1996-97 Upper Deck Smooth Grooves Links Current Stars to Generations Past

Inserted in one in every 72 series two packs, 1996-97 Upper Deck Smooth Grooves was a 15-card insert set that linked modern day NBA standouts to similar stars of past eras. They weren’t easy to pull from Series 2 back then–collectors found just one in every 72 packs–but they’re not scarce enough to result in astronomical prices either.

The card front featured a small, full color action shot of the player at the bottom center of the card with the backdrop being groovy, wavy deep blue swirled action shot. The word Smooth appeared at the top of the card and Grooves at the very bottom in a thick, soft see through font. The player was identified by their first initial and last name at the bottom center of the card. The deep blue background image really pops against the full color small image in the foreground.

The card backs offered two small, rectangular photos of the player on the right hand side the Smooth Grooves font from the front found running up the left hand side and a small paragraph, many of which attempted to link the player featured to a player or style from past eras.

As groovy, psychedelic and out there as any player in the league, Chicago Bulls all the time great rebounder Dennis Rodman leads off the set. The image featured of Rodman on the front is an absolutely classic one with him grabbing a one handed, acrobatic rebound while looking straight in the camera. The Worm averaged an astounding 16.1 rebounds per game that season season. 

Jason Kidd is the second card in the set. Kidd had already established himself as one of the best young playmakers in the game being an assistant machine and triple double getter and Rookie of the Year.

Grant Hill, occupying card #3 in the set, was a silky smooth playmaker who was set for superstardom early in his career before injuries took their toll. Lacing them up for the Detroit Pistons, Hill was so impactful that he still made it to the Hall of Fame. 

Possibly the mightiest point guard in the insert set was Toronto Raptors Damon Stoudamire. Mighty Mouse was fresh off his 1995-96 NBA Rookie of the Year Award, competing in his second NBA campaign north of the border.

Shaquille O’Neal is featured at the fifth spot. Shaq is found sporting his purple and gold Lakers gear. The back of the card mentions shacks various endeavors including his career in music, movies and the entertainment business in general.

High flyer Clyde Drexler is found next in the set the former Portland Trailblazer superstar was gliding for the Rockets for a late title run at this point this career.

Next up is Vancouver Grizzlies young star Shareef Abdur-Rahim. This is a nice rookie year card of a young, underrated player that could really fill it up in his day. The images appear to be from an earlier rookie photo shoot and similar pics are found on his (and other rookies) cards.

The greatest of all time is found at the eighth slot in the set. Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan is shown in his black Bulls pinstripe kit in the foreground with the background image of him gliding past Orlando Magic guard Nick Anderson to finish at the hoop. The card back is a nice image of Jordan after releasing a jumper and a profile picture while the text compares him to a previous era’s biggest superstar in Philadelphia 76ers icon Julius Erving.

Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning is next up in the Smooth Groove rotation. The background image of Zo is pretty spectacular as he is throwing down a ferocious, signature dunk.

Cultural icon and Philadelphia 76ers all time great Allen Iverson as featured at the 10th spot in the set. This is a cool rookie year card of the eventual NBA Rookie of the Year and (much later) a future Hall of Famer. Iverson is seen driving full speed past the defender on his way to the hoop. AI is mentioned in the same breath as previous point guard legends Lenny Wilkens and Dave Bing on this card back.

Milwaukee Bucks unheralded All Star Vin Baker is featured next. The big, hard working all around threat was a multiple time All Star and big contributor in Milwaukee for a number of years.

The Big Ticket Kevin Garnett is featured next in a posed shot in the foreground hat, wind breaker and all, Garnett is seen doing damage at the rim in the background.

Next up is one of the more exciting young players of the generation in Orlando Magic point card Anfernee Hardaway. Penny is dribbling the ball up the court in the full color picture and viciously throwing one down in the blue backdrop. As the back of the card states, his legend continued to grow in Orlando with each game.

Philadelphia 76ers super scorer Jerry Stackouse is featured on card #14. Stackhouse and Iverson combined for one of the more deadly backcourts of the era. In one of the cooler images in the whole set, the background picture of Stack shows him throwing down a two handed dunk but it looks even more incredible from the camera angle.

The last card in the set features Seattle Supersonics star Shawn Kemp. Kemp is pictured finishing at the rim past a helpless Luc Longley. On the back, he’s compared to fellow high school to pro sensation Moses Malone.

Aside from Jordan and Shaq, most of the cards in the set can be found raw for 10 bucks or less.

The Smooth Grooves cards are a bit condition sensitive and some are not so smooth, so high grade cards will demand a premium and only a smallish number are usually available on eBay.. PSA 9 Jordan cards are selling in the $250-$400 range while 8s are in the neighborhood of $75-$100. 

Although the cards are not easy to find and are somewhat condition sensitive, they are still very reasonably priced. This is a nice example of Upper Deck continuing to try new things push the envelope and incorporate new technologies and ideas into cardboard.

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 @tonyreidwrites on social media.

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