Over a decade ago, Brent Slavik began a journey that will lead him to completing one of the most difficult, important and valuable modern basketball sets on the planet.
Through sheer determination and foresight, his 220-card set that has stood alone atop the PSA Set Registry since 2017.
Slavik’s inspiration to start this monumental undertaking comes as no surprise, as one of the most important and impactful rookie cards of the modern era finds its home in the rookie heavy set.
“The reason why is the Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Refractor PSA 10,” Slavik told SC Daily. “That was the first card I got in the set as a 10. I traded a Beckett 9.5 Topps Chrome Kobe Refractor for the PSA 10 and I threw some other cards in there with a value around $500, all Kobe rookies. The guy had three PSA 10s. He was a season ticket holder for the Los Angeles Lakers. This was back in 2009. I have about $2,000 into the card. I looked at it, held it and my hands were shaking. It was like holding a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. This is the card I always wanted as a child (but) I didn’t have the money. I told the guy that it was going to be a $10,000 card someday. The guy said at the time that there were too many 10s. There were about 60 at the time.”
A few years later, there are still only 63 but Slavik has seen the value soar well beyond his prediction. “Over time it has gone through the roof.”
The set is home to some of the best rookies of the generation with some of those Refractors bringing staggering dollar figures today. “The Kerry Kittles and the Stephon Marbury PSA 10 RCs were the toughest,” Slavik recalled. “I started picking up the PSA 10 rookies. I picked up the Ray Allen. There are only two PSA 10s. It’s the hardest rookie card in the set to get. I bought it for $1,800. I saw the second one listed on PWCC for $250,000.”
As is the case with building any graded set, some of the key star and rookie cards will put the biggest dent in your wallet but some of the more common or obscure players can be some of the most elusive–and expensive. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Basketball is no different as it offers its own group of “commons” that are anything but.
“I have the Allen Iverson PSA 10 Chrome Refractor,” Slavik said. “I have the Kerry Kittles PSA 10. I have the Marcus Camby PSA 10 one of one. I have the Stephon Marbury PSA 10. I have the Christian Laettner PSA 10 that is a pop one. The cards at the beginning and the end of the set are difficult. Christian Laettner is considered a common in the set but it is one of the hardest. When the cards were cut it is always off center. They also have a diamond tilt. The first six or seven cards in the set have that diamond tilt or they are always off center. The Patrick Ewing is difficult. The Chicago Bulls (72 wins) card is very difficult in a PSA 10. There are only two of those. I have one of them. People thought I was crazy when I paid $1,000 for it. I have had these cards for over ten years. They are in a safety deposit box.”
Timing, foresight and good fortune played a role in Slavik’s set build as he got in the game early and was able to snag some packs and boxes at what are now considered bargain basement prices. “1996 was the key year.” he said. “It was the first year the product came out. I bought my first box and it was $90 per box. I got two Refractors.”
The popularity of the product saw boxes quickly climb closer to $1,000. In that moment, he realized how difficult it could eventually be to piece together a complete Refractor run. He had to come up with a plan. “I realized that if you only get two Refractors per box there are only about 750 made of each. I knew eventually the rich guys would want to build a set. I started the set out by buying 9s. I sent some back to PSA and they got bumped up to 10s. I would buy the nicest four or five 9s of Joe Kleine and send them all in and I would get one 10 back. I cracked and sent in an 8 Dennis Rodman and it came back a 10. At the time, ten years ago, it was a two to three week turnaround if you paid $20 a card you could have it back right away. I was picking up ungraded cards and piecing the set together.
“There are so many cards in the set that are pop 1 Gem Mint 10s because of the surface scratching, the refractor lines and centering that there won’t be many 10s of these particular cards. The prices will continue to go up. I think, long term, this will be a multi-million dollar set that I have. It’s probably around a million dollar set right now. They aren’t even giving out tens on this set anymore.”
The thrill is often in the chase and Slavik says he just wants to show fellow collectors that anything is possible with knowledge and the right amount of effort.
“I’ve been collecting since 1997. Through sheer determination and skill you can make $50-60K a year and you can build a masterpiece like this. Just holding those rare cards, the longer you hold them, they are only going to go up in value. I am the only one who has close to a ten overall rating on this set. What I wanted to emphasize to collectors is that there are some big money guys, they are like the Elon Musk of the collecting world, and they are wondering who is this Brent Slavik guy?
“I’m right here at the top.”