For many young boys, trading basketball cards was a rite of passage. Whether it was swapping a 1992-93 Shaquille O’Neal Fleer Ultra rookie card for a Michael Jordan in the same set, or a 1972-73 Topps rookie card of Julius Erving for that year’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, many a kid has celebrated his trade coups, while just as many others have kicked themselves in defeat.
Even though the NBA didn’t take shape until 1948, basketball cards actually date to 1910 and the Egyptiene Cigarette’s College Athletes Felts B-33 series. Basketball cards were printed for one more year after that, but basketball players would not appear on a card again until 1932, when C.A. Briggs Chocolate published a 31-card set. Each card in that set featured an illustration of a player from a popular sport, including basketball.
Bowman first printed basketball cards in 1948 with players from the Basketball Association of America, while Topps didn’t dip into the market until 1957. In fact, Topps has had an on-again, off-again relationship with basketball cards, stopping and starting over the years. Unfortunately for Topps, the company missed out on the chance to publish a Michael Jordan rookie card. Instead, Fleer printed the most coveted card in the hobby—the ‘86-‘87 Jordan, which shows the NBA’s greatest player skying over opponents en route to the hoop.