The 1997-98 Skybox Metal Universe Basketball product crash landed on earth in a fiery ball from the future. Onlookers weren’t exactly sure what they were laying their eyes on and, to be sure, no one had any idea of the significance and value of what lie inside those futuristic boxes and packs.
Released in November of 1997, the eight card, 24 pack hobby boxes are one of those sets ’90s basketball collectors still love.
The hobby box art and design features NBA poster boy of the time, Detroit Pistons do-it-all Grant Hill with the Metal Universe logo as well as a huge Skybox logo adorning the box in many different places. The box art also showcases a few examples of the cards, text of the content found inside and also the Autographics logo in various spots.
The 125 card base set is something to behold as it truly looks as if the sports greatest athletes are playing basketball in another galaxy or dimension. See the Michael Jordan base card for one of many great examples of the other planetary design. MJ in his Chicago home whites with Spalding ball in hand traveling towards the hoop but with the unique and magical design of this product, he’s floating between planets and a starry Galaxy with a Spalding ball of fire which makes this mythical basketball G.O.A.T. look even more godlike. In another example, it appears as though Shaquille O’Neal is dunking on Arvydas Sabonis and some other metallic dimension on his card.
The card backs feature a large up close photo of the player on the upper right hand side and the rest of the design looks like a very technical, clinical and busy inside of a spaceship with a lot of steel, wires and futuristic attributes.
Memorable rookies in 1997-98 were San Antonio Spurs number one overall pick and Wake Forest stud big man Tim Duncan and a very young fellow future Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady.
The popularity of this product and specifically the insert set, Precious Metal Gems, has reached heights no one could have ever imagined. PMGs as they are affectionately referred to as, are some of the most coveted sports cards ever produced.
Precious Metal Gems is a parallel set of every base card with the exception of the two checklists. The futuristic base backdrops are replaced with a solid one color background that present and pop in person like few cards before or since. The PMG parallel has 100 total copies of each card with two different color schemes. The first 10 serial numbered cards have a eye grabbing green or “emerald” backdrop and the remaining 90 cards are a radiant red background.
The green PMGs have brought record prices at auction and many are considered holy grails of some of the most serious collectors and collections on the planet. In February of 2019 a PMG Green Michael Jordan (numbered six of 100) graded Authentic Altered by PSA sold on eBay for $350,000. A little less than two years later, another copy sold for a jaw-dropping $915,000.
As with many foil cards of the ’90s, PMGs are incredibly condition sensitive due to the foil and edges which take these incredibly limited cards that grade highly to unheard of prices in many cases. Higher end graded superstar PMGs are selling for six figures and even raw commons with extreme wear bring hundreds of dollars.
The long run of unique inserts are very desirable as well.
The most common and decently interesting insert found in the Universe are the Reebok Chase cards. Found one per pack, this insert set features 16 players who wore Reebok sneakers in the league. That’s pretty much it. Although considered an insert set they are nearly identical to the base cards with the exception of the Reebox logo being added to the card back along with other Reebok information. Every Reebok Chase card comes in bronze, silver and gold variations.
Silver Slams is a 20-card insert set found one in every six packs. The cards appear to have various neon colored, full color backdrops with a black and white action shot of the player with the word Silver Slam in a pretty nondescript font at the top of the card. Very few players featured are dunking on the card. You can find some of the biggest stars in the game in this insert set.
Planet Metal, found one per box on average, is a 15 card set which consists of many of the biggest stars in the game with a metallic foil background that is reminiscent of a storm or weather pattern found on a map. This might be the most low-key insert in the entire set.
A tough one, the hobby exclusive Titanium, is a 20 card set found one in 72 packs. They offer a foil highlight and die cut border. The card is a horizontal design with a nice color action shot of the player overlaying the word Titanium. The card has a futuristic look and features the player’s name in cursive at the bottom with the team name below and a titanium, futuristic Metal Universe logo towards top of the card. The Titanium cards rank as some of the most valuable cards in all of the Metal Universe.
The retail exclusive Gold Universe is a 10 card set found in every 120 packs. It’s a planet filled, gold foil design. For instance, the Gary Payton card is a great example of the design being pulled off well. GP is driving to the hoop, ball in hand looking to dish or finish and it looks as if he’s just passed three gold planets to get there. You just have to see the cards to fully understand.
And the most out of this world insert is the Platinum Portraits. Found at a rate of one in every 288 packs, this is a difficult insert to track down. Using what was called matrix etching, the players faces, shown as portrait shots, are formed through a large number of tiny holes on the card. The Michael Jordan insert is one of the most valuable of all Jordan inserts, selling for thousands and thousands of dollars when they surface for sale.
It’s quite rare that the last of the inserts and hits we discuss are autographs but that just speaks to the strength of the insert sets in this particular Metal Universe product. Autographs can indeed be found in Metal Universe packs as they are part of the cross brand promotion Autographics, found one in 96 packs that reach across all 1997-98 Fleer and Skybox offerings.
It may be difficult to overstate the importance and significance of a product that carries the most sought after and valuable cards of the post war era, but not only is the clever Skybox Metal Universe design out of this world many of the inserts are as well.
You can check out 1997-98 Skybox Metal Universe cards on eBay here.