Topps doesn't wait until the start of the hoops season to start making basketball cards. It's namesake brand is one of the first to hit store shelves for 2008-09, providing basketball fans with a look at the past, present and future of the NBA, including relics (memorabilia cards) or autographs in every box.
Regular hobby boxes of 2008-09 Topps Basketball hold 36 10-card packs with one relic or autograph per box. Jumbo boxes have 10 46-card packs and should yield two relic cards and one autograph.
Base Cards and Parallels
If the base cards look familiar, there's a good reason. Topps unified the look of its namesake brands across baseball, football and basketball in 2008 by using the same design. That means white borders are back, with team-colored circles surrounding each letter of the team names. Card backs are laid out horizontally with the excellent full statistics collectors expect from this brand.
Speaking of horizontal layouts, a good number of the 220 base cards make use of the format on the fronts to show off excellent photography. The subjects for this season's set include 165 veterans, 30 retired stars and 25 2008-09 rookies, many of whom were photographed during summer league play.
Parallels start with gold foil cards found just under 1:pack. The borders get the full color change treatment in Gold (numbered to 2008), Black (#'d to 51) and Platinum (1-of-1) varieties.
I opened a random hobby box of 2007-08 Topps Basketball for this review and uncovered all 195 veterans and retired players plus 78 duplicates. I also pulled just over half the rookies (13 of 25), as well as 30 gold foil, five Gold and one Black parallel.
Three sets combine to put an insert in just about every pack. The most common and most attractive are the 58-59 Variations, which put a total of 30 players on the pastel backgrounds of a Topps design from 50 years ago.
Own the Game is a perennial favorite focusing on top NBA stars, and In the Genes looks at current and former players who are related. All of the above inserts have Gold versions numbered to 50.
Borrowing a page from the popular Allen & Ginter Baseball set, Topps Basketball also offers Rip Cards seeded one per case. These cards present collectors with the choice of leaving the card intact or ripping them open to reveal exclusive mini-cards - some of which are autographed.
The About.com sample box yielded a total of 35 insert cards: 22 58-59 Variations, nine Own the Game and four In the Genes. While not technically inserts, the box also produced 18 regular and three Gold Toppstown code cards.
Autographs and Relic Cards
Topps has made a concerted effort to include more game-used and memorabilia cards in its base brands, and the 2008-09 Basketball boxes should have at least one hit. The autograph program is headlined by NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Autographs signed in person (and on-card) at the first event that gathers top rookies together to be photographed by the card companies. These cards are always highly sought after, and they can be found in single, double and triple versions.
A similar idea is reflected in McDonald's All American Game Autographs, which are hard-signed cards from rookies who participated in one of the last two high school all-star games. The final autographed set is 58-59 Variations Autographs, taking the insert a step further by adding an autographed sticker.
The relics are straightforward memorabilia versions of the insert cards, with 25 players getting 58-59 Variations Relics and ten featured on Own the Game Relics. Also included here for lack of a better place to put them are 14K Gold Rookie Medallions, which modify the rookie cards by putting a small amount of actual gold on the fronts.
As expected, I pulled one autograph from my review box, a 58-59 Variations Autograph of Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.
The Last Word
Of the various sets of sports cards that Topps has sharing the same basic design in 2008, the 2008-09 Basketball cards look the best. The photography seems extra sharp this season and the many horizontal base cards really capture the game of basketball. The inclusion of 30 legends is also a nice touch.
Other elements of the product don't seem to pack in quite the same variety or perceived value found in its Baseball and Football siblings, and comparisons are inevitable thanks to the unified design. Still, this is an above average effort and a good way to start off a new season of basketball cards from Topps.