When a player collector thinks they have every card that was ever made for their guy, they often find out about others that were available in products as part of a promotion or were sold in an overseas market. If a Kobe Bryant collector wants all his cards from his first season, they will need to track down his 1996-97 Sprite basketball card that was only available at 7-11 stores in the United States.
The 40-card set was distributed in packs of three cards available with the purchase of a drink at the convenience stores and via cans of Sprite products sold in Australia, where the checklist was slightly different. There was a 25 cent coupon in each pack, good for use on a pack of Fleer/Skybox cards.
1996-97 Fleer Basketball with a Fizzy Twist
Just as Fleer cards were made for frozen pizza and cake promotions earlier in the decade, the cards in 1996-97 Fleer Sprite share a very similar look to the regular Fleer cards that were produced that year. The card numbering is the biggest difference so there could be plenty of collectors who already own some Sprite cards but assume they are the normal 1996-97 Fleer cards. The Sprite Fleer cards differ in their use of plain yellow text on the front instead of gold foil. However, there is no Sprite logo on the front or back that would make identification easier.
A Kobe collector could actually get a bunch of different Fleer cards that all look very similar. There is the 1996-97 Fleer #203 card which is his Fleer rookie card. Then there is the 1996-97 Fleer Sprite #17 and also the 1996-97 Fleer European #233.
Sprite Kobe Rookie…and More
There are a number of cards in 1996-97 Sprite featuring rookies from the 1996 NBA Draft. In addition to the Kobe Bryant rookie card, you’ll find Allen Iverson along with Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, Antoine Walker and Kerry Kittles.
The Sprite cards use the player order that was once traditional among basketball card sets, alphabetically through the teams and with teams represented by more than one player they are also listed alphabetically. If a collector sees a set of 40 cards at a card show, with Atlanta’s Dikembe Mutombo up the front and Washington’s Chris Webber as the last card it will be the Fleer Sprite set.
Grant Hill, Spokesman
Grant Hill had just averaged 20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists in season 1995-96, and as the next big thing in the NBA he was the focus of a special insert set with the Sprite giveaway. Hill was a spokesperson for Sprite and appeared in numerous commercials for them during his NBA career. A Hill collector should be very interested in the Sprite issues because it means an extra 14 cards, as he also had a card in 1996-97 Fleer Sprite Australian.
Aussie Version of 1996-97 Sprite Basketball Set
In Australia, the Fleer Sprite set was nearly the same as the one issued in the U.S. To acquire the cards, collectors needed to purchase a pack of Sprite cans from a specific retail outlet. There were some differences among the players in the set as well as different numbering and no Grant Hill inserts.
Spotting an Australian Sprite card among other Fleer cards from the same year is not easy. Except for the numbering there is nothing else that really stands out as the front of the card is very similar. The fine print on the back of the card doesn’t help a lot, it says “PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.” and has no mention of Australia, although the fine print has fewer words and only one line compared to the two lines on other Fleer cards.
There are some superstars who appear in the Australian set who didn’t have a card in the regular Fleer Sprite, including Scottie Pippen and David Robinson. Ed O’Bannon finds himself on a Fleer Sprite Australian card, an odd choice as the Australian set seemed to replace the rookies of the NBA with stars with a higher international profile. O’Bannon was coming off a 1995-96 rookie season when he averaged only 6.2 points. Fans of international players can find cards of Vlade Divac, a frequent visitor to Australia at the time, and Dino Radja. Arvydas Sabonis, Detlef Schrempf and Toni Kukoc have a card in both Sprite sets.
Although not found very often, Fleer Sprite cards are very cheap, as collectors either don’t know about them or are not interested due to their similarity to the Fleer cards they already own. The best thing about the Sprite issue is that for player collectors and team collectors it provides extra cards to search for. You can see what’s available on eBay here.