular parallels, outstanding inserts and autographed cards which, as we all know, are still a hobby staples today.
One particular insert set that exemplifies the year and the era as well as any is the E-X2000 A Cut Above. Found just once in every 288 packs, this ten-card set was a very tough pull at the time. With only two cards per pack, it seemed even tougher and more difficult.
Collectors might get sweaty palms trying to put these edgy cards into sleeves and toploaders. As more time has passed, the sharp set is even harder to find in high grade.
Coinciding perfectly with the insert name, the cards feature an eye-catching foil, die cut circular saw blade that encompasses much of the upper two-thirds of the card. The lower portion is back to the standard square corners and features a cement-ish backdrop. The E-X 2000 logo is featured towards the center of the card and the A Cut Above logo is featured in the lower corner with the player’s name listed below in the jagged cement color.
The card backs feature a number of saw blades for those that harken back to 10th grade shop class or just those that are into collecting sharp objects. There is an in action shot of the player and also a paragraph of text about what makes each of these stars a cut above the rest of the competition.
He was just getting his young feet wet in the NBA, so there’s no Kobe Bryant in the A Cut Above set and while it would have been fun, collectors’ bank accounts are now thankful.
The Minnesota Timberwolves franchise player Kevin Garnett leads off the set as Card #1. The Big Ticket is found in his home white uni getting ready to pass the ball to a teammate.
Card number two features Anfernee Hardaway, shown in his alternate blue pinstriped Magic uniform with ball in hand as he is driving towards the hoop. Note that he’s wearing a pair of the iconic Nike Penny 1 kicks.
Card number three in the set features Detroit Pistons do it all forward Grant Hill, who was one of the biggest stars in the game at the time. He’s featured in his home Pistons gear, bringing the ball up the court as he is calling a play for his teammates at the other end of the floor. Hill had won Rookie of the Year in 1994-95 and became a perennial All Star before injuries started to cut the peak of his career short.
The fourth card in the set features Philadelphia 76ers icon Allen Iverson. The one is a pretty special rookie year card of the future scoring champion. He’s featured in his home whites bringing the ball up court as we can only imagine at 100 miles an hour, looking to finish at the hoop or make a dazzling pass to a teammate.
Michael Jordan is number 5 on the checklist. He’s in the Bulls alternate uniform of the era, ball in hand as he looks to make a play down court. As you can imagine this card stands as one of the more collectible inserts of the time period.
The sixth card in the set features Seattle Super Sonics star Shawn Kemp. Kemp can be found in the picture with the ball in his big right hand ready to dish to a teammate.
Card #7 is Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. The Dream is found with the ball in both hands, elbows up ready to possibly make one of his spectacular and legendary dream shakes. Or at least one could hope that’s what’s about to happen on this beautiful card.
The eighth card in the set features one of the biggest names and biggest men in the game at the time, Shaquille O’Neal. The Diesel, The Big Aristotle, or Wilt Chamberneezy as he was briefly known, is shown in his classic purple and yellow L.A. gear, ready to devastate the opposition.
The ninth card in the set features former number one pick Glenn Robinson. The least valuable and least known card in the set, the standout 20-plus points per game scorer made perfect sense for inclusion at the time.
It’s back-to-back Bulls as the final card in the set features Dennis Rodman, who is truly A Cut Above in the pound-for-pound greatest rebounder of all time category. The Worm featured in the traditional Bulls jersey with the basketball in hand looking to dish to one of his superstar teammates.
Prices for A Cut Above cards vary, of course, based on the player and grade, but the popularity and rarity of them makes it a bit of a challenge to complete. A raw Jordan copy sold last month for nearly $2,500. Raw examples of the Olajuwon and Garnett cards brought well over $200 each at auction.
High grade examples can get quite pricey. A BGS 9.5 Jordan sold for over $13,000 at the end of May. A BGS 9 Jordan sold for a tad under $8,000.
Raw cards of the most sought after players typically bring $400-$600 or more.
You can check recent selling prices here and current eBay listings here.
The E-X brand was at the forefront of innovation during this time in basketball and other sports as this particular insert bled over into baseball and football releases as well. With its condition sensitivity and an over the top design, they’re among the most memorable inserts of a great era for basketball cards.