Fleer Basketball offers a base set that can be put together without breaking the bank, along with retro insert sets and some of the bells and whistles of more expensive products. There's also a really intriguing (but hard to pull) chase element for 2008-09 in the form of autographed Michael Jordan buy-back cards.
Hobby boxes of 2008-09 Fleer Basketball contain 16 15-card packs. Memorabilia and autographed cards are inserted at a rate of four per box or 1:4 packs.
Fleer Basketball always has a fairly comprehensive base set, and this season is no exception. It starts with 200 NBA veterans (and Michael Jordan), followed by 35 2008-09 rookie cards. The final 12 cards are tri-rookies, which simply place three first-year players together on one card.
While the past few sets have seen Upper Deck go either simple and clean or retro with the card design, this year's layout is busier, with a kind of paint splash effect for the black frame inside a silver (veteran) or gold border. It looks like it may be intended to catch the eye of younger collectors, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for a product like this, but it's not the most attractive Fleer set around. On the plus side, the card backs have full career statistics for every player.
Another plus is that one box provides about 80 percent of the cards needed to complete the set. I opened a random hobby box for this review and came up with 182 veterans (plus four duplicates), 12 rookies and five tri-rookies.
Memorabilia and Autographed Cards
Just like last season, every box of Fleer Basketball should contain four memorabilia or autographed cards. The vast majority of these are memorabilia cards, with Feel the Game (one swatch) and Genuine Coverage (two swatches) devoted to veterans, while Throwback Classics cards present two swatches of throwback jerseys worn by rookies at a photo shoot. One small gripe: most of the cards don't specify what kind of memorabilia is cut up to use on the cards.
Autographs are a tougher pull, and come in the form of the 60-card Signature Approval set. The eclectic player mix encompasses rookies, veterans and legends, including Upper Deck-exclusive signers like Jordan and LeBron James.
Last but definitely not least are the Michael Jordan Autographed Buy-Back cards. Since authentic autographed cards didn't exist during the early parts of MJ's early career and he signed his deal with Upper Deck later on, there really never were any signed Jordan Fleer cards. Now there are, thanks to 23 different cards that Upper Deck has purchased and had Jordan sign - but just one copy of each.
The About.com review box held no autographs, Jordan or otherwise, but did produce four memorabilia cards: Throwback Classics of Brook Lopez and O.J. Mayo, a Feel the Game Dwight Howard and a Genuine Coverage Gilbert Arenas.
Retro cards have become a staple of Fleer Basketball, taking advantage of the history that the brand has going for it. The 30 86-87 Retro Rookies put this season's newcomers on the most famous Fleer design. The numbering picks up where it left off from 2007-08, so don't be alarmed by card numbers in the 100s.
The other retro insert is the 88-89 Retro set, incorporating the design from 20 years ago for use with current NBA stars. There are 120 regular and 12 All-Star cards in the set, and they can be found roughly 1:3 packs.
I pulled 21 total inserts from my review box: 15 86-87 Retro Rookies, five 88-89 Retro cards and a Dwyane Wade Retro All-Star.
The Last Word
With the recent announcement that the NBA is not renewing its deal with Upper Deck, this could be the final Fleer Basketball set ever - or at least for the next few years. the classic content and Michael Jordan autographs are a fitting send-off, even if the regular cards aren't as pleasing to the eye as others that have borne the Fleer name.
At $75 or less per box, Fleer doesn't quite fit the definition of low end, but it's still a very affordable set for those on a tight collecting budget. They're also worth checking out for hoops collectors who want to take a walk down memory lane one last time.