The calling card for Skybox Premium, the 1996-97 Fleer Autographics Basketball was one of the most expansive autograph sets and important inserts of all time.
This great set crossed over more than Allen Iverson, as they were inserted one in every 72 packs of Hoops series 1 and 2, Skybox series 1 and 2, Skybox Z-Force series 1 and 2 as well as Skybox EX2000. The design remained the same across all products. It didn’t hurt that the set featured some of the biggest stars (and rookies) on the hardwood.
Autographics were not the hobby’s first pack pulled autos but nearly three decades later are still widely collected and some of the most desirable signed cards in the hobby. With a key feature that might have been taken for granted back in the day, all of the autographs are on card–no stickers.
The first 100 autographed cards of each player of this nearly 100-card set are in blue ink while the remaining cards are all signed in black ink. Of course, with this large of a set and this much of an undertaking, a few exceptions exist to this rule as both the great Hakeem Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen autographed all of their cards in blue ink while Kevin Garnett autographed two thirds of his cards in blue and the rest in black.
The card design features a crisp image of the player, taking up two thirds of the card, a team specific colored scribble/crisscross design backdrop, the Skybox logo in the upper corner and the Autographics in gold foil up the left hand side of the card. A large cloudy white stripe is found on the right third of the card, giving a perfect space to showcase these (mostly) vertically signed cards. The card also has a raised notary like Skybox logo certifying the authenticity of the card.
The card backs feature of the same photograph from the front of the card but in a rich black border with a circular spotlight towards the center of the card featuring a piece of the image from the front. The player’s name is found below the picture with a brief stat line (or paragraph about the player featured for the rooks). The cards are unnumbered and are listed in alphabetic order by the player’s last name.
Autographics was home to a few rookie autographs. The concept hadn’t yet taken hold in the hobby but this set went a long way in introducing the idea on a grand scale in the industry.
In alphabetical order, the set starts off in style with a rookie autograph of one of the greatest shooters of all time in Ray Allen. A little further down the list you will find rookie autographs of Steve Nash and Stephon Marbury. While the veterans are pictured in action, all of the rookies featured are showcased in their draft day three piece suits and new team hats.
Some of the bigger stars in the set include Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler, Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning as well as the previously mentioned Hakeem Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen. There is a great second year autograph of Minnesota Timberwolves sensation Kevin Garnett who is pictured getting ready to throw down a monster dunk, already mean mugging in mid-air.
Pack pulled autographs were such a rare concept back in the mid-1990s that finding a common player was still a pretty big deal and at the time there were players on the checklist who were considered to still have promise, even if time revealed they weren’t cut out to be NBA stars.
In recent years there has been some speculation and rumor surface of counterfeit cards most notably Grant Hill, Kevin Garnett and Scottie Pippen. The quality of these counterfeits is rather obvious with lesser quality colors, fuzzy copyright lines and overall poor autographs.
The influential line made its way into other sports including football, baseball, hockey and even women’s basketball as we still see iterations of the original line in newly released products.
Prone to chipping and fading in certain cases, these cards are not overly easy to find in mint or gem mint condition. Many of the lower end or more common players can be purchased for just a few bucks while the big names in the set command hundreds of dollars, even in raw form. A raw blue ink Kevin Garnett sold for over $500 at the end of September and one sold again the 1st week of October for $500 online. Several hundred are usually available on eBay. You can check the inventory here.
From Ray Allen to Sharone Wright and every player in between, The debut of Autographics basketball is one of the landmark inserts sets and autograph issues and will go down as a Hall of Famer in hobby history. The line quickly became one of the most recognizable, highly regarded and highly collectable sets in the market. It’s it’s impact is still felt today as there are constant releases releases paying homage to the originator in various products and sports.
About Tony Reid
From the time he was a little kid, Tony has been a huge sports fan. If he could play sports, watch sports and talk about sports it was a great day. From as early as he was drawn to sports, Tony was drawn to collecting sports cards. Not much has changed over the years. He collects RCs of star players in baseball, basketball and football. He also has a soft spot for first autographs of MMA stars. If you want to talk to Tony about the greatness of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson or Ken Griffey, Jr. you can reach him at [email protected] and @OffCenterTR on social media.