Monday, October 22, 2018

The Basketball card Diaries

I am in the process of adding every single card in my collection to the Trading Card Database. With any luck, this project will be completed by the end of 2018. I'm starting with the sport I have the least amount of cards: basketball. 

Instead of advertising when this project is complete, I thought I'd share some of my random thoughts about my initial experience with TCDB, the cards I have to trade, and the cards I want to keep (or acquire.) And so, here is the first installment of...

I've actually never seen this film. Is it good? Would you recommend?

Let me start by acknowledging that thousands of basketball cards were issued before 1986. Some of them are pretty fantastic, and if I had unlimited funds and unlimited time I would definitely add a few dozen key cards to my collection. 

But one way to (slightly) narrow my card collecting focus is to bypass any issues that were before my time. It's an unwritten and not-always enforced rule I've made for every sport -- except baseball, of course. 

It's very easy to follow this rule with basketball. I don't consider myself an expert on the players or teams (or even card sets) of the pre-MJ era, and with all due respect to the Star sets of the early-mid 1980's I feel like the rebirth of Fleer in 1986-87 is a good place to start my wantlist.

On second thought, since I don't have any 1986-87 Fleer cards in my collection and the cost of adding them outweighs my interest in them (except maybe the Olajuwon RC), I'm starting with the year after - and the year before the year I bought my first basketball cards - 1987-88.

The two oldest cards in my star box are of HOFer Moses Malone. 

  • In order to ensure that every single card was added to the Database I had to remove the commons from my base card binders, merge them with my traders, and sort them chronologically (to the best of my knowledge). Then I added the star player base cards and any RCs/inserts/parallels the pile. This disturbs the uniformity of my collection - all of my base cards are in binders - but it might prove to be a good way to keep an entire sport in one place (I don't have any favorite basketball players/teams, and very few singles worth over $10) while also freeing up the binder pages for other collections.

It took me a moment to figure out the options I had when marking each card in my TCDB collection; it's very convenient to assign a card to your collection, trade/sell list, or wantlist. Since the first Fleer sets are small I decided to flip through each card and add a few to my wantlist.

In some ways, 1987-88 Fleer cards look like they could have been from the late 1970s. A lot of the photos are too close-up, the backgrounds are too dark, and the colors are kinda off. The old Clippers and Kings uniforms are interesting to me, though. And I found myself pausing at names I'd only known from the back panel of a Starting Lineup figure: Steve Stipanovich. Alton Lister*. David Greenwood.

When I started adding cards to my want list I got a bit of sticker shock. Then I realized a lot of the cards I wanted were second-year issues of legendary players. (Not MJ though. I couldn't afford his Fleer cards if I wanted to.)

 *Actually, Lister never had an SLU. I'm not sure how I know his name.

It took about two minutes to go through 1988-89 Fleer - a set I'm passively collecting. I added the few singles in my box and clicked "add all missing cards in this set to wantlist" (love this feature, btw) Boom. Done. Except...I have graded cards for this set. 

At some point I'll have to figure out how to add these to my collection and specify their slabbiness. (Is that a word? If not, it is now.)

The "add all missing cards in this set to wantlist" feature is now determining which sets I attempt to complete. A few years back I bought a discounted box of 1989-90 Hoops and ended up at least 50 cards short of the full set. These cards brought back great memories for me, but I didn't feel like finishing the set was worth the time and money. I thought I'd broken up a good chunk of it, but according to the TCDB meter I still have over 61% of it.

Wait a second...there were short prints in that set?! No wonder some of these cards do not look familiar to me. At least they're all obscure bench warmers that Hoops probably figured no one would miss. (Unlike Topps, who blatantly SPs many of the best players.)

Almost Immediately after adding these overproduction-era commons to my wantlist I got my first trade offer. Having added all of my 2015-16 Donruss dupes to my tradelist before creating a wantlist gave me some inventory to offer. I'm now sending six superstars to Sweden in exchange for a chunk of '89-90 Hoops singles - some of which I shipped off to Roy (Bulldog) a couple of weeks ago. Easy come, easy go.

  • Once I got into the 1990s it was a lot more time-consuming to flip through every card and decide if I should add it to my wantlist. I gravitated toward star players I liked, interesting photos, and defunct teams like the Sonics and (original) Hornets. Most of my commons got posted to the "for sale/trade" list, not because I expect to exchange Vernon Maxwell cards for Karl Malone cards, but as a way to help out any set builders out there. So far I've only been notified of one match: someone needs two of my 1991-92 Upper Deck singles. 

1991-92 Skybox is one of my favorite 'old school' basketball sets. Your definition of 'old school' may vary, but for me I was quite literally in school at the time. However I decided against going for the set because it is Huge. Instead I'm focusing on '92-93 and '93-94 Fleer Ultra. Again, I had not planned on doing so before the TCDB project began. But I s'pose I need something to acquire - in case no one wants to part with their Reggie Miller or Hakeem Olajuwon cards. Also, I'm adding a lot of team logo and checklist art cards to my wants. Obscure players are tempting me, as are UConn alums, but I'm holding off on those for now.

The early nineties color wheel - all on one card

I have to say that whatever concerns I had about once again reshuffling my cards from the binders to the box are mitigated by the convenience of having a list on TCDB. That will save me from having to pluck them out of the boxes unless I'm shipping them off in a trade or I mistakenly identify the year of a card - which happens a lot with inserts and unnumbered special cards. Also I learned that some of the cards I had were from either a McDonald's set I was unaware of, or an Italian version of a base Upper Deck set. 

Some other observations:

  • Michael Jordan insert cards are expensive AF. I kinda knew they would be but...damn.
  • There are very few rookie cards from 1990-94 that interest me. Maybe a Shaq Topps RC (which the store I worked in was selling for like $25 at the time of its release) ..or this:

1990-91 Hoops was a huge part of my childhood, but this is the only card I want back. I can't explain why.

  • I have too many Chris Dudley cards. Seriously, take them off my hands. My Connecticut collection can survive without Brett Kavanugh's drinking buddy.
  • I have too many B.J. Armstrong cards. He appears in my collection more frequently than any non-HOFer except Otis Thorpe. But I liked Otis and the Rockets, so that's understandable. Less understandable is why I can't stop pronouncing his name like I'm Denis Lemieux in Slap Shot.

I hope you enjoyed the first installment of The Basketball Card Diaries. I'll have another entry up once I finish the '90s..which I plan to do during the World Series. Did you know Mookie Betts was named after basketball player Mookie Blaylock and not baseball player Mookie Wilson?

For you non-NBA fans you can bet that my next post will be about baseball.  ;-)


  1. Basketball was the first sport I entered in its entirety as well! I'll check if we have any trade possibilities.

    Did you know Pearl Jam's band name used to be Mookie Blaylock?

    1. I did know that..I dont know why he was such a fan favorite though.

  2. What is your TCDB name? I don’t think I have you on my friends list.

    1. I'm hockeydude on TCDB. Didn't want to use "The Collector" name in case I change jobs, or come across as a pompous jerk.

  3. There was a time when basketball cards outnumbered baseball cards in my collection. But I lost interest after the whole super-team era. I still have all my stuff. Every now and then, I'll dig through it to see what I have. It's pretty amazing how much people will pay for base rookie cards of the superstars.

    1. I do kind of feel like the regular season is a huge waste of time, and that the superstars were more spread out in the 90s. I'll probably end up adding more NBA cards from 20 years ago than today, and they will likely be cheap base/inserts. Good RCs are too expensive!

  4. Apparently I'm the only one who can't figure out how to use the TCDB!

    I wasn't a fan of The Basketball Diaries, so that usually means that everyone else liked it, i.e. you probably would too.

    Jordan cards are so expensive because there are a lot of Asian and European collectors who are under the false impression that MJ is the greatest player of all time. Before there was eBay, it was hard for said collectors to get ahold of his cards, and now that they can... no price seems to be too high!

  5. I haven't figured out very much on TCDB yet, either. Billy Kingsley is an expert on the site, so if you need any help he's the guy to ask.

    I don't know if you and I like similar films (I have a feeling we might) but I rarely like what everyone else does. In fact I've been thinking of asking you to hunt for a couple old movies I cant seem to find, next time you're out thrifting.

    "the false impression that MJ is the greatest player of all time" OMG, thank you for saying this! I thought I was the only one that disagreed with this popular opinion. Though I can't think of who it is if it isn't MJ, it's hard for me to accept that a player who is not the all-time leading scorer in his sport can be the GOAT.

    1. Nobody has ever asked me to seek out any movies for them, and I would consider to be a great honor to do so! If all goes well, I should be hitting up three different thrift stores in the next two weeks, so if want to let me know what it is that you're interested in (either here or via email), and which format you prefer, I will certainly keep an eye out for them.

      Oh, and for my money, Bill Russell is the GOAT (#2 would be Kareem).

    2. I'll e-mail you tomorrow :)

  6. Great right up man really enjoyed it. Im FRSHIZL on TCDB.

    1. Right on..nice to meet you. I'll see you on TCDB!

  7. Tons of great basketball cards there. It's always fun to see others who enjoy basketball cards of days past like I do. Entering my cards in the database is such a pipe dream so good on you for doing it. Fun post and I enjoy seeing your thoughts on each set. And 91-92 Skybox was a set I really like as well. Good stuff.

    1. Thanks! I hope you'll like my next entry of "Diaries", it's been fun to re-discover the old sets and cards I collected as a kid. Not sure what I'll have to say about sets from the early 2000s though. Those will be brand new to me.

  8. Good luck with it all. Putting my collection in the TCDB is a goal of mine someday. Excited to read your future posts too.