After a brief experiment with East Coast and West Coast versions in 2007-08, Upper Deck Basketball returns to a single configuration for the 2008-09 season. It's also bringing more to the table: more cards per pack and more memorabilia cards per box.
Hobby boxes of 2008-09 Upper Deck Basketball contain 16 packs of 20 cards each. Expect to find one autographed card and three memorabilia cards per box on average.
Base Cards and Parallels
One thing you can always count on from Upper Deck's base basketball brand is outstanding photography. The 2008-09 base cards show off fantastic full bleed images of 200 NBA veterans with just a hint of silver foil for the UD logo and player and team names. Card backs offer a head shot plus full statistics.
A total of 24 retired stars and 42 rookies push the full size of the base set to 266 cards. The UD Legends lineup includes Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, while Star Rookies come in two tiers: 34 rookies falling over one per pack and eight short prints seeded roughly two per box. Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo are among the short prints. Electric Court parallels cover the entire base set.
Just one hobby box gets you a long way toward completing the full set. A random box I opened for this review yielded all 200 veterans (plus 75 duplicates), eight UD Legends, 17 regular rookies (plus five duplicates) and two short-printed rookies (Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook). I also pulled four Electric Court parallels.
Memorabilia Cards and Autographs
Three memorabilia cards per box are a step up from last season and mean that combined with the single autograph, collectors can expect a hit about 1:4 packs. The largest game-used set is the 50-card UD Game Jersey set, which puts the jersey swatch in the shape of the Upper Deck logo. Player selection is good - I found Tracy McGrady and Dwight Howard cards in my review box - and there are also patch versions.
Emulation Dual Memorabilia cards pair up rising stars with accomplished players with similar skills, like Chris Paul and Allen Iverson, or in the case of the card I found, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson. Like the single game jersey cards, these also have patch parallels.
The autographs come mostly from one large set called Star Signings. While not all 58 players are truly stars (the card in my box was Joey Graham), the checklist does have most of UD's big names, like LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.
As always, Upper Deck Basketball provides several regular insert sets that combine to fall about 1:2 packs. Bulls Dynasty, Celtics Dynasty and Lakers Dynasty cards are the most common, focusing on players from some great championship teams of the past. I pulled two of each team from the About.com review box.
Upper Deck spokesman Kobe Bryant gets his own Kobe Bryant Heroes set devoted to his stellar career, with autographed variations limited to just five copies each. Finally, the one-per-box Starquest insert is great for younger collectors, as the cards have codes that can be redeemed for points and prizes at upperdeckkids.com.
I found one Kobe and one Starquest card in my sample box.
The Last Word
With many different elements combining at a very affordable price (boxes should run $60 or less), the 2008-09 Upper Deck Basketball set has a lot to offer. The base set looks great and is relatively simple to put together, the short printed rookies add just a hint of scarcity, and the signed and game-used cards provide just the right amount of added value.
Hardcore autograph and memorabilia hunters may not find the pulls they are looking for here, but just about every other kind of basketball collector should find something they like here. For beginners or more experienced hobbyists, this looks like fun to open by the pack or by the box.