Upper Deck’s Basketball Game Changer
By Henry Salazar aka FL Henry
Upper Deck changed the hobby with the 2003-04 basketball Exquisite Collection.
Until Upper Deck introduced Exquisite Collection the basketball hobby world kind of flew under the radar. When friends and family discovered I was into sports card collecting they always asked about my baseball card collection. After gently setting them straight that I am a basketball card collector they all pretty much inevitably said the same thing:”I didn’t even know they made basketball cards.”
I heard that the suggested retail price was going to be around $500 for Exquisite Collection and I got very excited. I had been wondering for years why a sports card company did not get serious and simply make a collection that guaranteed every single card in a pack would be a keeper. Upper Deck rose to the challenge and promised to change the landscape of collecting forever. I fell for the hype hard and could barely contain myself with excitement.
Think about that for a second. How impressive a marketing campaign is that? I stayed awake at night counting the days until I would be given the privilege of paying $500 for a single pack of cards. I hope someone at Upper Deck moved to a corner office and got a parking space closer to the building for such a phenomenal idea.
Suddenly the hobby was all over the news. Exquisite Collection was the talk of the town. People in my office were buzzing over how ridiculous the notion of paying $500 for a single pack of cards was. They could not fathom how anyone could be that reckless with their money. I stood undeterred. I was thrilled for the hobby in general. For a while the world of non-collectors was abuzz with terms like game used, rookie auto, Logoman, and one of one.
Upper Deck had done what had seemed impossible just a short time ago. They had put basketball cards in the public eye. The marketing was masterful, the imagination of a nation had been captured, and the media was in a frenzy to see the first of the coveted Logoman cards pulled. Speculation over the value these cards would demand on eBay was almost as big as a story as Exquisite Collection itself.
The big day had finally arrived and I headed to my local card shop at 10:00 AM to pick up what at the time was considered the Holy Grail of all sports cards. I was at a card shop at 10:00 AM on a weekday since I had taken the day off. That’s right. I took a day of work so I could spend hundreds of dollars. I explained to my wife that while it seemed a bit financially frivolous on the outside that really what I was doing was pumping money into the local economy. In fact, I told her, I should be heralded for perpetuating what truly should be considered the American dream; the small business. I was supporting the little guy and in that there is nobility!
“Perpetuating the American dream? Really? That’s what you’re going with?”, my wife said.
For some reason the argument did not seem to have the same elegance when she said it. I felt like I had gone too far down the road to turn back on this stance so I said the only thing that came to mind.
“Uh, yeah. It seems pretty obvious.” And I left. My exit was not predicated with the desire to make a grand exit as much as it was to simply avoid the continuation of this particular conversation. As I was hearing the discussion out loud I could really tell I was teetering on going overboard.
Today I will reluctantly admit that there is the SLIGHTEST possibility that I may not have been solely motivated to purchase the 2003-04 cards for the purpose of perpetuating the American dream. I am unwavering, however, that while it may not have been my primary objective it was still a happy byproduct. Yes, that is my story and I am sticking to it.
So I find myself standing in front of my local card shop dealer with a predicament I had not fully considered. I was presented with three boxes of the Exquisite Collection. I had to choose. I could hardly believe it. As I stared at the boxes I literally started to feel sick to my stomach. I was 100% certain that whichever boxes I left in the shop were going to have the golden tickets and I would never let myself live it down.
So I bought them all.
And it was totally worth it.
The 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite lived up to the hype. Every single card in the set is numbered. The base cards are numbered to 225. Let that sink in for a moment. Granted, in today’s short print world the allure of the limited series has been a bit skewed. However, in 2003-04 if you pulled ANY card numbered to 225 in a set it was still something to get excited about. Upper Deck’s Exquisite Collection produced a product where that was the very worst card you could pull. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that the entire base set consists of exactly seventy eight cards. Forty two of the cards are simple base numbered to 225, thirty one of the cards rookie cards with jerseys and autographs numbered to 225, and five of the cards are rookie cards with jerseys and autographs numbered to 99.
So, just to restate…
A grand total of forty eight cards (each numbered to 225) exist in the entire set without either an autograph or a jersey swatch.
Each of the cards are beautifully designed. The autographs are all crisp and pop against the stark white contrast of the thick, high quality card stock Upper Deck chose to use for this watershed collection. The patches with signatures are pulled tight and clearly display the autograph in a heavy silver sharpie. The patches that do not include signatures are all multiple colors. Every patch card with no signature is also an oversized swatch. The hottest rookies potentially of all time are represented in the set. Lebron James, Wade, and Melo highlight the rookie class and their cards are heavily featured in the insert sets. Exquisite Collection also heavily features the greats of the game, as well. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic, Bill Russell, Dr, J and the list just keeps going.
Upper Deck knocked 2003-04 Exquisite Collection out of the park. The cards are still some of the most coveted by collectors and are still unmistakable in design.
I was heartbroken when I found out that Upper Deck were no longer producing basketball cards. My only hope is that when Upper Deck finally reemerges in the basketball world they decide to do so with the same pageantry as in 2003-2004. An event that rivals the original Exquisite Collection might make Upper Desks absence at least tolerable for a little while.
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