Upper Deck was pretty successful transforming SPx Basketball into a one-hit-per-pack product for the 2007-08 season. It still needed something to help it stand out from other similar brands, though, so the 2008-09 set dips back into SPx history and uses a unique die cut to help give the base cards some visual flair.
Boxes of 2008-09 SPx Basketball hold 10 three-card packs. On average, each box should yield seven memorabilia cards, one autographed card and two autographed jersey rookie cards.
Base Cards and Parallels
SPx is supposed to be the futuristic entry in the Upper Deck lineup of brands, but that can be a bit of a nebulous idea at times. It's solved this season by using a die cut to give all of the veteran base cards a unique (but hard to describe) shape. It's worked for the brand in various sports in the past, and it's fun to see it in use again - and who says cards need to be rectangles anyway?
A total of 90 NBA veterans get the die cut treatment, which does make the cards a little tricky to sort and store. Radiance and Spectrum parallels have print runs of 25 cards and one card respectively.
Rookies appear in three tiers that round out the base set, but there's a twist with them too, as each player has a home and away card with a different card number. That could lead to a bit of confusion among collectors who haven't seen that kind of thing before, but the important thing to remember is that there are actually twice as many of each rookie card as the numbering makes it appear.
The first tier of 10 rookies appears on regular cards numbered to 99. The remaining tiers are composed of autographed jersey cards, which are SPx staples. A total of 24 rookies have cards numbered to 699, while the "Big Three" of Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo are joined by seven other players on cards numbered to 99.
For review purposes, I opened two packs of SPx Basketball and found four veteran base cards but no rookies of any kind.
Game-used and player-worn swatches flow freely in this year's set, with an average of seven in every box. SPx is known for its dual-swatch cards, and Winning Materials and Freshman Orientation continue this tradition with two pieces from a single player.
Winning Materials Combo cards and Winning Materials Trio cards each fall about one per box and have game-used pieces from two or three players each. Many of the memorabilia cards have autographed or patch parallels with various (but generally low) print runs.
All of the swatches in this year's set tend to be pretty small, making the memorabilia haul lean more toward quantity than quality. Still, there are some pretty cool cards in the mix, like the LeBron James/Kobe Bryant combo card I found in one of the About.com sample packs.
There's a bit more variety to the selection of autographed cards in SPx than in some past seasons, and buying a full box guarantees snagging at least one. The most commonly found sets are Super Scripts and Signature Block, both of which are fairly standard Upper Deck fare with players ranging from current fringe contributors to company spokesmen like Michael Jordan.
A more select group of subjects can be found on SPx Endorsements, which have print runs ranging between 12 and 25 copies. Top stars from today (like Chris Paul and Yao Ming) mix with retired legends (think Julius Erving and Magic Johnson).
Multi-signed cards pop up in the form of Dual Scripts, Triple Scripts and Six Scripts. The last of those sets has some eye-popping combinations, like one card with six top 2008-09 rookies and another with Jordan, Erving, Bryant, James, Kevin Garnett and Walt Frazier.
I managed to beat the roughly 1:5 odds for an autograph among my two sample packs, pulling a Signature Block Luis Scola.
The Last Word
When SPx Basketball was repackaged last season with an autograph or game-used card in every pack, it actually lost some of its identity. The 2008-09 recaptures it with the funky base cards and continued tinkering with some familiar elements.
If you're chasing the autographed rookie jerseys, the 1:5 odds makes a pack or two a reasonable gamble. The nice thing is that there's quite a bit to hold your interest even if you miss, and a number of interesting possibilities in a whole box, which should run around $175.