PSA Magazine

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From Mikan to MJ, From Cousy to Curry

Collecting the NBA 75th Anniversary Team Set

From Mikan to MJ, from Kareem to Kobe and from Larry to LeBron, the NBA has certainly had its share of superstars during its 75 seasons.

In late October 2021, the long-running league unveiled its 75th Anniversary Team, consisting of its 75 best players (actually 76 because there was a tie), as voted on by a panel of active and former NBA players, coaches, executives, WNBA legends and media members.

The stars on the team range from George Mikan, a dominant center in the 1940s and 1950s, all the way up to active players. According to an NBA press release, the 75th Anniversary Team players have combined for 158 NBA championships, 730 All-Star selections, 110 regular season and Finals MVP Awards and more than 1.5 million points.

The announcement of the team has created a buzz among basketball fans and collectors. So, with assistance from Collectors Universe’s Vice President of Customer Experience, Dave Steinberger, PSA Set Registry Brand Manager, Matt Hendler, quickly assembled a 75th Anniversary Team rookie set on the PSA Set Registry. And by mid-November, there were already 30 sets registered.

“It’s definitely a set that has a lot of people interested,” said Hendler. “It extends over different eras, so you have modern players and older Hall of Famers together. I think that’s why it’s so popular because if you’re just a hardcore general basketball collector, this is the list of the most iconic and best players. And if you love the sport and you want to have the best general basketball collection, this set is a good route to take.”

Michael Lip, who owns the No. 2 NBA 75th Anniversary Team set on the PSA Set Registry, offers a similar assessment.

“The 75th Anniversary Team [set] represents a rich look back at the various releases and first issues of the top players in NBA history,” he said. “The set has a lot of variety from the early condition sensitive cardboard sets, through some tallboy releases and into the modern chrome and Prizm eras.”

Jeff Clarke, who has built the No. 18 NBA 75th Anniversary Team set, believes this set could open the eyes of modern collectors to older cards.

“The hobby has shifted very much into a focus on the next greatest rookie card. Everybody is wondering who’s going to be the next Luka or the next LeBron and that’s really fun, but the 75th Anniversary Team set makes you look back and say, ‘Who were the great players in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s?’” said Clarke.

Every player in the NBA 75th Anniversary Team set is a star, so all the rookies are desirable. But with the help of a panel of experienced collectors, including Lip, Clarke, Steinberger, Jeff Hart, Keith Bonner and Mark McGee, we have attempted to identify the top two cards from each decade. (Note: Mikan is the only player on the team with a rookie in the 1940s.)

1940s

1948 Bowman George Mikan #69

Mikan

This 6-foot-10, 245-pound center was the NBA’s first dominant “big man.” From the late ‘40s to the mid ‘50s, the bespectacled Mikan was a superstar with the Minneapolis Lakers, leading them to five championships in six seasons. His size, savvy and trademark hook shot enabled him to win three consecutive NBA scoring titles.

In fact, Mikan was so overpowering offensively and defensively that he inspired the NBA to implement a rule that prevented goaltending and another that widened the foul lane. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959. He passed away in 2005.

Hailed as the “Honus Wagner” of basketball cards, Mikan’s 1948 Bowman rookie measures 2-1/16” by 2-1/2” and was part of the scarcer second series. This card is usually found with centering issues and toning on its borders. Of the 375 submitted, there’s just one PSA GEM-MT 10 and four PSA MINT 9s. One PSA 9 sold for $426,000 in a Memory Lane Inc. auction in June 2021.

“For us old-timers, and I’ve been collecting since 1979, this was the No. 1 basketball card in the hobby,” said Mark McGee, who owns the No. 12 NBA 75th Anniversary Team set on the PSA Set Registry.

1950s

1957 Topps Bill Russell #77

Russell

This trailblazing and legendary center won an unparalleled 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics between 1956 and 1969. Regarded as one of the best defenders and shot blockers of all time, Russell topped the NBA in rebounds in four seasons and he had more than 1,000 rebounds in a season 12 times during his career. Offensively, the five-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star averaged 15.1 points per game.

Most importantly, however, Russell was the NBA’s first African American superstar and, in 1966, he became the first African American coach in any major pro sport in the post-Depression era when the Celtics hired him. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975.

His 1957 Topps rookie (#77) presents an action shot of him in his white Celtics gear. It was short-printed and is sometimes plagued by a grainy photo, surface snow and poor centering.

“I would have to say the ‘57 Russell is the best basketball rookie card of all time,” said Keith Bonner, who owns the No. 3 Current Finest NBA 75th Anniversary Team set on the PSA Set Registry.

Of the 1,005 evaluated, there have been just three PSA 9s, two PSA NM-MT+ 8.5s and 47 PSA NM-MT 8s. One PSA 8.5 fetched $630,000 in a Heritage Auctions sale in August 2021.

1957 Topps Bob Cousy #17

Cousy

This dynamic 6-foot-1 Manhattan native’s superb ball handling skills and unpredictable passing during his 13 seasons with the Celtics earned him the nickname “Houdini of the Hardwood.” During his NBA career, which spanned from 1950 to 1963, he topped the circuit in assists in eight consecutive seasons, was a 13-time All-Star and was voted the league MVP in 1957. He also helped propel the Celtics to six NBA championships and was named to the All-NBA First Team 10 times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.

“Cousy was kind of like Magic [Johnson] in the ‘80s,” said McGee. “And in the ‘50s, no one had really seen that before, so I think that’s why he’s held in high esteem because it was the first time you had seen that kind of flash from a point guard.”

His 1957 Topps rookie (#17) showcases an action photo of him dribbling the ball up court. This card is often hampered by poor centering and print defects. Of the 1,009 submitted, there have been three PSA 9s and 35 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 sold for $63,000 in a Heritage Auctions sale in August 2021.

1960s

1961 Fleer Wilt Chamberlain #8

Chamberlain

This overpowering center was a 13-time All-Star and one of the greatest scorers in NBA history. His resume boasts seven scoring titles, 11 rebounding titles, four MVP awards and two championship rings. The Philadelphia hoops legend is also the only player to score 100 points in a single NBA game and the sole NBAer to average more than 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a season – a feat he accomplished seven times. For his efforts, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978. He passed away in 1999 at the age of 63.

Chamberlain’s rookie features a black-and-white photo of him against a maroon background. The 1961 Fleer cards have generally held up well over the years, but you must watch for print imperfections and poor centering. Of the 1,823 sent into PSA, there have been three PSA 10s, 31 PSA 9s and 181 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 sold for $50,400 in a Goldin Auctions sale in October 2021.

1969 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) #25

Alcindor

Drafted first overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, this 7-foot-2 center was named the NBA’s top rookie in his first season. In his sophomore campaign, he helped the Bucks to an NBA championship and was rewarded with the regular season and Finals MVP awards. Following that season, Alcindor formally changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. On June 16, 1975, the Bucks dealt him to the Lakers, but though he won MVP awards in 1976 and 1977, it wasn’t until the Lakers drafted Magic Johnson in 1979 that the team’s dynasty would begin.

With their “Showtime” offense, the Lakers captured five championships in the 1980s. Abdul-Jabbar retired with a resume that boasts 19 All-Star game appearances, six MVP awards and the NBA’s record for most career points (38,387). He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1995. Bonner believes that Abdul-Jabbar might be the greatest basketball player of all time.

The Lakers legend made his cardboard debut in the tallboy (2-1/2” by 4-11/16”) 1969 Topps series. The size of the card made it cumbersome for collectors to store, making it vulnerable to condition woes. This card is also often found off-center and with print defects on its white background. Of the 3,988 evaluated, there have been two PSA 10s, 17 PSA 9s and 169 PSA 8s. A PSA 8 sold for $29,520 in a Goldin Auctions sale in October 2021.

1970s

1970 Topps Pete Maravich #123

Maravich

This Louisiana State University alum holds the NCAA Division 1 collegiate record for most points (3,667) and most points per game (44.2). After his record-setting collegiate career, the multi-talented point guard enjoyed a successful 10-year NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans/Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics.

A five-time NBA All-Star and two-time All-NBA First Team selection, he has been hailed as the most creative ball handler in NBA history. Unfortunately, knee problems forced him to retire in 1980 when he was just 32. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987, and sadly, less than a year later, he died of an undetected heart defect when he was just 40.

Like the Alcindor rookie, “Pistol Pete’s” first-year card also came in a tallboy design, which made it susceptible to wear and tear. Its thin white borders also make it difficult to find with proper centering and print flaws are sometimes visible in its green background.

There have been just two PSA 10s, 84 PSA 9s and 462 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 fetched $3,363 on eBay in November 2021.

1972 Topps Julius Erving #195

Erving

Bonner describes Erving as “Jordan before Jordan was Jordan.” The 6-foot-7 Erving is credited with making dunking mainstream. “Doctor J” started his professional career in the ABA in 1971 and he was an All-Star in each of his five seasons in that circuit with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets. He also won two MVP awards and was part of two championship-winning squads.

When the ABA merged with the NBA after the 1975-76 season, Erving landed with the Philadelphia 76ers and continued his dominance. He captured the NBA MVP award in 1981 to become the only player to win that honor in both the ABA and NBA. One of the top scoring small forwards of his era, he propelled the 76ers to a championship in 1983. His 30,026 career points rank eighth all-time. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993.

Erving was introduced to collectors in the 1972 Topps set (#195). His rookie boasts a bright yellow background on the front that’s regularly hampered by print defects.

“It’s a beautiful card,” said Clarke. “It’s got the yellow background and the big red team name. And it’s very rare. There’s only one PSA 10 and 160 PSA 9s. It comes up every once in a while in [PSA] 9, but that’s still an incredibly important card for any of us who lived in the ‘70s because he was the man.”

One PSA 8 sold for $3,965 on eBay in November 2021.

1980s

1980 Topps Scoring Leader Larry Bird/Julius Erving/Magic Johnson

Bird, Erving, Johnson

This is the rookie card of two of the NBA’s greatest players. It also features the aforementioned Erving, but it’s not his rookie card. Johnson and Bird were two of the NBA’s biggest stars of the 1980s and between them they own eight NBA titles, six MVP Awards, 24 All-Star selections and 18 All-NBA First Team nods. Both were elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.

“It’s so rare to have two all-time greats on the same rookie card,” said Steinberger, who ranks this as the second-most famous basketball card to the Michael Jordan rookie.

Lip points out that this is the only card in the NBA 75th Anniversary Set that’s the rookie card for two Hall of Famers. Each player on this card is pictured on a small, individually numbered, perforated panel that could be separated from the others. These cards are often plagued by black print defects on the front and poor centering. Of the 12,247 submitted, there have been 24 PSA 10s, 614 PSA 9s and 2,850 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 sold for $6,249 on eBay in November 2021.

1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57

Jordan

Still widely considered the best player in NBA history, Jordan scored 28.2 points per game in his rookie campaign with the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and from there developed into the biggest sports star in the world. He eventually earned six NBA championship rings and set career records for most points per game during the regular season (30.12) and playoffs (33.45). A five-time NBA MVP and 14-time All-Star, he also won two Olympic gold medals and 10 NBA scoring titles. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

The 1986 Fleer Jordan rookie (#57), which features him about to dunk, is the most famous basketball card ever printed. Its red borders at the top and bottom are susceptible to chipping and collectors must be wary of counterfeits. Of the 22,762 submitted, there have been 321 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $369,000 in a Goldin Auctions sale in late October 2021.

Jeff Hart, who owns the No. 1 NBA 75th Anniversary Team Set on the PSA Set Registry, says this has to rank as the No. 1 basketball card.

“Everyone recognizes Jordan’s name. He’s the greatest player ever,” said Hart. “His rookie card has got everything going for it. In terms of collectability, there are a lot of them that exist, so it’s not that rare; almost anyone can collect that card within their budget in various conditions.”

Steinberger offers a similar take. “If you were going to write a book about basketball cards and you want to put one card on the cover, it would probably be the Jordan card,” he said.

1990s

1992 Upper Deck Shaquille O’Neal #1

O'Neal

“Shaq” burst into the NBA with an unparalleled combination of size, power and athleticism. Selected first overall by the Orlando Magic in the 1992 NBA Draft, the 7-foot-1, 300-plus pound center was almost unstoppable on the hardcourt during his prime. After capturing the Rookie of the Year award in 1993, he topped the NBA in scoring, with 29.3 points per game, in 1994-95 and led the Magic to the NBA Finals.

He later signed with the Lakers and captured his second NBA scoring crown in 1999-00, while also securing the league’s MVP honors and helping the Lakers to their first of three consecutive NBA titles. He won another championship with the Miami Heat in 2006. During his career, O’Neal was selected to 14 All-Star games and was named the Finals MVP three times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016.

Lip says Shaq’s 1992 Upper Deck rookie (#1) was “one of the biggest cards from the early ‘90s boom.” It showcases a great progression photo of him dunking. It’s not rare, but its glossy surface and black edges make it difficult to find in pristine form. Of the 11,533 submitted, there have been 325 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $3,212 in a Memory Lane Inc. auction in October 2021.

1996 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant #138

Bryant

After the Lakers acquired Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets shortly after the 1996 NBA Draft, he evolved into one of the best shooting guards in NBA history. Over the course of his 20-season NBA career, he was an 18-time All-Star, a four-time All-Star Game MVP, a two-time Finals MVP and the 2008 regular season MVP.

One of the most complete players in NBA history, the intense shooting guard was also named to the league’s All-Defensive First Team nine times and sits fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The Lakers retired both jersey numbers (8 and 24) that he wore for them and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2021.

Bryant’s 1996 Topps Chrome single (#138) is his most coveted mainstream rookie. This card offers an action shot of him competing against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Its chromium surface makes it susceptible to scratches. Of the 6,090 submitted, there have been 832 PSA 10s, one of which garnered $13,451 on eBay in November 2021.

2000s

2003 Topps Chrome LeBron James #111

James

In the current era, LeBron is the “King” on the court and in the hobby. On the hardwood, he has accomplished everything he can in the NBA. He possesses four championship rings, four Finals MVP Awards, four regular season MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, and, in 2012, he became the second player (Michael Jordan was the first) to win an NBA MVP, NBA title, Finals MVP and gold medal in the same year. A 17-time All-Star, James has also been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team five times and some are ready to anoint him the best player of all time.

“Without question for the 2000s, the card everyone cares about is the LeBron rookie,” noted Clarke.

LeBron’s 2003 Topps Chrome rookie (#111) pictures LeBron at the height of a jump shot. There have been 2,153 PSA 10s, one of which sold for $14,000 on eBay in November 2021.

2009 Topps Chrome Stephen Curry #101

Curry

The son of former NBAer Dell Curry, Steph Curry was selected seventh overall in 2009 by the Golden State Warriors. Since his NBA debut, the charismatic 6-foot-3 point guard has established himself as the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. His 402 three-pointers in 2016 are far and away the NBA’s single-season record.

Now 33, Curry has a resume that boasts two MVP awards, three championship rings and seven All-Star selections. He has also been named to the All-NBA First Team four times and he recently broke Ray Allen’s record for most three pointers in all games played, including playoffs, in NBA history.

Curry’s Chrome rookie (#101) is from the last Topps Chrome NBA release to date, but it’s clear that the brand still carries some serious hobby clout. It boasts a head-and-shoulders shot of a smiling Curry in a white shirt. The base version is numbered out of 999 and its chromium surface is susceptible to scratches.

Of the 185 evaluated, there have been 61 PSA 10s. One sold for $35,955 on eBay in July 2021.

“It’s incredible what the Curry rookie sells for,” said Hart. “I think it’s because there are players that have changed the game one way or another and he changed the game in terms of the three-point shot. He’s the one that made it more popular and it’s so much more common in the NBA now.”

2010s

2012 Panini Prizm Anthony Davis #236

Davis

After leading the University of Kentucky to an NCAA title, Davis was selected first overall in the 2012 Draft by the New Orleans Hornets. In his seven seasons in New Orleans, Davis was selected to six All-Star games and to the All-NBA First Team three times.

During the 2017-18 season, he became the Pelicans’ all-time franchise leader in points and rebounds and led them to their second-ever playoff series win. In 2018-19, he recorded his 10,000th career point, before the age of 26, making him the eighth youngest player to reach that mark. He was traded to the Lakers prior to the 2019-20 campaign where he proceeded to lead the team in scoring and to an NBA title.

His 2012 Panini Prizm single is his key mainstream rookie. This card features an action shot of Davis getting ready to dunk. Of the 2,597 sent into PSA, 1,513 have been graded PSA 10. A PSA 10 sold for $619 on eBay in November 2021.

2013 Panini Prizm Giannis Antetokounmpo #290

Antetokounmpo

Selected 15th overall by the Bucks in the 2013 NBA Draft, the “Greek Freak” has evolved into one of the league’s best all-around players. His true breakout campaign came in 2016-17 when he became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

Now in his eighth NBA season, he is a two-time league MVP, five-time All-Star and three-time NBA All-First Team member. In 2020, he was also voted the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He further solidified his status as one of the NBA’s greatest players by leading the Bucks to a championship in 2021.

His 2013 Prizm card is his most popular mainstream rookie. It showcases a photo of him gripping the ball with both hands on his left side on a shiny chromium front. Of the 4,168 submitted, there have been 2,664 PSA 10s. One PSA 10 sold for $1,825 on eBay in November 2021.

“As far as when basketball card prices started going crazy during the pandemic, Giannis cards were kind of leading the charge,” said McGee.


If you’re looking to collect the NBA 75th Anniversary Team set, you can view it on the PSA Set Registry. You can also visit CardFacts on the PSA website to view images of many of the key cards in the set.


Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics, Set Registry Rankings and card prices quoted are as of November 2021.

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