In a decade that offered plenty of memorable candidates, the 1997-98 Upper Deck Basketball product offered one of the most significant and important insert sets ever released. Both Series 1 and 2 packs featured the very first NBA game-used jersey cards to ever hit the market.
With the groundbreaking 22-card set inserted in an astronomically difficult one in every 2,500 packs, these pieces of history are both rare and valuable. The set seems to gain traction by the day.
Series 2 packs packs had the impossibly difficult Michael Jordan autographed All Star Game Jersey card which is hand numbered to 23 copies.
Upper Deck had actually launched the Game Jersey concept during baseball season with Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn and Rey Ordonez but the basketball set took it to another level.
The NBA Game Jersey design features two full color images of the player with a mesh jersey print backdrop design, coupled with an actual piece of a game worn NBA jersey embedded on the card. You will also find a gold foil Upper Deck logo, the player’s name in gold foil with their position listed below, the upper corner will have the team logo, the NBA logo appears next to the title of the insert set, which is appropriately called Game Jersey.
The card backs have a team specific colored mesh jersey backdrop design with a small color photo of the player and a blurb about said player. The card has the congratulatory message from Upper Deck as well. Congratulations is right.
Hall of Famer and NBA legend Charles Barkley leads off the set with a with a nice but simple white game worn Rockets jersey. Chuck is all smiles in his up close picture and he is set to release a jumper in his inaction shot.
He’s followed by then Houston Rockets teammate Clyde Drexler. Again the up close picture features The Glide stationary while the smaller background picture is an action shot of him laying it in at the rim.
Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Garnett is the third card in the set. His jersey features a Timberwolves blue away gamer worn in full blown intensity by KG.
The first of two Anfernee Hardaway cards is found at the fourth slot in the set. In his beautiful home white Magic jersey (and a casual shirt pictured in the foreground), this is one of the focal points of the standout set.
Hall of Famer Grant Hill is found at the fifth spot in the set with a white Pistons game worn home jersey. Hill is looking intently, ready to release a free throw in the foreground and grab a rebound in the background.
Up next is a second year Allen Iverson card. His white Sixers home jersey is the focal point of this beautiful piece. A young, fresh faced AI is all smiles. In the background he is racing to the hoop ready to execute his signature crossover. This is a special card in the fact that it carries a rookie year jersey of one of the most iconic players of the era.
New Jersey Nets guard Kerry Kittles next up with a Nets home game worn new jersey on his card. K Squared had his moments in the league but doesn’t hold a candle to the others in this set.
Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Toni Kukoc is the eighth card in the set with a number seven Bulls game worn jersey.
One of the greatest shooters of all time, Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller is the ninth card in the set. Showing off his classic shot in the background, he is all casual in the up close image. Reggie’s jersey was one he wore during the 1993-94 NBA season.
Houston Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon is the 10th card in the offering. His card features a piece of white home jersey from a Rockets game from 1996-97. A great first jersey card of one of the greatest big men of all time.
Next up is Charlotte Hornets sharpshooter Glen Rice. His jersey is his home pinstripe whites of Charlotte. Rice was one of the best and most underrated shooters of the era.
San Antonio Spurs Hall of Fame center David Robinson is the 12th card in the set as his card features a white Spurs home jersey swatch.
Lucky number 13, in this spot you will find one of the most important, valuable and iconic cards ever produced across any sport. This is the first ever Michael Jordan game worn jersey card. It is as much a piece of art and a piece of history as it is a basketball card.
Those Series 2 packs held a hand numbered, on card autograph version of the iconic card mentioned above. To take it to even the next level, the jersey swatch is actually from the 1992 NBA All Star game. The beautiful multicolored patch, coupled with the instantly recognizable Jordan signature, all while being an incredibly low, hand numbered issue makes this one of the greatest of all time.
In the last couple of years, on the rare occasions when one of the 23 copies has come to auction, better examples have sold for seven-figure prices.
After the G.O.A.T.’s card you will find back-to-back Miami Heat stars. First up is center Alonzo Mourning with a black jersey piece featured from the 1995-96 season,
Then, it’s Hall of Fame point guard Tim Hardaway in his red Miami fit. Its nice that the jerseys used match the photos used for both of these greats.
Toronto Raptors big man Marcus Camby is the 16th card in the set and is featured in his classic Toronto Raptors jersey. The example pictured is a Raptor eye and nearly impossible, almost 1 of 1 example to find.
Boston Celtics young star Antoine Walker is the 17th card in the set as card features a piece of his white home Boston Celtics Jersey from the 1996-1997 season.
Underrated Phoenix Suns point guard Kevin Johnson is next up in the set his card features a nice piece of his Suns Jersey.
Next up as card number 19 in the iconic set is Glen “Big Dog” Robinson. One of the best scorers of his era, Robinson was featured heavily in mid -1990s inserts and this is no exception.
The 20th card in the set features New York Knicks Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing, on what appears to be a piece of his away jersey from the 1995-96 season.
The next to last card in the set is the second one featuring Orlando Magic superstar point guard Penny Hardaway. This time around the card features an away jersey, that of an Orlando Magic blue pinstriped offering. It’s one of the sharper jerseys and cards in the set.
Last but not least at card number 22 is Detroit Pistons do it all forward Grant Hill, also his second appearance in the set. This card also features his dark blue away jersey.
The value for each of these cards is immense and climbs as you go higher up the list of legendary names on the set’s roster. Ungraded Antoine Walker, Glen Rice and others in that tier typically sell for a few hundred dollars. A PSA 9 Ewing sold for over $600 earlier this year while a 7 went for a relatively modest $280 while an ungraded Grant Hill netted $621. Unsigned Jordan examples are rarely offered but have become strong five-figure cards when they are.
It’s hard to overstate the importance and impact of this iconic set. It features the very first game used, true game used, jersey cards in sports. It’s a technology and idea that is still used in almost every single product released across all sports 20 to 25 plus years after its inception. The value of the higher end cards in this set continue to reach iconic status and even the lower end cards are classics in every sense of the word.