You could buy almost as many boxes as you desired for a few dollars after it was released but in the 35 years that have passed , 1980-81 Topps Basketball cards have become a hot property. Well, one of them anyway.
The set is known for its unique, three-player perforated panel design that put Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on the same card. The Bird-Johnson rookie card (which includes Julius Erving Team Leader for good measure) has become one of the most sought after cards in the hobby thanks to their stellar careers. It’s proven a little elusive in high-grade thanks to centering issues, the occasional print dot or two and a pesky blank print line that sometimes shows up. In January, one had sold for $27,000.
The quirky nature of the 1980-81 set put 264 different players on 176 different panels. Bird and Johnson appear paired with other players in addition to each other and those cards are far less expensive than the one that contains both.
1980-81 Topps Basketball cards were sold in 25 cent packs with eight cards and a foldout team poster in each pack. There were only 17 posters issued with several teams being left out of the mix for some reason.
Beyond Bird and Johnson, the ’80-81 set is light on great rookie cards but you will find the first cardboard for Bill Cartwright, Maurice Cheeks, Michael Cooper, Sidney Moncrief and Tree Rollins, among others.
The set is also known as the final appearance of Pete Maravich on a card as an active player. The Pistol, then a member of the Boston Celtics, is on two cards.
Among the toughest panels to find in high-grade are
- Assist Ldrs: Bristow-Olberding-Bailey
- Rebound Ldrs: May-Washington-Bibby
While the quality of the Bird-Magic rookie card will determine the price of a full set, expect to pay an average of around $500 for one that has an ungraded rookie that looks good without being a candidate for a professional grade of NM or better. However, buying a set with a graded Bird-Magic rookie card—even a 6 or 7—might be the smart move.
Uncut sheets can be found. In fact, Lelands sold what may have been the mother lode in 2011—a collection of 60 uncut sheets containing 30 complete sets. The lot realized $17,569.
You can see all 1980-81 Topps basketball on eBay here.