Topps tried everything to get people interested in basketball cards during the tail end of what had been a decade-long deal with the NBA during the 1970s. In 1980, they went with a poorly received concept that put three players, separated by perforations, on a single card. In 1981-82, they created three different mini sets for the east, middle and western sections of the country to put more “local” flavor in their packs.
None of it apparently worked as Topps exited the basketball card business until the 1990s when fan and collector interest in pro hoops meshed perfectly.
In this edition of Vintage Pack Facts from Vintage Breaks, we look back at the packaging for that final release in the early 1980s.
- There was nothing on Topps’ packaging to indicate it was creating a “National” and “Regional” product. The main set had 66 cards and Topps then added three 44-card regional subsets to complete a 198-card base set. The subsets were labeled East, Midwest and West and were numbered from 67 to 110, with a regional designation next to the card number.
- Vending cases, packed with the usual 24 boxes of 500 cards, contained only National cards so there were plenty of players from the 66-card base offering. With good collation, a dealer would get 170-180 of each player.
- Wax boxes held 36 packs with 13 cards per pack at a cost of 30 cents. There were 20 boxes per case.
- The players pictured on the front of the box are Hall of Famer Bob Dandridge of the Washington Bullets and Roger Phegley, the 1977 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year at Bradley who spent several years in the NBA and has an insurance business in Peoria, IL. Phegley hadn’t played for the Nets since the 1979-80 season.
- Side panel variations on the wrappers included promotions for Topps confections such as Bazooka and Ring Pops.
- Topps hadn’t produced much in the way of cello or rack packs for basketball all along so to no one’s surprise, they weren’t issued in 1981-82 either.
- Unopened cases of 1981-82 Topps Basketball are rare today. In March of 2021, a wax case sold through Goldin Auctions for $104,550.
- In 2018, a vending box sold through Collect Auctions for $643–a bargain considering what it would go for today.
- More Vintage Pack Facts after the gallery….
- Topps did apparently offer some dealers cut cases (loose cards packed in a case) at the end of the season. One of them sold for $650 back in 2011.
- Unopened wax boxes are available online starting at $4,600.
- Buyers could reasonably expect 60 second year cards each of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and 60 Johnson “Super Action” cards from a wax case.
You can participate in a pack, box, or set break anytime at VintageBreaks.com which offers a variety of options across all years and sports.