Saturday, June 23, 2012

Box Break: 2011-12 Panini Past & Present Basketball

I love basketball. I started watching sports in the 80s when Bird, Parish and McHale were bringing 3 NBA Championships to Boston. I’ve remained a huge Celtics fans through the terrible teams when the Celtics tanked and had the worst record in the league and got to see three classy veterans unite to bring one more title to Boston. Lately, my NBA fandom has died down a little bit. I went from spending the most money on basketball cards when Topps and Upper Deck were in the game to buying just one box a year once Panini took over. Combine that with the horrible state of officiating in the NBA which takes fun out of watching the games and you’ve got an NBA fan on the decline. What’s worse is that you had the Heat come together in response to Pierce, Garnett and Allen teaming up and this year another superteam or two will be created to take on the Heat. Boring.

The frustrating thing about this hobby is that you can’t just give it up cold turkey. Your purchases might come less frequently, but you still make little purchases here and there even when times are tough. Panini had been talking of change on Twitter and in their blog and so I kept an eye on them. Not having any rookies at all in this year’s hoops releases made me lose interest, but that problem was semi-resolved with redemption cards. The cards that you get won’t be considered rookie cards, but the official rookie designation doesn’t really seem to matter to most collectors. They gravitate towards something early in the player’s career with a low print run and autograph to be a player’s most sought-after card. These cards could end up becoming the best cards for these players, but I have a feeling that the print runs won’t be all that low. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

I was intrigued by Panini’s Past & Present Basketball release. I had my eye on a box, but was waiting until the price fixing period ended so that I could get a box at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the Father’s Day promotion fell right before the end of that time frame. I made the trek out to a card shop that was participating in the promotion to find out that they were closed…for Father’s Day. I completely understand that, but if you are participating in a Father’s Day promotion then you might want to be around for people to take advantage of that promotion. Luckily, Panini offered boxes on their site that you could purchase to get the special Father’s Day packs and I decided to go that route.

Quick tangent: I would highly advise against ordering from Panini’s online webstore unless you have no other option. First off, I paid for Priority Shipping, but my package was shipped FedEx Ground. It’s not just a speed thing, my local USPS delivery person is much better than their FedEx counterpart. I sent emails about the error with no reply, but luckily the Panini CSR Twitter account was able to assist. When I got the box, it was just the box of cards (in a thin plastic bag), my receipt and the 4 packs of Father’s Day cards. There were no air pouches or packing peanuts to be seen. $100 worth of trading cards and someone at Panini treated it like crap, threw it in a box and sent it off without a care. Now that they’ve improved their customer service, they really need to improve their shipping. I know things were probably busier than usual due to the promotion, but I would have rather had my package ship a day later with proper shipping materials than get this. There’s really no excuse for this. /tangent

On to the good stuff, the cards. I’ve always been a fan of retro and vintage looking sets. While Panini doesn’t have much of a history to draw from when it comes to basketball, they did attempt with this year’s Hoops set. I don’t know if it was just me, but it didn’t feel like a Hoops set at all. This set has base cards with a retro vibe and inserts straight out of 90s Fleer Ultra and Skybox.


The set composition is rather strange. The first 75 cards in the set have the design you see in the top row and are current players. Cards 101-175 have the design that you see in the second row and are also current player. The biggest starts show up in each design as you can see with the Jesus Shuttlesworth, Truth and Rondo cards. The Bird and Russell cards are from the run of veteran cards from 76-100. Cooz can be found in the second run of veteran cards spanning cards 176-200. I’m not a big fan of some players appearing twice unless there’s a good reason. This is Past & Present, give us cards of Ray Allen as a Sonic, KG as a Timberwolf, LeBron as a Cav, etc. That would have made more sense to me than cards that just seem there to inflate the size of the set and get people to buy more packs. I got 67.5% of the set in my box which is a little low. You’ve got to get at least 75% of the set out of a box for me to be happy. This set was a little large for the number of cards that you get per pack. I wonder if 10 cards per pack was feasible?

Set composition aside, I love the look of the cards. This is easily Panini’s strongest effort in a basketball release. These cards are beautiful, are printed on a nice, sturdy card stock and have an interesting gloss on them. It’s somewhere between a matte and a high gloss. There’s definitely a slick surface there, but it’s not like something you’d find on Stadium Club or Ultra cards. There are sticker auto variations of the base set, but at least they don’t seem to be the main autographs that you get out of boxes. Panini claims that they are moving away from this and I know it is something that collectors will welcome with open arms.


Speaking of retro, these cards are based on the 1950 Fischer's Bread for Health labels that came on loaves of bread. You can find a picture of a George Mikan label that sold for just over one thousand dollars here. Panini decided to change the dimensions on these to that of regular cards these days instead of keeping them square. I would have loved square, die-cut cards like the originals, but it wasn’t meant to be. Bread for Health and Bread for Energy are the common versions of these and the Bread for Life inserts come one per box. (Speaking of retro, remember when one per box meant something?)


Changing Times showcases stars in front of the type of basketball that they played with. Players such as Mikan and The Big O have a smooth basketball on their card while modern day players have the textured ball of today’s game. What makes this set phenomenal is that they don’t just stop there. The Julius Erving card? That card has the old ABA red, white and blue basketball on it as do the cards of George McGinnis and Dan Issel. I’ve gotten on Panini’s case for taking the cheap way out before, but they did anything but that with this insert set. The cards have different textures and designs and I love it.

The Breakout insert set is a little cheesy, but they do look good. The brick wall is textured and the result is a really nice looking card. These cards also have autograph parallels, but they also aren’t the main autographs that you would pull out of every box.

The Fireworks insert set is another great looking set and I’m bummed that I only got one card out of my box when the average is two. At least the card that I did pull was that of KG which will be going right into my collection. The player and the fire have a hologram-like design that moves as you tilt the card. These are really sharp looking cards.


The final insert set is Raining 3s. The graphic design department did a very nice job on these cards. The players have a liquid look to them and the cards are only glossy on the player which helps the colors on these cards to pop. These cards fall 2 per box on average, but I got an extra one in place of the Fireworks card that the averages say I should have gotten. All of the inserts from this set are cards that you want to hold on to rather than junky afterthoughts like many Panini inserts of the past.

The final card is a Tim Duncan SP variant. These fall one per box and are variations of 50 cards from the base set. Variants are so much better than short prints that are part of the set. I wish that this became the norm when companies try to add value to boxes because short prints in the main set take a lot of the fun out of collecting.


Hit Time!

From what I’ve seen, the majority of the autographs that come out of these boxes are from the Elusive Ink set. It’s a given in this day and age that you’ve got to have minor stars sign things if you want a chance at pulling autographs of big stars, especially in lower end products. ($100 is low end? Kill me now.) It’s always nice when the autographs have a theme and get autographs out there of players who don’t have a lot of autographed cards already. Sure, they may not have a ton of value, but they can be invaluable additions to player and team collections. I still can’t believe that Panini didn’t include Dee Brown in their Slam Dunk Contest insert set, but they did include him in the Elusive Ink set. I’ve only been able to track down one other autographed card from a Fleer set and that’s about it. I don’t think he has any jersey cards. (Are you listening Panini?)

Speaking of jersey cards, the only ones you’ll find are these Gamers. You won’t find floating swatches in the middle of the base cards. I love it. Jersey cards are a little played out, but these cards give you nice big swatches and a nice design. It’s different from the norm and again I have to compliment Panini on that. They also didn’t put a lame die-cut window in front of the swatch to try and make it 3 swatches. Thank you.

Last, but certainly not least since it was the best card in the box, is the 2011 NBA Rookie Redemption Autograph card. There are 39 different redemption cards that right now don’t mean anything. This October, Panini will have a random draft to assign each redemption card to one of the 39 rookies from 2011. Yes, you could end up with Kyrie Irving, but you could also end up with a third autograph that you could pick up for .99¢ on eBay. Lots of people are currently trying to put together complete sets of the redemption cards and the chance at Irving has these cards selling for $30-$40 on eBay. Seems like a no-brainer to me since the majority of the 39 cards that you have a chance at getting are going to sell below $30. These cards will not have low print runs.

To sum things up quickly, love the look of the cards. Boxes were overpriced at $100. They’ve come down to around $85 now that the price fixing period is over. I think they’ll eventually settle at $75 and will be a good value at that price. This is a huge change for Panini. There were some exceptions such as Classics, but the majority of their releases would have 4 relic cards and one auto and now they’re giving you three autos and one relic card. That’s a nice change. The change from the reliance on cookie cutter design is a great change as well. Panini flexed some creative muscle with this release and I hope that it continues with future sets.

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