Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spotlight on Cards:1980-81 Topps Basketball

Last Sunday, I wrote a post about waiting 8+ years for the return of some Tom Burleson signed basketball cards. At the bottom was a copy of one of the cards Burleson signed.
Scorehead Zeke and a few emailers asked about this card. It was his 1980-81 Topps basketball card and it was bad. It wasn't the fact that it was Burleson's card which made it bad. The whole set was bad. It was also the last basketball set produced by Topps for many years.
The 1980-81 set featured a regular sized card, divided into 3 mini-cards by perforations. Each 1/3 (or mini-card) featured a different player and was considered a separate card, despite being attached to 2 other mini-cards. Make sense? gets worse.
There were 178 total cards in the set, including 264 different mini-cards. The same 264 mini-cards appear in different positions (with different mini-cards attached to them) in the first and second sets of 88 cards that make up the 176 card set.
This set was panned by critics and collectors. Autograph collectors were especially upset and befuddled by this set.If you kept the 3 piece card intact, once you got one of the parts signed, you would never risk losing the first signature by sending it out to someone else to sign another of the parts.
If you split the card at the perforation, you were left with an absurd card of minimum proportions. If you got it signed, what could you possibly do with it? There are no card pages or holders with slots that small.
Additionally, the space for the signature was obviously smaller than usual. No player would sign across more than his part of the card. If he signed with a Sharpie, often it was too small to be legible. If he signed with a pen, it was usually too light and would get lost in the colors of the card. It was a 'no-win' situation for autograph collectors.
The only reason this set gets any attention at all is the famous Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rookie card. Topps managed to put Bird and Magic on the same card (with a Julius Erving leaders card occupying the other part of the card). Two of the greatest basketball players of all time have their rookie card in this abysmal set and on the same card.

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