I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t hop on the Panini bandwagon at first. Topps had an excellent final release and Upper Deck’s last hoops set had some fun inserts. The design of the first few Panini sets didn’t do it for me. They love to design cards with space for jersey swatches in mind and that drives me crazy. It’s better than swatches covering players, but all-new designs would be ideal.
I think one of the reasons that collectors get bored with the hobby is that you can only do so much with the same gimmicks every year. Yes, pulling a Larry Bird jersey card is cool, but when there are Larry Bird jersey cards year after year it gets a little dull. I pulled a Michael Jordan jersey card out of 2007-08 Fleer Ultra and threw it up on eBay immediately because there wasn’t anything special about the card. It didn’t sell for what you would think a jersey card of the best player ever would go for since there are tons of Jordan jersey cards out there. Eventually, the market gets saturated and the only people buying the 1,000th Jordan jersey card are the completists out there.
That’s why when something new to the hobby comes along, people go nuts over it. Topps’ hat logo cards may not be game used, but they are well designed, look great and have low print runs. That’s why they are selling for more than a lot of the plain jersey cards of the same players. If Topps is doing the same thing for 10 years in a row, they will no longer sell for a premium, but this year they were something new.
Panini hit the jackpot with one of the subjects of their Blast from the Past jersey set. Reggie Lewis was an athlete that Boston loved for more than his play on the court. Lewis was constantly giving back to the community. His loss was felt by the Celtics for years after his death, but as a person he’s still missed. Lewis was on the verge of becoming a superstar in the league at the time of his passing. Considered by many players to be the toughest defender at his position, he regularly shut down players like Jordan and Reggie. No other player has ever blocked Michael Jordan 4 times in one game:
Lewis was also the only Celtic in the history of the franchise to finish a season with more than 100 rebounds, blocks, steals and assists during the 1991-92 campaign which was the best of his career. This feat is something that LeBron James has yet to do although he came close in 08-09 when he fell short by seven blocks. Kobe hasn’t even come close. Magic and Bird never did it. Jordan only did it twice. Scotty Pippen did it once. Kevin Garnett did it eight times, Dr. J eight times, David Robinson seven times, Ben Wallace seven, Shawn Marion five times, Chris Webber four, Shawn Kemp three times, Josh Smith three, Karl Malone once and Rasheed Wallace once. Dwyane Wade has done it and was the first player to have 2,000 points, 500 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocks in a season (along with just under 400 rebounds). Hakeem Olajuwon just might be the career leader on this list accomplishing this feat 12 times. I tried to find a definitive list of players who have achieved this feat, but my Google-Fu failed me. Of course, this excludes any seasons before 1973 since steals and blocks weren’t tallied before then. Bill Russell comes to mind right away as a Celtic that might join Lewis on this list if those stats were tracked back then.
Let me reel in my tangent before it gets out of control. Panini Classics Basketball has both a jersey card and patch card of Reggie Lewis and these cards have turned out to be extremely popular. These are the only jersey cards ever produced of Lewis since he played before jersey and autograph cards were staples in packs. The only Lewis autograph card in existence is a cut auto with Dennis Johnson with a print run of one. A Reggie patch card numbered to 30 just sold on eBay for $119.50. When is the last time that you saw a basketball patch card like this one sell for that amount of money without the names Jordan, Kobe or LeBron on it? Even the plain white jersey swatches are selling well with this one numbered to 199 closing at $20.50. Imagine if you could see every single color jersey swatch that you pulled out of a box of cards for $20. What a great world it would be.
I wish that there was more of this in new card releases. Whether it’s the inclusion of Negro League autographs in Allen & Ginter or players who haven’t already had mountains of insert cards produced, it’s going to take more innovation and freshness in releases to keep collectors interested now that the number of products being released is down due to exclusives.