Card collecting always evolves. Every generation has a different way of determining which cards are the ones to have. In the past, nothing was as exceptional as a complete set. But times have changed, and as collectors focus on rarer inserts it leaves many unwanted common cards. That can provide an opportunity for collectors who aren’t hung up on the autographs, relics and parallels to acquire cheap basketball card sets that offer a nice representation of the NBA during a particular season.
A collector can buy sets that have already been completed, open a few low-priced boxes and do it the old-fashioned way or even buy factory sets that were issued for some products. You can consider sets that were considered game-changers when they first appeared or those that represent a famous year in the NBA or maybe those that are filled with great rookie classes.
Vintage basketball cards and sets were very inexpensive back in the 1970s and 80s but began to rise as Michael Jordan propelled the league to new heights. Card sets in the late 1970s and early 1980s remain very affordable, except for the 1980-81 set that has the Bird-Magic rookie card that also features Julius Erving.
When Upper Deck entered the world of basketball cards they took the hobby to another level. It must have been a simpler time as people were amazed by the little Upper Deck hologram on the back of each card. There are 500 cards in the 1991-92 set, for Series 1 and Series 2, and while it took opening many packs back then to complete the set they are nearly given away now. With so many cards in the set, which was usual for those times, a collector will learn a lot about the NBA and the teams that were challenging the Bulls for supremacy of the league during Michael Jordan’s prime. Factory and hand-collated sets can be had for under $10.
When 1993-94 Topps Finest appeared it was just as big for collectors as when Exquisite arrived a decade later. There are some who focus on the sometimes pricey Refractors to have a complete set but the more affordable base set is also worth pursuing. There are 220 cards and some of the rookies include Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber and Toni Kukoc. Bird and Jordan also have cards in the set although they were not on NBA courts that year. Complete sets are under $35 with Refractor sets of 220 cards usually going for $700 and up.
1996-97 E-X2000 is one of the smaller sets from the year that Kobe and other stars of the day made their NBA debut. The base set is only 82 cards but it includes a design unlike any other up to that time with a sort of clear background for the player picture. Some of the rookies with cards in the E-X2000 set are Bryant, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury. Some of the veteran superstars are Jordan, Pippen, Kemp, Payton, Hardaway and Dennis Rodman. Complete sets usually sell for $60-100.
Upper Deck collectors will want to consider their last NBA set (at least for the time being), which was produced
You’ll find Blake Griffin and Stephen Curry have rookie cards in the set. Many of the photographs are action shots with players attacking the basket. James’ card shows him about to score two with a two-handed dunk and the Kevin Durant card with a picture from above shows him about to slam it down.
2012-13 Totally Certified is a recent set to consider. Produced the year after the lockout, it was issued during the year of the ‘double rookie class’. Some collectors open Certified products to find the low-numbered parallel cards, especially the Green and Gold, so there are plenty of common cards around for those who prefer the basics.
Another cheap set from the present to consider is Prizm. The chrome look of the base cards has proven popular and although collectors and flippers go through plenty of packs looking for the Prizm parallels in their many different colors, the base set has a high-end look to it because of the Prizm technology. Fans with an appreciation for the past and present like that Prizm sets contain a mix of stars, rookies and retired players. The 2013-14 set had a diverse checklist of players that included LeBron James and Kevin Love, rookie cards of Michael Carter-Williams and Kelly Olynyk and retired legends Larry Bird and Scottie Pippen and even little Muggsy Bogues and very tall Manute Bol. Base sets are often available on eBay for under $50.