Monday, May 28, 2012

Panini Presents A Blast From the Past with A Glimpse of the Future

I like surprises, do you? Upon the landscape of the trading card industry you get used to seeing similar products. If you listen to collectors rants, you'll hear all kinds of things like there are only certain things left to do on a 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 canvas, or if a collection doesn't have element A or element B, I don't want anything to do with it. That's all fine and good, but the truth is if one person doesn't like it, ten others might. Sometimes you gotta try new things to see what sticks. In this day and age of social media and instant replies it is even more of a task to keep things under wraps before people start shredding you to bits. Some people even do it when they have never seen a product, just because they feel justified in their opinions. Some like being first, some are interested in nothing more than linking to similar items for sale to make money. Good for them, but when I write it is my job, and on this day I received a product to review that exceeded any expectations I had after seeing a small preview. Panini America just released an NBA product that blew my mind. Past & Present Basketball hits the hardwood at $100 per 20 pack box. You'll enjoy players from all eras of the game and a design with a vintage flair. It doesn't hurt that it includes 3 autographs per box.

When the NBA went on strike, I pretty much boycotted watching the game. I have more important things to do than worry about guys not making enough money to put an orange ball through a hoop. I have a family to support and really can't see a gripe when they all make nearly $500,000 minimum. With the playoffs upon us, and the fact that I report on sports and sports collectibles, of course I had to tune in, but I was reluctant. I stopped collecting basketball cards too, totally. When I saw the early previews that Panini's Tracy Hackler posted on twitter, for Past & Present Basketball, I became very interested in seeing more. I think what caught my attention immediately were the sheer volume of great players on cards and a strong design that stood out among other recent basketball releases. It made me think about the history of the game and that's exactly what Panini needed to do to get a rise out of collectors that echo similar sentiments to those that I did above. On the flip side, there were just a lot of NBA collectors waiting for a product, any product after a long drought and a severe cutback from 2010-11.

All of the elements are present for a fun and educational collecting experience. Fun because of the blast from the past, educational, because after all, cards are like the pages of encyclopedias or your favorite wiki site. Past & Present introduces you to, or revisits the NBAs greatest ambassadors, most outrageous players, iconic game-changers and journeymen that shaped the game into the financial juggernaut it is today. The set could have been released without any of the big hits and I believe fans would still want to collect it. The combination of vintage photos, historical NBA moments chronicled on card backs and some amazingly fresh inserts utilizing new technology would have been enough for many, especially set builders.

No Time Machine Necessary
Hanging out with Doc Brown and his DeLorean couldn't get you this many retired, seasoned, and future players in one collection. A 200-card base set is comprised of four different vintage designs and includes players ranging from Jeremy Lin to Walt Bellamy, or if you don't like NY, how about Rajon Rondo to Robert Parrish? Stephen Jackson to George Gervin? You get what I'm saying right? There is something for everyone.

You'll also have the thrill of the chase because 1 hobby box will provide you with about 67% of the set, in my case it was exactly 134 of the 200 card set. A good majority of the base cards have also been autographed. Look for 'em.

Collectors seeking a bit more of a chase can seek out the 50-card base variation set. Seeded scarcely at only 1 per box, you are going to have to hunt these down to complete this elusive set.

Yo! Where are the Rookies?
Its been a tough year for collectors. The only rookie cards of NBA players that we've seen have come from a cello pack at the 32nd National and have you seen what that Kyrie Irving card is selling for? Well, rookie collectors can rejoice as you will find redemption cards for 2011 and 2012 NBA rookies inserted into this product. Let's be honest too, do you care what a book says? RC, XRC? People will want these, they will pay for them and if they look anything like the other cards in this product, they are gonna be splendid!

On the horizon are 35 autographed rookie cards from the 2011 class. These redemption cards are seeded into the product and the player checklist will be unveiled on Panini America's Knight's Lance blog at

You might also find a 2012 rookie redemption card in your packs. There are 25 of these cards including one good for a complete set of 2012 rookies. We won't know who these players are until the draft takes place, but you will know your draft slot as it is listed on the redemption card. 

Bring on the Bread Winners
Like die-cut cards? Want more basic inserts? 150 total cards make up 3 different Bread themed sets. Bread for Health, Bread for Life and Bread for Energy are randomly packed and you'll find about 9 or 10 per box.

Who Said You Can Only Do So Much On a 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 Canvas?
On the box, it states, "Look for four cutting-edge technology cards in Breakout, Changing Times, Fireworks and Raining 3s!"  Before I saw them, I was like hmmm... are we looking at a resurgence of the late 80s and early 90s inserts that have been setting eBay on fire of late? I actually didn't know what to expect because I didn't see any inserts, just base cards to this point. I was very impressed with the look of these cards. They are some of the nicest designs, not just from Panini, but from any company. Let's break them down one by one:

This 20-card collection features a combination of gloss and matte finishes and some interesting, eye-catching technology that makes the athlete literally appear as if he is engulfed in or omitting flames. I'd throw in some kind of modern catch phrase here, but its unnecessary, find some; the cards alone do the talking. I unpacked two in this box, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

See your favorite NBA stars explode right out of the arena wall in this 30-card collection. Solid in action photos with a white cement wall cracked so you can see -AND- feel the exposed bricks. Think those silly Fleer ProVision with real photos and technology that's light-years ahead of its predecessor. The first 28 players on the checklist also have autographed variations. I found four of these in the box including Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Gordon Hayward and Eric Bledsoe. I also scored an autographed version of the Bledsoe card.

Changing Times
Another 30-card insert is the Changing Times series. Another outstanding collection of old and new players, but what sets them apart is the attention to detail not only in the design elements like fonts, black & white and color images, but the product team killed it when they adapted the actual texture of the old NBA ball versus, the ABA red, white and blue ball and also, the newer NBA ball on the background image of the cards. This design or something similar could stand alone as its own brand in the future. I usually don't like to make comparisons, but it is reminiscent of the Ovation brand from Upper Deck, but it's better. There were 4 in the box. I have to say I would have loved to have seen these autographed, they look spectacular.

Raining 3's
This 20 card set, without going over the top, is my favorite design ever utilized by Panini America since they took over the Donruss/Playoff company. You wanna talk gorgeous? Talk. Again, a combination of gloss and matte finish with a black marble-like design just resonates to the artist in me. The cards are gorgeous and I'd love to see an entire product use this type of design. I only found two in the box, but you can bet that I will be seeking out the entire 20-card set. I am staring at them wondering how awesome they would look with gold, silver or other metallic ink colored autographs on them.

All four of these sets are scads better than some of the basic designs we have become accustomed to on trading cards. No framed borders, no mirror board, chrome, or anything other than a solid design and some wonderful printing techniques that should be utilized more by manufacturers to set themselves apart from others.

Big Guys And Big Swatches
It only seems natural that if you have a big jersey, you should use a big swatch on a card. Panini has given collectors the equivalent of tallboy swatches on the Gamers memorabilia cards. There are 100 of them to find and while some might be all white or all blue or all red, they are all HUGE.

What Else Ya Got?
There is even more to get excited about, especially if you are a fan of players that missed out on the memorabilia and autograph craze within the the hobby. Panini has assembled a group that has few or no autographs and some current players that are must haves in a hoops set. Between the Elusive Ink and Modern Marks signature series are names like Sleepy Floyd, Hersey Hawkins, Charles Oakley, Steve Kerr, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Marc Gasol, Muggsy Bougues, Reggie Theus, Blake Griffin & Bryant Reeves. There are more but you can check out the entire checklist here.

Overall there is a lot of NBA goodness abound. The combination of good looks and good conversation is much like a good date and I am positive once you get the introduction to Panini's Past & Present Basketball, you'll want to spend a lot of time with your cards. You might even find yourself jonesing for a second date and $100 will get you to at least third base and maybe a little more. I found the three autos and one memorabilia card per box. You know that one of the autos was of Eric Bledsow. The other two were former Orlando Magic star Nick Anderson and Major Jones. Jones was one of four brothers that made it to the NBA. He was drafted in the same draft as Robert Parish and John Lucas, but went to the CBA and didn't arrive in the NBA until he spent a couple years in the WBA. He's an elusive auto for sure.

Your Take
Reviews have been mixed. The product has a lot of love for the design and the inserts. Some collectors think the auto checklist are scrubs, some love the fact that some of the guys that have few or no previous autos are now available. One collector even found a card that wasn't the player it was supposed to be, so you know people are watching this one with keen eyes. Many of the autos are very affordable on the secondary market, but the rookie redemption cards are starting to heat up with anticipation of who will be included in the 2011 auto set and who will be drafted for the 2012 collection.

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