He was one of the best college players of all-time. He put an underdog Portland team on his back and upset Dr. J and the 76ers for the NBA championship. He later put years of injuries behind him to win another championship, in Boston, as well as the 6th Man Award. Years after his career ended, the man who once had a stuttering problem became one of the most insightful—and eccentric—commentators in basketball history. Before his son Luke takes over the spotlight completely, let’s take a look back at some of the best and most interesting Bill Walton basketball cards.
His historic, but injury-interrupted, professional basketball career started in the NBA when he was picked first overall by Portland in 1974 after averaging 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds while shooting 65% for his college career at UCLA. A free spirit, even in the very free-spirited early 1970s, “Big Red” was a superstar, when healthy. He averaged a double-double as a rookie, was a great passer and a disruptive force in the paint. A member of the NBA’s All-Time 50 Greatest team, most Walton cards–even autographs from high-end current brands– are bargain priced.
Trading card companies have created more Walton cards during his retirement than they did when he was on NBA rosters. Through them, you can see how basketball cards–and Walton’s hair–have changed over the years.
Vintage Walton Cards
His rookie card is among the key elements in the 1974-75 Topps set. Card #39 is a posed photo that shows him with a far different look than he had while playing for straight arrow John Wooden at UCLA. On the back is a cartoon stating “Bill likes to go back-packing in the mountains.” There are only three PSA 10 Walton rookies, and in 2011 one was sold in a Memory Lane auction for $1,478. Graded 9s sell for $400-500 but nice, ungraded examples are easy to find at around $20-25.
Walton’s second year card in the 1975-76 set seems far less available, but near mint, ungraded examples can usually be found for around $10.
Topps created giant size basketball cards in 1976-77, a famous year in Walton’s career when he led the Trail Blazers to their first– and only– NBA championship. Walton was the NBA Finals MVP, averaging 18.5 points, 19 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.7 blocks. The card, showing Walton clad in the Blazers’ bright red uniform, calling for the ball with his headband, beard and knee braces prominent and Wes Unseld in the background, is classic Walton. Again, a check of eBay shows Walton to be insanely cheap. Ungraded examples are seldom more than $10-15 with graded NM/MT Walton cards sometimes going unsold at $25.
In 2008, Upper Deck Exquisite paired Walton and Erving in its ‘Finalists’ autographed insert numbered to 25. Despite the presence of two Hall of Famers, two of these sold for $82 and just over $122 not long ago.
In 1979, Walton migrated to the San Diego Clippers, a move that coincided with the down years of basketball card collecting and Walton’s injury problems that ruined several seasons. His 1980-81 Topps card shows him sitting on the bench (and runs only a few dollars–if that).
He appears as a Clipper on a few Star Company sets that seem undervalued today.
Going to Boston turned everything around for Walton and he showed fans he was still capable of playing at a superstar level. In the famous Boston Garden playoff game that season when Michael Jordan scored 63 points, Walton had 15 rebounds off the bench for the Celtics and he eventually earned a second NBA championship ring.
Walton became a regular in trading card sets after his playing days. His cards in Action Packed sets and the 1996 Topps Stars set take an extensive look at his Hall of Fame career. Signed cards appeared and were soon followed by Walton jersey cards.
1997-98 NBA Hoops Talkin’ Hoops is an insert set of 30 cards where Walton shows off his basketball knowledge. For the stars of the NBA at that time, Walton gives his scouting report and opinions, and also gets his picture on the bottom right corner of each card.
A different type of player and person, Walton also has some different cards to look for. His 2011 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions cards have a picture of Walton playing a piano. Walton’s 2008-09 UD Premier Premier Stitchings #PS-BW card features a manufactured patch, but a patch that is reminiscent of a swirly 1970s tie dye look.
Bill and Luke Walton appear together during Luke’s days as a player including a dual autograph card in SP a couple of years ago, in the 2008-09 Topps In the Genes insert and in the 2013-14 Panini Family Business subset.
Some of the best Walton cards are his most recent, from premium products like Flawless. For very modest prices, a collector can even find Walton cards with an autograph, or an autograph and patch from high-end products like Panini Flawless.
The 2013-14 Immaculate Hall of Fame Heroes autographed cards can be found at bargain prices, and include a big autograph signed in gold on a black background.