In 1957 Topps attempted to solidify it's position as the worldwide leader of sports and non-sports cards when it introduced its inaugural basketball set. It had been nearly a decade since Bowman tried it's own hand at wrangling the interest of roundball fans who for years had feverishly collected their baseball offerings, and though that effort fell painfully short these were different times. The game had adopted the 24-second shot clock and the days of the bucket shot free throws and final tallies that resembled football scores were behind them. In it's place now was a fluid, fast paced game being played by what is now considered the greatest concentration of talent the sport had, or has ever seen. No fewer than twenty players that took the court that season would eventually be enshrined in Springfield. An astounding ratio when you consider that the league's eight teams were comprised of only ten men per roster!
Professional basketball had become exciting, non-stop, and increasingly marketable to new audiences. It seemed as though the table was set for success and Topps was certain they had the dish that card collectors of the time were hungry for. There was no way they could miss. This was a wide open lane to an easy score. Or was it?
In the summer of '57, the Brooklyn-based manufacturer rolled out it's first basketball set, consisting of standard-sized, 2 ½" by 3 ½" depictions, and stacked its roster with the brightest stars of the day. The images of such players as Russell, Pettit, and Stokes were featured in full-length poses, action shots and portraits on the card fronts on top of backgrounds that ranged from the actual gym they were photographed in, to brick walls, to the set's signature split, two-color background. All of which were finished with a two-piece banner above the lower border with the player and team names printed within.
The back of each card included the player's personal details, a paragraph of text, and their statistics, along with a card number in the upper-left corner inside a backboard-style graphic. The verso's most memorable feature by far though was the measuring stick that ran along the right border that marked the featured athlete's height above an illustrated ball player.
Despite the fact that a majority of the players featured in the set at the time of it's release were well into their established careers, the absence of any other basketball offering since the 1948 Bowman set meant that their 1957 Topps example would by default become their rookie card. And yes, that includes every one of the Hall of Famers that graced the front side of these cardboard treasure (#2 George Yardley, #3 Donald Neil Johnston, #5 Bill Sharman, #10 Paul Arizin, #12 Slater Martin, #13 Dolph Schayes, #15 Frank Ramsey, #16 Dick McGwire, #17 Bob Cousy, #19 Tom Heinsohn, #24 Bob Pettit, #27 Ed MacCauley, #28 Vern Mikkelsen, #37 Cliff Hagan, #42 Maurice Stokes, #56 Robert Houbregs, #64 Harry Gallatin, #71 Jack Twyman, #77 Bill Russell, and #78 Clyde Lovellette), making it, without question, the single greatest assemblage of HOF rookie cards in the history of basketball card collecting. A title that, based on current card manufacturing trends, will never be challenged!
Even among such lofty company there are still a handful of cards that stand out, namely Big Bill Russell's rookie specimen, the centerpiece of the set. PSA SMR Price guide has "9"'s listed for $28,500, while high grade examples from his fellow Boston Celtics running mates Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman are being appraised at $7500 and $4250 respectively. Also of special note is card #42 featuring Maurice Stokes, the only card the 1956-57 Rookie of the Year would ever make an appearance on. His career-and later his life-was tragically cut short following a devastating head injury that took place during the final game of the 1958 season. The final card in the set, #80 Dick Schnittker and the #1 card, belonging to Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, have a higher value than expected as well because of their history of being stored at the bottom or top of a stack where exposure to the elements was at a maximum and the likely hood of rubber band related damage was high.
The configuration of the issue on a 132-card press sheet meant that many of the "low-number" players were double printed or even more, so while scarcity plays into the valuation of these cards the main factor is condition. The set was plagued by centering issues and had a bigger problems with "snow" than the Tri-State area this past winter. Specimens free of these rampant defects are few and far between and as such command a premium.
As a basketball fan myself, I love this set! I've heard a few collector's knock it's overall aesthetic but I find the gritty nature of the action photos and the bright contrasting colors, which were all the rage in every form of mid-century design, perfectly capture the this period in the sport.
Appearances aside, we all owe a good bit of appreciation to the people at Topps who without we'd have no representation of 1950's basketball or the players who shaped our modern game. The project was a gamble from the beginning and the chilly reception the cards received from collectors of the day was certainly not the payoff Topps executives were looking for. But what was perceived at the time as a gross miscalculation of the card market on the part of Topps has a half century later, turned into a one of the most sought after sets in the hobby.
Over the past decade Just Collect has bought and sold over $15 million dollars worth of sports and non-sports cards and we're determined to make 2015 our best year yet. Our prices realized and turnaround time are second to none and our experts are always available to answer any and all of your questions. Our passion for the "stuff" is evident in everything we do and we're eager to pay top dollar for any and all quality pieces from the 1957-58 Topps basketball set. Whether you have a single card, a small group, a complete set, or a massive stash, call us today to discuss your options. Appointments are available at any of our satellite offices and, based on the size and value of a collection, our staff can come come to you.Return to See More Just Collect Sets