Saturday, July 30, 2011

Set Spotlight: 96-97 Topps Chrome; A Class Above the Rest

I've talked about it a few times on this blog, as both Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant's rookies have made my countdown, but it's amazing how a set that was supposed to be nothing but a filler release, one to appease an agreement Topps had with Wal-Mart, ended up becoming one of the most coveted sets of the modern era. That's exactly what the 96-97 Topps Chrome set is though, a modern day successor to the 61 Fleer and 86-87 Fleer set of the vintage era. Combining relative scarcity with a scorching hot rookie class, made this set climb to legendary proportions. As far as the base cards go, I have all the main cards from the set minus the Jordan, which I hope to get someday. Here's a look at the star-studded rookie class and their Topps Chrome Rookie Cards.

Kobe Bryant
I already mentioned Kobe's card, just yesterday, and to this day it's still the most desirable card of the set. The Colorado incident a few years back tarnished this card a little, but Kobe bounced back and this card is still a highly coveted card to own. It's the Michael Jordan Fleer Rookie card of the set.

Allen Iverson
I've talked about the Chrome rookie at length on my countdown, as I pulled it out of the 1 pack of Chrome I bought. Here's also the Youthquake insert of Iverson, which also became a popular insert set featuring the 96-97 rookie class. Kobe's is of course the best out of this set. Iverson had a great career (no telling if he's officially retired) as he was MVP in 01, an 11 time all star and 4 time scoring champion. He also lead the Sixers to a NBA Finals Appearance in 00-01 losing to the Lakers. Unfortunately, his career has kind of ended with a whimper after failed stints in Denver, Detroit, Memphis, and a short comeback in Philly. Still, I think Iverson is definitely a Hall of Famer, and there is a great argument this his Chrome rookie is the 2nd best out of the set.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Known for years as the best player no one had ever heard of because he played in Vancouver and Memphis, it seemed like Abdur-Rahim only needed a change of scenary to become a big time NBA Superstar. Unfortunately Abdur-Rahim never achieved that superstardom and though he had a good NBA career, it wasn't the greatness everyone expected. He made one all star team and won a gold medal in 2000, but kinda faded away and just became a role player in Portland and Sacramento. This card at it's peak was a $150 card but nowadays it's a far cry from that.

Stephon Marbury
Here's a guy who when he started his career went head to head with A.I. in terms of popularity. It looked like him and KG would be the cornerstones of a young and hungry T-Wolves team for years to come and the price of this card reflected it at the time, at one time peaking at a whopping $150. Unfortunately, though he put up some nice numbers, he never really matured, and wasn't a real leader on the teams he played for. It seemed like every team that he got traded from got better when he left. His attitude and selfishness was a real turn off to fans and collectors and that's unfortunate cause he had the skills to be among the NBA's elite. He's a two time all star, and again kind of like most of this rookie class, kind of just faded away after having some nice seasons.

Antoine Walker
Another guy who had such a bright future, and it looked like he and Paul Pierce were going to bring the Celtics back into the NBA spotlight. Another rookie card that peaked at $150 when it looked like Walker was going to be the cornerstone of the Celtics. Now, he's more known for his money problems than his playing career. A 3 time all star, after he left Boston he became a supporting player for various teams, including the Miami  Heat where he won a title.

Ray Allen
Now here's a guy who's in debate for 2nd best in the class of 96. He might not have scoring titles like Iverson, of MVP's like Nash, but he's 10 time all star, the NBA's leader in 3 pt shots made, and a clutch shooter at that, and something that Iverson and Nash aren' NBA Champion. A sure fire hall of famer, he's consistant year in and year out. His Chrome rookie has always been pretty consistant, I don't recall a major drop-off in comparison to guys like Iverson, Shareef, etc, in fact Allen was able to leap or become on par with these guys, so he's prolly seen a modest spike since this card came out. Definitely warrants major consideration for 2nd best in the class.

Derek Fisher
No he's not an all-star, but noone can deny Fisher's presence in the Lakers championship runs of the 2000s. A five time NBA champion, Fisher has been a crucial part of every Lakers championship. Fisher of course wasn't a key rookie card initially since when this set came out, the Lakers weren't NBA Championship contenders like they are now, but due to his pedigree, it's become one of the better rookies in the set.

Marcus Camby
Going back in time, I think most people would've imagined Camby not panning out. Injury prone initially, and more of a defensive standout, I never thought he'd outlast Shareef, Antoine, Marbury, and Iverson, but here's Camby still goin strong to this day. This card really didn't receive a huge price increase, because Camby really didn't have a NBA following like the others. A former Defensive Player of the Year, surprisingly Camby's never been an All-Star, but that doesn't take away that he's been a solid NBA player, especially on the defensive end for years.

Steve Nash
Another guy who when looking back in time I never thought  would be one of the faces of the leagues when he was drafted, Nash's first couple years in the league were nothing to write home about. Even the trade to Dallas at first, he was nothing too special. This was just another rookie card for years before he stepped his game big time, when he, Michael Finley, and Dirk turned Dallas from a laughingstock to a legit playoff contender. When Nash resigned with the Suns, his career really took off, and he's a two time MVP. Nash is definitely is one the best point guards to play the game and also deserves consideration for 2nd best rookie in the class. Not making at least one Finals appearance though, does hurt.

Jermaine O'Neal
Jermaine O'Neal was the other high schooler taken in the first round in 96. Unlike Kobe though, O'Neal spent a lot of time on the Trailblazers bench, just waiting to show off his potential. It wasn't until a trade to the Pacers, that we got to really see how great O'Neal could be. A 6 time all star, injuries kind of shortened his impact in the league, still a solid NBA player and still one of the better cards in the set.

So there you have it, I still like this class a lot, and for awhile this class looked damn near unbeatable. All these guys had their moment in the sun, but basically it comes down to Kobe, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, and Steve Nash as the cream of the crop....which isn't bad to say the least. The Topps Chrome set of 96-97 has cemented it's legacy in basketball card history, and it's a set that will always stand the test of time.

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