While many collectors chase the most valuable old basketball card sets like the original Bowman, 1957 Topps or 1961 Fleer, there are many other issues to consider. And maybe it’s time we redefined the word “old” because the 80s were a long time ago now and that’s where some value-packed sets reside. The interest in iconic and memorable players from the 1980s and 90s remains strong.
Superstar players, great rookies, reasonable pricing and solid card designs are features of these five underrated basketball card sets. Click the names of the sets to see those cards for sale and auction on eBay.
A set full of Hall of Famers, a card of Wilt Chamberlain as a coach and a card design that was good enough for Topps to use again in 2001-02, 1974-75 Topps may not get the attention that the Topps sets from earlier in that decade do but it is a set collectors can enjoy just as much.
1974-75 Topps features the two leagues that were operating at the time with all the supertars of the NBA and all the funky, and mostly defunct, ABA teams. Bill Walton was the NBA’s biggest rookie then, and his ungraded #39 sells for around $25 while a graded PSA 8 sold recently on eBay for $97. George Gervin also has his rookie in this set and it sells for similar prices.
You can own a nice complete set for $200-250, less if you’re willing to accept slightly lower grade cards.
The set has a lot of the game’s biggest stars but at cheaper prices than in the Topps sets before it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pete Maravich, Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Jerry West and Julius Erving are all in the set. You’ll also find George Karl’s rookie card here, and while he is more famous for his coaching, it’s testimony that he did play for the San Antonio Spurs in both the NBA and ABA.
Card #250 represents Wilt Chamberlain’s last Topps card. While he didn’t play for San Diego that year, he’s listed as Coach/Center of the San Diego Conquistadors. When Dave Cowens was a player/coach for the Celtics for part of the 1978-79 season it only got a small mention on the back of the card, but Wilt’s very brief coaching career is featured on this card. The Chamberlain card, which can be found for around $20, is a useful tool for his fans as it lists his complete career statistics, like his 31,419 career points in the NBA and his 30.1 points per game. They say a team takes on the personality of their coach, and the Conquistadors did lead the ABA in points per game when Wilt was there.
Anyone who collected 2001-02 Topps Heritage may appreciate 1974-75 Topps as both sets use the same design with a large player picture, the team name going down the right side of the card and the player name and position along the bottom. On the back are statistics, player information and the fun little cartoons that Topps used to have.
The 1976-77 Topps set is only 144 cards but it’s is definitely the biggest in size at 3 inches by 5 1/4 inches. The cards have are a mix of posed and action shots. The player name and position are on the bottom of the card while going down the left side of the card is the team name. As different teams have names of different length, basketballs were used to fill in the space leading down to a basket. This design feature, which was also used on the checklist card, gives the set a distinct look.
Abdul-Jabbar, Maravich and Julius Erving are the biggest superstars in the set. A young Moses Malone of the Portland Trail Blazers, Phil Jackson of the Knicks launching a hook-shot and Bobby Jones of the Nuggets dribbling the multi-colored ABA, which had ceased operations, ball are also in the set. Playing in the NBA took a lot of energy, and both Rick Barry and Erving are shown with liquid refreshment on the bench on their cards.
The set doesn’t really have that one big rookie but there are players with their first card in this set who had important NBA careers. Gus Williams is card #69 and he played his first two seasons for the Warriors before going to Seattle and winning a championship. High flying David Thompson scored plenty of points for Denver and his rookie is card #110. Alvan Adams, card #75, might have been ahead of his time as a mobile center with an outside shot. Junior Bridgeman and Lloyd Free also have rookie cards in the set.
The All-Star subset provides collectors with second cards of some of the big stars.
Prices for complete sets typically range from $100 to $200 and considering the set’s age and star power, it’s a bargain. So are some of the single cards. Recent sales on eBay have been $59 for a PSA 10 Bill Bradley, $45 for a PSA 9 Moses Malone and just $24.50 for a PSA 9 Bill Walton.
Their rookie card gets all the attention, but if collectors want the first NBA cards that had Larry Bird or Magic Johnson on them without other players they need to go to 1981-82 Topps. It was also a historic set, the last that Topps would make until 1992-93, as well as one with quality players and rookies.
Topps opted to print a National set of 66 cards and then mix ‘regional’ cards featuring players from areas of distribution (i.e., Bulls, Bucks, Pistons, etc. on the Midwest set). It’s the first and only time Topps made such a move and it may have been one of some desperation with card sales not justifying the expense of production.
Again, you’ll find stars with multiple cards. Bird also has a “Super Action” card and is on the Celtics Team Leaders, which he shares with Tiny Archibald. Magic Johnson can be found on card #21 and on his “Super Action” card.
Rookie cards of players who made a big impact in the NBA can be found for low prices in this set. Kevin McHale, Darrell Griffith, Vinnie Johnson, Mike Gminski, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Jim Paxson and Joe Barry Carroll all have cards. Kareem, Erving, Moses, Dantley, Lanier, Issel, just some of the stars in 1981-82 Topps. On Kareem’s “Super Action” card he is shooting his Skyhook, while Julius Erving’s “Super Action” card shows him in Boston Garden flying over the traffic in the paint to score.
The cards in the set have a small border and all the player information is in the bottom left corner which leaves plenty of room for the pictures which are mostly action shots from games.
You can find sets, including all three regional subsets, for around $70.
This set of 172 cards is full of the stars of the 1980s and the early cards of those who would be the stars of the 1990s. Jordan, Bird, Drexler, Erving, Stockton, Wilkins, Barkley, Magic, many of the all-time greats have cards and it’s home to the first NBA card of Patrick Ewing.
Topps had given up on the NBA and Fleer was a year away when Star released the last of their three big NBA sets. 1985-86 Star continued with their usual design of the set name and year in the top right and the team logo in the bottom left corner, with a large picture on the front and the back containing player information.
A complete set, which included a BGS 9 Jordan, sold recently on eBay for $900. A BGS 9 Jordan all by itself sold for $450, so he is a large part of the value of 1985-86 Star. BGS 9 Ewing rookies have sold for between $160 and $230. Team collectors can save money by just buying the sealed bag for their team. Rockets and 76ers have been sold for $31 and Celtics have been around $35. Celtics fans have twice as many cards to find than collectors of other teams do as the Boston cards were made with both green and white borders. A lot of teams can be found for under $20.
Considering the small quantity of these produced, this set provides excellent value if you love 1980s hoops.
A similar checklist of players to the landmark inaugural Fleer release of 1986, but collectors can purchase it for a much lower price. Jordan, Kareem, Bird, Erving, Magic, Wilkins and Ewing all have cards in this set.
Complete sets of 1987-88 Fleer sell for around $250, and when collectors do go looking for a set to buy they should look for one that also has the 11 stickers included.
In stark contrast to his rookie, a 1987-88 Fleer BGS 9.5 Michael Jordan will usually cost at least $1,000. It’s hard to imagine Jordan cards falling in price and his second Fleer issue is a nice one to own.
In this list of underrated sets, the rookies in 1987-88 Fleer, although some did have Star Company cards, are under-appreciated for what they did on the basketball court. John Paxson, Ron Harper and A.C. Green all own a bucket full of championship rings, and Green set the record for consecutive games played.
Brad Daugherty, Detlef Schrempf, Terry Porter and Dale Ellis were All-Star players. The set also has rookie cards of #122 John Williams and #123 John Williams, with #122 being the Washington Bullet and #123 being “Hot Rod” John Williams of the Cavs.
The card design just has statistics on the back while the front stands out from other Fleer releases by having the team name in large letters along the top and printed in the team colors. Fleer was also finding action pictures from different angles, as Green is pictured from directly above and Tom Chambers may have been photographed from behind the backboard. The Dominique Wilkins card is photographed from below along the baseline and shows him flying to the basket after getting past the defenders of the Clippers.
1987-88 Fleer is available, but not common and there is plenty of interest among basketball collectors.
You can search for basketball cards by year on eBay via this link.