Monday, March 27, 2023

The Finest Years

About a month ago, Billy published a post ranking every Finest basketball set - including my personal favorite, 1999-00.

I'm not going to steal Billy's idea of ranking each Finest design, but I do want to discuss some of my favorite Finest sets across all sports - specifically the years in which Topps used similar concepts.

Topps was very uneven with their Finest hockey releases. Despite holding an NHL license up until 2003-04 the company only released three sets under the Finest banner: 1994-95, 1995-96, and 1998-99. The '94-95 set is comprised of 165 cards, the most notable of them is Miikka Kiprusoff's only RC. I've got 30 of the 165 cards (no Kipper though), and I've never attempted to complete the set. I do have the complete 150-card set from 1998-99. It's nothing special; there are no rookies or subsets in the set.

1995-96 is a fascinating set. I was drawn to it as a teen, but I couldn't afford more than a couple packs at the time. It was the first time Topps attempted the Bronze Common/Silver Uncommon/Gold Rare tiers that would continue over the next several Finest sets.

The 1995-96 Finest basketball set didn't use this design or concept; it appeared in the 1996-97 Finest release.

Is this the most expensive Finest "base card" ever made?

The 1997 Finest baseball and football sets also had Bronze/Silver/Gold tiers, but I didn't like them quite as much as the 1996 cards. Lack of borders was a major reason.

One other Finest design that jumps out at me is the honeycomb hexagon sets of 2002-03:

Each of these sets are under 200 cards. The smallest is 2003 Finest baseball - just 100 base cards and 10 autos. Football and basketball are much tougher to complete; there are 18 relic cards and 31 autographs in the 2003 Finest football set. 

The 2002-03 Finest basketball set includes 40 serial-numbered rookie cards (38 of them autographed), 36 serial-numbered relics and ten XRCs of such legends as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony - which somehow count as part of this set. Blasted  redemption cards.

I've got a complete base set of 2003 baseball and a handful of cards from the football and basketball releases. But there is one year that I have two complete Finest sets that use the exact same design:

These are completed 1999 Finest baseball and football sets. I also have completed sets for 2000 Finest baseball and football but the designs are different. Nothing serial numbered, short-printed, or autographed in these sets. No Hall of Famer rookie cards in '99 Finest baseball (yet?) and only two in football (so far). The design is clean but grey, which makes the shiny parallels really pop:

Did I peel this David Cone refractor or did I acquire it pre-peeled? I honestly don't remember.

Refractors from these sets are still affordable (unless you're reaching for the stars) but Gold Refractors (sn'd to 100) of any player are drying up. I managed to hold on to one, but it's not the biggest name:

I miss the days when each card had just two parallels. 

Since I wasn't collecting basketball cards at the turn of the century, targeting 1999-00 Finest singles has been a way to reignite my appreciation for this design.

I pick up some base singles on TCDB and Sportlots whenever I can. Not going to attempt a set build trifecta though; the last fifteen cards are RCs serial numbered to 2000 including Grizzlies legend Steve Francis and Ron "Metta World War" Artest.

Guess I'll just stick with the refractors then. I would have surely completed a 1999-00 Finest hockey set had Topps released one that year, but I can understand why they didn't. That rookie class was horrible.

Thanks for reading!



  1. I never really ventured into Finest aside from baseball. If I did, I'd probably grab some hockey or football. I think Topps also dabbled with Finest in wrestling cards some too with their WCW cards in the late 90s.

  2. Cool to see the other sports, I'm glad you decided to do this post. I really like when they use the same design across multiple sports, it's cool to see a familiar design with unfamiliar team colors and players, and it creates a nice easily recognizable coherence across sports.

  3. Good stuff. If I built a set of these, I'd be VERY tempted to peel the plastic off every one of them!

    Love that Sabonis card. Gotta love Arvydas.

  4. I never really loved the tiers of Finest, as 1996-97 were a bit tough to really enjoy. The cards looked good, but I always remember the numbers being very funky.

  5. I DO plan to steal Billy's idea for baseball Finest. I really like the 2003 honeycomb set. The '96-97 baseball is among my least favorite. Not crazy about the designs and I still don't understand the tiers -- making collectors jump through hoops is one of my least favorite things about cards from the past 30-plus years.

  6. Though I'm never going to chase down the set(s), I've always liked the '99 design. As for those par-for-the course early '00s sets that was all sorts of tiered/limited, that tends to turn me off.

  7. A. I opened a lot of 95/96 Finest Hockey. I was obsessed with the gold refractors and even attempted to build that set... until that one guy attempted to hard every copy of the Jagr.

    B. You have the gold Kobe rookie? #jealous

  8. Topps started reusing designs across sports in their base sets and probably other sets at this time. It's consistent but maybe also a little lazy.

  9. It's so odd to see hockey cards in Finest form, or at least for me it is.

  10. Never bought Finest since they were way too expensive for my budget. Only ones I have comes from trades and repacks.