By Henry Salazar aka FL Henry

I started collecting basketball cards when I was eighteen years old. Before then I did not even know they made basketball cards. I bought as many basketball cards as I could as quickly as I could get my hands on them. Granted, that did not amount to too many cards as at that time I was making $4.25 an hour while I went to school. I spent hours combing through my collection sorting the players I had, making note of the players I was missing, and reading the stats and the personal information on the backs of the cards.


You did not misread that last line. I actually took the time to read the back of the cards.


In the beginning, the cards I collected were about the players. Somewhere along the line, however, the player took a back seat to value. And even then it might be a more succinct statement to say that players took a back seat to perceived value. Most collectors, if not all of us, will concede that book value does not really accurately reflect the dollar amount a card will command in the open market. Instead, it provides collectors a relative scale in which a particular card can be compared to another card.


There are certainly some simple factors that contribute to my shift from collecting based on my love of players and the game versus my desire to pull the next autographed 1/1. I am older now, I make considerably more money now than I did as a teenager, product has gotten more expensive, and eBay has provided an instant commerce venue for anyone looking to get into sales.


Fundamentally, however, I think the problem is much bigger.


Athletes are no longer heroes.


Admittedly, this is a blanket statement that is probably not 100% correct. There are some people who still look up to athletes. In today’s world of failed drug tests, paternity suits, and $100 million dollar contracts I would argue that even the most dedicated fan is still not shocked to read about their hero getting into a bar fight or getting a ticket for drunk driving.


When Charles Barkley proclaimed he was not a role a model and he should not have to raise your kids he should have gone ahead and stated that he wanted to shatter the way athletes are viewed by kids and adults alike. Now, I do not blame Charles Barkley for the demise of the athlete as hero. He simply was the first athlete to publicly articulate the sentiment. The fact that this articulation came in a commercial to sell shoes to his fans was, in my opinion, fairly ironic but that is beside the point, I suppose.


Everyone gravitates towards things that have value. This is just human nature. The measure of value does not have to be monetary. Twenty years ago the value of sports cards was measured much more deeply for the players themselves. It was not unusual at all for me to see several cards displayed in my friend’s bedrooms because they were fans of those players or teams. The only factor book value played in the decision making process was whether or not the card was displayed using a tack or out in a plastic sleeve.


Now that the value of the athlete as hero and role model has diminished the only measurement left is book value. If the average sixteen year old could not care less about Lebron James as a person why would they care to own anything with his picture or signature on it? It is because the James products have either perceived monetary value or stature value amongst his peers.


I may be in the minority here but I do not feel the card manufacturers have destroyed the market by making cards too expensive. I look around and see a lot of inexpensive product available to people that need an affordable option. Naturally the odds of pulling an autograph or a low numbered rookie are very low but if that is what the collectors are after than the more expensive product is what they need to target anyway. If a fan wants to collect the cards of players and teams they enjoy there are more than enough opportunities to do so.


I think we as collectors can help propagate the hobby by showing other folks, especially younger children, the varied enjoyment that can come from collecting. I think it is pointless to lean on the value of athletes as role models anymore as a primary catalyst for collecting. I am already showing my four year old the differences in cards. He is learning glossy versus non-glossy, the different thicknesses, the idea of game used, autographs, etc. We’ve stacked numerous cards by colors, by team names, and by which players he thinks look friendly versus unfriendly.


When you really think about it that is what we do as adults, too. Granted, the attributes we identify and group by are largely different than that of a four year old. Although, the exercise of going through several hundred cards and making a stack of ‘Looks Friendly’ and ‘Looks Mean’ was actually a lot more fun than you might think.