It may be hard for today’s fans to understand in a world where every great college player has a lengthy highlight reel but there was still a bit of a mystery surrounding the NBA’s most anticipated prospect back in 1970. Only a few of his college games had been televised nationally. Pro scouts could only guess as to his impact on the league. The interest and value of the 1970-71 Topps Pete Maravich rookie card tells us he did just fine.
There is only one Maravich rookie graded 10 by PSA. It sold for $18,000 in 2007 but there are 69 PSA 9 cards and seven SGC 92 examples. They do come up for sale on occasion with recent prices between $2,500 and $3,000. For the budget minded, a near mint, graded example will generally be in the $250-300 range with ungraded versions in decent shape available for $50-100.
Although much of its value is still tied to his legendary college career, the Maravich rookie card is one of the most important to ever come out of a basketball pack. What makes so many people interested in the Pistol, even 44 years later, is the combination of unique skills, record-setting statistics, highlight plays and how he learned about the game of basketball and then reinvented it. As a child he was dribbling the basketball when he rode a bicycle or was a passenger in a car, and it is unique stories like that which have made Maravich someone fans want to learn about and collect. He had all the fundamental skills but combined that with a unique flair, able to hit a 30-foot hook shot or make amazing behind the back passes fans had never seen before.
Maravich’s NBA rookie card shows him holding a basketball with a still youthful look compared to later in his NBA career when a mustache added some jazz to his appearance. For the second straight year, Topps basketball cards were larger than a standard sports card and it does make the Maravich card really stand out when it is placed next to others in a display.
The back of the card paints a pretty good picture of how big his college career was. “The most prolific scorer in the history of college basketball, Pete broke the record for most points scored in a career formerly held by Oscar Robertson and became the first to top the 3,000 point mark. A unanimous All-American and the nation’s leading scorer the past three seasons, he bettered the 50-point mark 26 different times in his varsity career”.
Maravich, who would have turned 68 next month, was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with a pick originally traded from the San Francisco Warriors. He was the third pick in a draft that produced 12 future NBA All-Stars. He played four seasons and averaged 24.3 points for the Hawks and was then traded to his hometown New Orleans Jazz where he led the NBA in scoring in 1976-77 with 31.1 points per game. Injuries and a relocation of the team to Utah would see his time with the Jazz end during the 1979-80 season and Maravich would finish his career with the Boston Celtics that season.
In his book titled Dr. J: The Autobiography, Julius Erving wrote that “Pete Maravich is the most skilled basketball player I’ve ever seen. Pete has all of the Globetrotters moves, but he can do them at unimaginable speeds. He’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever played with.” If Maravich could amaze someone like Erving, one of the most athletic and high-scoring players of all time, it’s obvious to anyone why he made the 1990s list of 50 all-time greatest NBA players.
The 1970-71 Topps basketball set also has cards of those who were the superstar veterans of the time. Lew Alcindor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek and Oscar Robertson are all in the set of 175 cards but the Pete Maravich rookie card is the card to have from 1970-71 Topps, and one of the top basketball cards ever made. A collection of cards featuring the greatest, most impactful players in basketball history is simply incomplete without it.
See Maravich rookie cards on eBay here.