There's not much that's short about the 1970-71 Topps Basketball Tall Boys issue - not the length of the cards, not the size of the set (175 cards) and definitely not the subjects on the singles. That's why it's ironic that 22 short prints represent the greatest obstacle to completing this set.
"Most of the short prints are relatively nondescript players," pointed out D'Orsay Bryant, whose 1970-71 Topps set was named PSA's Best Vintage Basketball Set of the Year in 2006.
Bryant cites Lucius Allen (#31) as one of the most difficult short prints to find. Just 52 Allens have been graded by PSA, the lowest number of any player in this offering. Not only was the Allen card produced in smaller quantities, it's also elusive in high-grade. There is just one PSA Mint 9 and 15 PSA NM-MT 8s of this card. A PSA 8 sold for $202.51 in a December 2006 eBay sale.
"Centering was a problem with that card," said Bryant.
Steve Jones, owner of the No. 3 Current Finest 1970-71 Registry set, says the most evasive short print is the Free Throw Percentage Leaders card (#4), featuring Flynn Robinson, Chet Walker and Jeff Mullins. No unqualified copies of this single have graded higher than a PSA 8.
"That card is impossible. That was the last card I needed to fill my set . . . The main thing is it's off-center," said Jones.
John Havlicek (#10) is the most high-profile short print. Of the 184 Havliceks submitted, there have been seven PSA 9s and 32 PSA 8s. Three rookies are also short prints: Jerry Chambers (#62), Bingo Smith (#74) and Norm Van Lier (#97).
The short prints are the key to this 175-card Topps offering. Measuring 2-1/2" by 4-11/16", singles from this set were released in two series (#1-110, 111-175) and distributed in 10-card packs that included gum and a poster insert. Large color photos adorn the front, with the player's name, team and position indicated in the bottom right of the card.
"It's just a gorgeous set," said Jones.
Biographical information, statistics and a cartoon providing further player data are showcased on the card backs.
Likely due to licensing issues, team logos are not featured. It appears that some players were asked to wear their jerseys backwards to comply with licensing restrictions.
The 1970-71 issue was also the first Topps hoops set to showcase leader cards (#1 to 6), all-star cards (#106 to 115) and post-season cards (#168 to 175). As a result, some major stars are featured on multiple cards. Walt Frazier and Lew Alcindor, for example, are highlighted on four cards each.
This kind of star power adds to the set's appeal. On top of Frazier and Alcindor, this set also showcases singles of superstars like Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. It also boasts the rookies of Pat Riley (#13), Don Chaney (#47), Bob Dandridge (#63), Matt Guokas (#124), Fred Carter (#129), Calvin Murphy (#137), Jo Jo White (#143), Jerry Sloan (#148), Clem Haskins (#165) and Rod Thorn (#167). But the most coveted rookie is, of course, Pete Maravich (#123).
"The set literally begins and ends with Pistol Pete Maravich," said Bryant. "This is his rookie set and this is his principal rookie card. The home I grew up in was only a mile away from the LSU campus. I followed Pistol Pete living in Baton Rouge when he scored almost 44 points a game for three straight years for LSU."
Of the 875 Maravichs evaluated, there has been one PSA GEM MT 10 and 49 PSA 9s. The PSA 10 copy garnered $18,000 in a Mastro Auctions sale in August 2007.
The checklists are also difficult to track down in top condition. Two variations exist of the second checklist (#101): one has "1970-71" printed in black in the NBA All-Stars banner on the front, the other has it in white. So far, just 10 examples of the white version have been graded, but despite its scarcity, there is no premium for it.
Similar to the 1969-70 Topps set, these cards are difficult to find in pristine condition because, when they were released, there were no protective plastics to store them in. These cards also often suffer from print flaws.
"The issue with a lot of the cards is the presence of print dots," said Jones.
Miscuts and bad centering are also prevalent.
"Some of the cards were miscut and centering can be a problem," said Bryant.
"Centering is a problem. There is a lot of OC stuff out there," he said.
The color posters inserted in each pack measure 8" by 10" and feature the player's name and team in the upper left, while the number appears in the bottom right. Hall of Famers Lew Alcindor (#13), Wilt Chamberlain (#17) and John Havlicek (#18) are included in the poster set.
These inserts enhance the collectibility of this offering, which has become increasingly popular in recent months.
"Over the past year, I'm going to say it has been very popular because, for a period of time, I had the only 100% (complete) set," said Bryant. "A lot of people have really warmed to this set."
So the future looks bright for a series that has always played second fiddle to the rookie-laden 1969-70 Topps Tall Boys issue.
"It seems like Topps made a quantum jump in the sense of what a card could be with this series. They gave us more statistics. They gave us the playoff summaries. They put in the leader cards," said Bryant.
And when you look at it that way, the 1970-71 Topps Basketball set seems to have it all - including 22 short prints that make completing a Tall Boys set very challenging.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. D'Orsay Bryant provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
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