When Topps released its first basketball set in the fall of 1956, the NBA had just inaugurated its MVP award by naming a third year pro from the St. Louis Hawks as the 1955-56 winner. Making sure Bob Pettit was in the set was a no-brainer.
Selected second overall in the 1954 NBA draft, Pettit lived up to expectations. Owner of a second MVP award in 1959, he is best known for being the first NBA player to surpass the 20,000 point mark and he is third all-time on the rebounds per game list—behind only legends Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. In fact, Pettit’s 1958 Hawks were the only team to go head-to-head against Russell’s Celtics in the NBA Finals and win a championship. His All-Star Game performances were legendary and he was named the game’s MVP four times, leading some current commentators to suggest the top All-Star honor be permanently named after him.
Pettit, still alive and well at 82, was an easy choice for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in the early 1970s.
Despite being one of the best players in his generation, Pettit did not play in an era when basketball cards were as prevalent as they are today. When Topps got a license to print basketball cards in 1957, he was featured on cardboard for the first time on what is considered his rookie card, although he already had a few years under the belt of those famous satin shorts.
The 1957-1958 Topps basketball set is colorful but photographic limitations of the time meant dark backgrounds on photos and any imperfection stands out that much more. Finding a Pettit rookie card (#24) in high grade is a tough task, even though the card was double printed in comparison to others in the set. Out of the nearly 450 cards graded by PSA, only one has been rated 9 (mint). That particular card is valued at $2,900 while a PSA 8 sold for $480 in 2013 and a near mint ‘7’ can be had for around $250. If condition isn’t that important, you can land a decent one for $100 or so.
Playing 11 years in his NBA career, Pettit was only featured in one other major set, the 1961-1962 Fleer edition. This time around, he was on two different cards (#34 and #59). Neither is very expensive. While the ‘In Action’ card (#59) is usually quite a bit cheaper, you can buy decent copies of both for under $75. Finding either card in higher grades is a litle tough because of centering issues and the usual wear that often comes with vintage cards. Pettit’s regular card graded 9 by PSA reached over $1,500 at auction because so few exist in perfect shape, but chances are the one in your closet isn’t nearly as nice.
Pettit was also featured on some other sets during his playing days including the 1959-60 Busch Bavarian Beer and 1960 Post Cereal. The latter, which made up the back of a Grape Nuts box, is scarce and sells for hundreds of dollars without creasing or other significant wear.
While he’s appeared on modern issues featuring past greats, Pettit doesn’t have many certified autographed cards in the market–none since 2008-09 according to Beckett Media and amazingly, many sell for under $20 when available.
Options are limited in terms of cardboard but when collectors are looking to collect old-time players, they often turn to the next best thing—programs and autographs.
Over the years, Pettit was featured on a number of programs and scorecards sold before, during and after St. Louis Hawks games. The average program depicting Pettit typically sells for around $30 on eBay.
A higher end option that some collectors might are the programs from his MVP season, the 1958 NBA Finals or any of the All-Star games in which he appeared, but all are fairly rare.
You can see all of Bob Pettit’s cards and memorabilia on eBay here.