Sunday, July 11, 2021

NBAty nine

Let's fast forward a few years from the barren basketball card wasteland of 1982 to 1989 [cue Public Enemy's "Fight The Power"]  There are now two NBA sets to collect!

Fleer now faced competition from NBA Hoops, whose initial set was much bigger and more plentiful (at least in my observation.) Fleer had the brand recognition and the extra sticker-card, but they did not have a David Robinson rookie card. Hoops had two cards of the Admiral.

Aside from that one random pack of 1988-89 Fleer my dad brought home one day, my first real exposure to basketball cards was the 1989-90 Hoops set. A card shop near my house had the top stars sleeved and priced in a showcase - many were 50 cents each, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were probably a buck or more. I think Michael Jordan was $3 even back then.

I don't recall seeing any Fleer singles or packs for sale in 1989.

Earlier this year I finished the 1989-90 Fleer basketball set. The last card I needed was of course Michael Jordan. I had finished the 1989-90 Hoops set just before the pandemic. The last two cards I needed were the short-printed David Robinson RC and the Pistons championship variation. 

With both base sets and the 11-card Fleer All-Star Stickers set complete, I wondered if there were any other cards I needed to complete the run of 1989 NBA sets. It's not as easy as I thought:

1989-90 Fleer has three error cards - both John Williamses have wrong back variations and Gerald Wilkins has a tough variation that spells out "University of Tennessee" on the back.

1989-90 Hoops has six error cards, two checklists, 42 announcer cards.. and there's also a set of 100 Superstars with a yellow background - though TCDB lists that as a 1990 release. 

I decided to pass on building a master set of 1989-90 Hoops and instead focused on the 1999-00 Hoops Decade set.

This is a much smaller set at 180 cards. There are no expensive rookie cards, and Michael Jordan was in the middle of one of his five or six retirements so I don't have to worry about him. The only card that will cost more than a dollar is the Kobe Bryant base single.

Scrolling through TCDB I found that 19 players appeared in both the '89-90 Hoops set and the '99-00 Hoops Decade tribute. They are: Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Hersey Hawkins, Jeff Hornacek, Mark Jackson, Dan Majerle, Karl Malone, Danny Manning, Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, Charles Oakley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Scottie Pippen, Mitch Richmond, David Robinson, Detlef Schrempf, Rik Smits, John Stockton, and Rod Strickland.

I've got a Richmond and a Tim Duncan card incoming from Sporlots, which will leave me 81 cards short of completing the 1999-00 Hoops Decade set.

Panini didn't bother to produce a 20th anniversary Hoops set in 2019 so I came up with my own. Here's the entire 300-card checklist for 2019-20 NBA Hoops 20th Anniversary:


There is one more '89-adjacent basketball set to discuss. Fleer paid tribute to their 1989-90 set with 2002-03 Fleer Tradition, a 300-card set that includes two Michael Jordan cards and two Kobe Bryant cards. Also Yao Ming appears on three rookie cards for some reason.

The border colors are sharper but the background is blurry. The cards almost look photoshopped (and maybe they are?) One thing I do like about the '02-03 Fleer Tradition set is the color-matching backs:

Much better than that gross reddish-pinkish color on the backs of every 1989-90 Fleer card.

Just for fun I decided to cross-check both Fleer sets to see how many players appeared in 1989-90 and 2002-03. There are eight: Horace Grant, Mark Jackson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, and Rod Strickland. 

Six players appeared in both 1989-90 sets and 1999-00 Hoops Decade and 2002-03 Fleer Tradition. They are: Mark Jackson, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, and Rod Strickland (Grant wasn't included in Hoops Decade.)

In the early aughts it was still a fairly novel concept to give an old design a fresh coat of paint. Today, trading card companies - especially Topps and Upper Deck - recycle old designs so often that you have to wonder what they'll use as a "tribute" twenty years from now. I've started to avoid these cards whenever possible but there are designs that I don't mind seeing updated, such as 1985 Topps baseball and 1993 SP anything.

Do you have a favorite basketball card set design? Do you like or dislike "tribute" sets in general?

Thanks for reading, and LET'S GO SUNS!!!



  1. Those Fleer wrappers are great. Go Suns!

  2. 1989-90 Fleer is easily one of the top BK designs of all time for me.

  3. I'll probably get laughed at, but I like 1990-91 and 1991-92 Skybox.

    How many complete sets do you have and how / where do you store them?

  4. I've got a lot of these cards, I think. I should check the errors for you.

  5. Between 1989-90 Fleer and Hoops... I prefer the Hoops design. But between those two sets, I opened up more Fleer. I don't mind tribute sets, but it's kind of annoying how Topps is flooding the hobby with new cards using old designs. I personally feel like this is a perfect example of too much of a good thing.

  6. Great post. I'm not familiar with the Decade and Tradition sets. I need to pick off some of those cards. Those first Hoops sets will always be special.

  7. 89-90 Fleer was the intro to basketball cards for my brother and I. The old Venture department store had Fleer but not Hoops if I remember right. I was able to get an MJ in one of my packs; I was a happy camper.

  8. I've been really tempted to buy a few of the Hoops announcer cards from 1989-90 and also 1990-91, but they are so hard to find (and are priced accordingly.)