By AJ Stuart aka Wolvesjr34

I’ve been collecting cards since as far back as 1990, starting at the age of eight. Basketball cards, which I collect primarily nowadays, did not really become huge in my city until 1994. Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and Michael Jordan were making the NBA huge world wide, even here in little old Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.

Back then, it was me and a few kids in the neighbourhood that collected and we would get together at my house and trade cards and talk about our favourite players; or we would meet in town after school and visit the local card shop.

I loved the card shop, I would spend an hour there every day after school pretty much, often having to run back to the bus stop so as not to miss my bus back home. Then I’d get off the bus and play NBA Jam on the arcade machine at the local fish and chip shop for another half an hour before walking up the hill home. Card collecting was the most joyous thing I had in my life. It did not deter me that my father said I was wasting my money on cards (despite the fact he collected diecast metal Jaguars), it was simply love.

I never really was big on Michael Jordan and so I used to trade my Jordans to a friend for Gary Payton cards, well wasn’t he getting a good deal! I collected so many players too, because I couldn’t make up my mind who I liked the most. There was Isaiah Rider (he remains my favourite), Shaq, Penny, Shawn Kemp, Payton, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwan, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Charles Oakley, Isiah Thomas and so many more. I just basically could not get enough of cards.

Within a few years however, the card industry started to slow down, Launceston went from having 3 card shops to two and then just one. I stopped actively collecting, would only go to the card shop once in a while, buying a giant box of base from time to time, until that card shop was gone too. So I had nowhere to support my hobby, even though I wasn’t that keen on it anymore. I had long since moved away from my old friends and I just forgot about it.

Then eBay happened and I came back into collecting, found a few forums and now make a lot of trades or buy cards via forums and eBay. But I miss the personal aspect, I miss the joy from trading for that card I really want. The Internet has made it possible for me to continue my passion, but it’s taken so much personality out of the hobby. Working out trade deals was a lot easier in person too, unlike today where it can become a long drawn out process via private message. I’m not always satisfied in the end either; that was never a problem in person.

Another thing I miss is the joy of busting packs or boxes. The boom in game used and autographed cards has meant that if I bust a box and I don’t get a decent autograph or patch card I feel ripped off. Inserts just don’t cut it anymore and that’s a real shame. One of my happiest moments as a collector came when my Mother bought me a folder that came with a bonus pack of Fleer 1994-95. It was a hot pack, 15 inserts and I was so excited! Oh how I miss viewing the world through the eyes of a child.

Also, while I am talking about inserts I have to say that they lack so much creativity these days. Fleer was awesome with their insert designs and the 1996-97 Gamebreakers insert set remains one of my favourites of all time (although the Gamebreakers insert the following year looked pretty bad). Everything Panini has made so far has seemed really bland. I think if there was less effort into producing thousands of colour coded parallels and more effort into designing sweet (and rarer) insert sets it might bring a bit back some people to the hobby – especially children. It’s bad enough nobody cares about base anymore, but nobody cares about the inserts either.

This is just my perspective though, because I honestly love all cards. Panini, considering they have the sole licence for the NBA needs to be bold and bring value back into the hobby. They can start by making inserts rare and making autographs and memorabilia cards rarer. Sure they could have one or two high end products where you get what you pay for, autographs and memorabilia, but bring the rest back to the people. Make pulling a Kobe Bryant autograph an experience of a lifetime, rather than just another boring case hit because its so over produced. A player’s autograph no matter how good he is, shouldn’t be selling for as little as a dollar. Make it matter again by making it rare.

Take us back to the good old days, when an insert would make you smile. Maybe then I can have one little piece of the joy back from opening a box of cards. I won’t have to feel so depressed because I didn’t pull a Jordan or Kobe or John Wall auto. Because the rest is gone, there won’t be any new card shops in Launceston and there just isn’t anyone locally I can trade with in person, so all I have left is the busting experience. Let it be more enjoyable from now on.

I do realise though that my voice is probably part of a minority. Some people agree that memorabilia and autographs are over produced, but most just crave more and at cheaper prices too (at least in my experience) while wanting the cards to hold their value so they can be sold for a profit. Thus the final thing I miss about the old days, cards were to be collected, traded and kept they were not for hoarding now to sell later for a profit. The hobby was about the hobby, not business. For me it still is about the hobby, I mostly just trade and buy what I need for my Minnesota Timberwolves collection. A collection I intend to keep and pass on to the next generation in the hope that they can appreciate the piece of history I have so lovingly collected since 1994.