In a registry set that requires collectors to track down rookie cards of Michael Jordan, George Mikan and Bill Russell, you might be surprised to learn that the highest weighted card belongs to Nat Holman.
An innovative player and coach, Holman is featured on the third card in the 1933 Sport Kings set. His pasteboard, which is difficult to find centered, is the only card in the Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set to be weighted 10.
"It isn't a popularity contest," noted veteran basketball collector Art Sainsbury, when discussing the registry weightings for the Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set. "These players are in the Hall of Fame for a reason, but when it comes to a registry set like this, you have to look at the amount of material out there. In that respect, it's a lot harder to get a PSA [NM-MT] 8 or [a PSA MINT] 9 of Nat Holman than it is of Michael Jordan."
The PSA Population Report backs up Sainsbury's assertion. Just 12 PSA 8s have been uncovered of the Holman rookie (with no examples grading higher), while there are 190 PSA GEM-MT 10 Jordan rookies.
Holman spent most of his playing career with the Original Celtics, helping them to back-to-back American Basketball League championships in 1927 and 1928. One of the best ball handlers in hoops history, Holman also began coaching at the City College of New York in 1920 while he was still actively playing. In close to four decades as a coach, he posted a 421-190 record and guided the college to NCAA and NIT titles in 1950 - a feat that has never been duplicated.
Michael Rakosi, who owns the registry's top Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set, met Holman in New York when he was 14.
"Holman was one of those guys that was brilliant [on the court], and he was also one of the most innovative players of all time," commented Rakosi. "His rookie is a very difficult card to obtain and it's very expensive in high-grade."
A PSA 8 Holman sold for $15,880.50 in a Mile High Card Company auction in January 2012.
But while Holman is the only card in the Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set to be weighted 10, there are several other key pasteboards in this set, which is currently comprised of 116 cards, but it grows with each induction class.
"There are 116 cards for now, but this is an evolving set," noted Kevin Roberson, who has assembled the registry's No. 2 set.
With 73 sets registered, it's also one of the most highly collected basketball sets on the registry.
"This set has the best of the best," said Roberson. "If anyone ever called me and said, 'I'm getting into this hobby, what should I collect?' The first thing I'm going to recommend is rookie cards. The second thing I'm going to say is Hall of Famers. And that's what you've got in this set."
Rakosi offers similar thoughts.
"All of the greatest [basketball] players in the world are in this set," he said. "This set is so satisfactory because of its scope - it's everybody who has played and excelled at the game since [basketball cards appeared in the Sport Kings set in] 1933."
Of course, this also translates into considerable competition for these cards. Albie O'Hanian, owner of the registry's No. 4 Current Finest set, can attest to this.
"I think I'm pretty lucky in that I'm not necessarily looking for the super high-end cards," explained O'Hanian, who has been collecting Hall of Fame basketball rookies for more than 20 years. "I'm getting [PSA NM] 7s from the 1950s and 1960s and then [PSA] 8s and [PSA] 9s from the 1970s and up."
In assembling his set, O'Hanian has discovered that there's not only competition from Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set collectors, but from those putting together player sets and popular issues like the 1957 Topps Basketball set.
"One of the interesting things about this set is that there are people that don't really collect basketball cards in general that will take on this set because its comprised of the top players and their rookie cards, and there's always value in them," added Sainsbury.
Fortunately, several of the registry set collectors have become friendly rivals that help each other out, but there are times when they have to go head-to-head for a tough card.
"The reality is some of these cards are so rare that you can't sit around waiting [for the best one to come along]," said Rakosi. "You get what you can get, and then if you get another one, you sell the first one. But some of these cards just don't come up."
Here's a rundown of some of the key cards in the Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set, outside of the aforementioned Holman:
Key Vintage Cards
1933 Sport Kings Ed Wachter (#5) and Joe Lapchick (#32). Like the Holman, these two Sport Kings cards are also evasive in pristine condition. More than 80 years old, these cards are frequently found with poor centering, discoloration in their backgrounds and toned borders.
"The Sport Kings are brutal," said O'Hanian. "To me, the Lapchick was the hardest. With the Sport Kings, you're not only competing with the Hall of Fame registry guys, but the Sport Kings guys as well. So there is huge competition with those."
Of the 209 Wachter cards submitted, there has been one PSA 10, one PSA 9, one PSA NM-MT+ 8.5 and 21 PSA 8s. The sole PSA sold for $6,013.07 in a Memory Lane Inc. auction in August 2012. There has yet to be a PSA 10 Lapchick (which has his named misspelled "Lopchick" on the front and back) and there are just three PSA 9s.
1948 Bowman George Mikan #69. Hailed as the "Honus Wagner" of basketball cards, the Mikan rookie is becoming increasingly difficult to find in any grade. The sole PSA 10 fetched a whopping $218,500 in a Memory Lane Inc. auction in December 2009. This is believed to be the highest amount ever garnered by a hoops card in a public sale.
"The Mikan was the last card that I got and all I have is a PSA [VG-EX] 4, but even then it wasn't easy," noted O'Hanian. "I traded for it. I had to work out a trade with someone to get it because I don't see a lot of Mikans come up for sale."
Measuring 2-1/16" by 2-1/2", this card was part of the scarcer second series and is often found off-center with toning on its borders. Some hand-cut examples have also surfaced.
1957 Topps Bill Russell #77. This legendary Celtic's card was short-printed and is sometimes plagued by a grainy photo, surface snow and poor centering.
"You could pick up a PSA 7 Russell rookie - or even a PSA 8 - for around $1,200 eight or nine years go. Now, if a [PSA] 8 comes up for sale, you're looking at close to $10,000," noted Sainsbury.
Of the 565 submitted, there have been just three PSA 9s, two PSA 8.5s and 45 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 sold for $8,850 on eBay in April 2013.
1961 Fleer Wilt Chamberlain #8. According to the PSA Population Report, this card - with three PSA 10s and 29 PSA 9s - is easier to track down in higher grade than either the Oscar Robertson or Jerry West rookies that are in the same set. But Chamberlain, a 7-foot-1 center who smashed numerous NBA points records, is more popular amongst hobbyists. This card is sometimes found with poor centering and print defects on the background of the card front. A PSA 10 sold for $20,400 in May 2008.
1969 Topps Lew Alcindor #25. The Los Angeles Lakers star, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, made his cardboard debut on this tall boy (2-1/2" by 4-11/16") single. 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 1,556 evaluated, there has been one PSA 10 and 16 PSA 9s. A PSA 9 sold for $8,766.66 on eBay in August 2013.
Modern Key Cards (Post-1970)
1970 Topps Pete Maravich #123. Like the Alcindor rookie, "Pistol Pete's" first-year card also flaunts a tall boy 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 has been just one PSA 10 and 67 PSA 9s. The PSA 10 fetched $18,000 in August 2007.
1972 Topps Julius Erving #195. This ABA and NBA superstar was introduced to collectors on this card which boasts a bright yellow background on the front that's regularly hampered by print defects. Collectors should note, however, that on almost every copy, there's a print dot next to Erving's left elbow; this will not impact the card's grade. There has yet to be a PSA 10, but there are 122 PSA 9s, one of which garnered $1,199.99 on eBay in February 2014.
1980 Topps Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Julius Erving. This pasteboard features three basketball legends and is considered the rookie card of Bird and Magic. Each player is pictured on a small, individually numbered, perforated panel that could be separated from the others. The individual panels have little value. Cards that remain intact are often plagued by black print defects on the front and poor centering.
"One card that has gone through the roof is the Bird, Magic, Erving card," said Rakosi. "I paid $4,000 for my PSA 10 a number of years ago." And had he known then what he knows now, he would have likely purchased 10 of them instead of just the one, Rakosi jokingly added. For one of the 18 PSA 10s sold for $20,000 on eBay in June 2013.
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan #57. There are 190 PSA 10 Jordan rookies and 2,195 PSA 9s, so it's not difficult to find this card in high grade. Nevertheless, demand for it is so strong that it still commands a lot of money.
"I only have a [PSA] 8 because I sent in my own card, but there are about 6,400 [PSA 8s] and slightly over 2,400 graded higher than that," noted Sainsbury. "But you know what? The Jordan rookie still gets premium money because of who he is."
One PSA 10 sold for $10,600 on eBay in February 2014.
Lesser-Known Key Rookie Cards
1948 Bowman Arnie Risen #58. A standout center with the Rochester Royals and Boston Celtics from 1948 to 1958, Risen was a four-time all-star. Roberson and Sainsbury both noted that there are just two PSA 9s and 14 PSA 8s of this card, which, like the Mikan, is often found with centering issues and toning on its borders. A PSA 8 sold for $656.88 in a Memory Lane Inc. auction in December 2012.
1957 Topps George Yardley #2. Roberson points out that with just 11 PSA 8s and no unqualified examples grading higher, the Yardley rookie is one of the toughest cards in this set to uncover in near-mint/mint or better condition.
"Yardley was the first guy in the league to ever score 2,000 points in a year," noted Rakosi. "He was an unbelievable scoring machine for Detroit, and he retired very young."
Similar to the Russell rookie, this card is regularly found with poor centering and print snow. Rakosi anticipates that the next PSA 8 will command between $4,000 and $4,500.
1957 Topps Harry Gallatin #62. The first card of this all-star center, who starred with the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons from 1948 to 1958, has been one of the most elusive for O'Hanian to track down for his set.
"I have a PSA 7 which is one of 22 and there are only nine [graded examples] ranking higher," he said. "I've looked all over to find a centered one. But for that card, you're competing with collectors of the 1957 Topps and Hall of Fame rookie sets, and there's just not a lot out there."
A PSA 8 sold for $1,525 on eBay in September 2011.
1971 Topps Mel Daniels #195. Sainsbury says the pasteboard of this 6-foot-9 center, a seven-time ABA all-star with the Indiana Pacers, is the toughest post-1970 card in the set to uncover in flawless form. The bright pink background on the front is rarely found unblemished and the centering is sometimes off. There has yet to be a PSA 10 and there are just nine PSA 9s, one of which sold for $456.45 on eBay in October 2013.
Too Expensive? Not Necessarily
With the huge sums that some of these cards are generating, the Basketball Hall of Fame Rookies set may seem too expensive to build, but that's not necessarily the case.
"I would say go for the highest quality that you can afford," said Rakosi. "The great thing about the set registry is that you can do the set in [PSA EX] 5s or [PSA] 6s or [PSA] 7s. You can do it in any number you want and you can still have the joy of having this incredible collection."
"You don't have to be rich," he said. "Let's just say you want to collect this set in all PSA [EX-MT] 6s; there's nothing wrong with that. People still want Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell PSA 6s, and they'll still fetch a pretty big value. In my opinion, this set is an outstanding investment, even in low grade."
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Kevin Roberson for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of June 2014.
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