Pistol Pete, Clyde, Mr. Clutch and the Captain were back in the spotlight on Thursday, along with several other NBA greats.
Talk about Tall Boy heaven. A gem mint Pete Maravich rookie card from the 1970 Topps basketball set sold for $552,000 at PWCC Marketplace’s Vintage Premier Auction. Card No. 123 of the Tall Boys set is one of only two graded PSA 10 cards of Pistol Pete, and Thursday’s sale made it the most expensive Maravich card ever sold.
It is also the fifth-highest price ever paid for a pre-1980 basketball card. That topped the price paid for the Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) rookie card from the inaugural 1969-70 Topps basketball set. The Alcindor card fetched $501,900 in 2016.
There have been 3,818 cards of Maravich graded by PSA, and one of the gem mint cards was the featured attraction of the trading marketplace website.
The Maravich card was one of several PSA 10 offerings that sold during the PWCC auction. Gem-mint specimens of some of the NBA’s greats were few in the oversized sets.
In fact, the PSA 10s of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Nate Thurmond and West Unseld were the only gem mint cards from the 1969 set.
The sets brought Topps back into the basketball card market for the first time since the 1957-58 season. What set these cards apart was their unusual size, first used in 1964 Topps hockey and again in the 1965 Topps football set. The sets from 1969 and 1970 measured 2½ inches by 4 11/16 inches.
Maravich’s card was not the only one to create a buzz during the PWCC auction. Here is a look at some of the six-figure sales.
According to PWCC, it is the seven-time All-Star’s highest-selling card.
Only 1,484 of Frazier’s No. 98 card — the next-to-last card in the set — have been submitted to PSA for grading, and high-grade examples are scarce. There are only 18 cards that earned a PSA 9 grade.
The 1969 Topps set is quirky because of the backward jerseys depicted in the photographs. There had been some hesitation from some NBA teams to show their team logos, since they believed they were not being properly compensated.
So, players were shown either with their backward jerseys or in warmups.
As Nick Curran, who was the NBA’s public relations director in 1969, told Sports Collectors Daily in 2016 that basketball card collectors did not care about the awkward presentation.
“Very few fans noticed,” Curran said. “More people were interested in the faces of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was known as Lew Alcindor at the time, and Wilt Chamberlain, who was card No. 1 in the set. The shape of the card was designed to attract fans too.
“The novelty and newness of it all made it work.”
In addition to Frazier, a 1969 Topps rookie card of his teammate, center Willis Reed, sold for $150,000 at the PWCC auction. Card No. 60 was also a PSA 10 and the only gem-mint card of The Captain out of 1,257 submissions.
Like Frazier, Thursday’s sale pulled down the highest number for a Reed card.
Note the backward jersey with his name emblazoned across his chest.
Oscar Robertson also had just one PSA 10 card in the 1969 set, and that version of card No. 60 sold for $186,000 in the PWCC auction. To find this card in top grade is also difficult, as only 15 reached PSA 9 status.
Like the other cards, the one sold by PWCC marks the most paid for a Robertson card.
It also has an awkward appearance, with Robertson’s large No. 14 — which he wore on his back — dominating his jersey.
Similarly, Jerry West’s 1969 Topps PSA 10 card, at $180,000, is the highest paid for a card of the Los Angeles Lakers great.
Out of the 1,698 cards submitted to PSA, only one card was deemed gem mint and 18 others received PSA 9 grades.
The player who would become the template for the NBA’s logo appears to be wearing a white shirt in his card.
Two more rookies cards from the 1960 Topps set fetched prices in the six-figure range.
Nate Thurmond (card No. 10) sold for $114,000 to become the center’s most valuable card to date.
The solo PSA 10 card was the top one of 965 submissions to the grading company. Only 30 other cards rose as high as PSA 9.
The card was among 1,132 submitted to PSA for grading. Only 21 other cards achieved PSA 9 grades.