Prior to any official NBA licensed cards being released, Press Pass passed a number of products onto the hardwood in an effort to be first to market with the new rookie crop.
The 1996 NBA Draft class is arguably the greatest of all time, from Philadelphia 76ers icon Allen Iverson being taken number one overall to the Suns taking their chances on eventual two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, one of the greatest shooters of all time. Ray Allen was drafted by the Bucks out of UConn, a kid from Lower Merion high school was picked halfway through the first round and went on to become one of the top players to ever lace them up. And that isn’t even mentioning several other players who fashioned solid NBA careers.
One of the more interesting insert sets in the generally ignored 1996 Press Pass offering was called Net Burners.
Inserted one in every Press Pass pack, this 45-card issue features an eye catching (albeit 16-bit graphic looking) die-cut net with the featured player rising up through the twine, near the rim. The backdrop of the card is a basketball backboard with an orange, yellow, red and black laser light show where the plexiglass would be. The bottom of the card, below the die cut net, features the player’s name, the Press Pass logo and the Net Burners text.
The card backs just show a brief paragraph about the player featured on the front with similar graphics.
The checklist, for the most part, runs in the draft order from the number one overall pick in the first round through the end of the second round. The few exceptions would be the international players who hadn’t signed with their respective teams. That list would include Sacramento Kings star Peja Stojakovic and eventual Cleveland Cavalier center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
After the first two rounds of the draft are represented, there are a few cards of the previous season’s rookies including rookie of the year Damon Stoudemire, Jerry Stackhouse, number one overall pick Joe Smith, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.
Following those stars are second cards of some of the rookies from 1996 including Bryant, Allen, Iverson, Antoine Walker, Stephon Marbury and a few more.
Although the rookies are featured in their college and, in some cases, high school uniforms, the star power is still incredibly strong with this one.
Top draft pick Iverson leads off the set. Iverson was must see TV every second he was on the floor. The gray and dark blue loose hanging Hoya fit coupled with the classic patent leather Jordan 11s he rocked his sophomore year are unforgettable if you are of a certain age and the early Press Pass cards captured some of that college magic.
Marcus Camby is featured at the second card in the set. UMass was an absolute powerhouse back in the day and Camby was a key reason for that success. The long, lanky shot blocker and elite defender could also finish with the best of them on the offensive end. Unfortunately he’s not seen in action swatting shots or throwing one down on his card, he’s shown warming up prior to a game.
Cal star Shareef Abdur Rahim is featured at the third card in the set. Following in Jason Kidd’s superstar footsteps at Cal, SAR was an underrated pro who had a productive NBA career.
Georgia Tech product Marbury is card #4. He had a very nice career in the NBA and made an even bigger impact overseas post NBA run.
One of the greatest shooters of all time, Allen, is #5. Originally drafted by Minnesota and with his rights traded to Milwaukee, Allen became one of the best pure scorers and clutch shooters in the history of the league.
The University of Kentucky had plenty of stars come through the program at the time and Antoine Walker was one of the bigger ballers of the generation. He’s found up next in the set as the sixth pick in the draft by the Boston Celtics.
Forgive me for not talking much about Lorenzen Wright, Kerry Kittles, Samaki Walker, Erick Dampier, Todd Fuller or Vitaly Potapenko, but the 13th pick in the draft went to the Charlotte Hornets who took Bryant and then as we all know, traded his rights to the Los Angeles Lakers where a Hall of Fame career began to unfold. Teenage Kobe is featured dribbling the ball down the floor in his number 33 Lower Marion high school jersey. His exploits for the Lakers are well documented but interestingly the back of his Press Pass card mentions a few of his high school highlights including two 50-point games and his great performance in the district championship game.
Immediately after that is Santa Clara star Steve Nash, the 14th overall pick in the draft. Nash went on to become a two time NBA MVP and eventual hall-of-famer.
After basically making our way through two rounds of the draft, the checklist halts the current year draft picks with Kentucky wild cats nig man Mark Pope, who helped lead The Cats to a national championship the year prior.
The set then takes us to the aforementioned six cards of the previous year’s top rookies and draft picks and the checklist then sashays back to additional cards of the top players in the ’96 draft with additional cards for Walker, Iverson, Dampier, Marbury and Bryant before finishing the set with the checklist.
It was kind of an odd move but years later, collectors aren’t upset with a second Kobe or AI rookie year card showing up in the set.
The 45-card issue is rounded out with a die cut checklist. Sticking with the die cut net theme, the player’s names are listed in numerical order on the backboard on the front end back of the card.
Basically being an unlicensed product and full of guys in their college uniforms, even the superstars in this set can be had for very modest prices. The Kobe cards command the most money at $10-$20 a pop ungraded while Allen Iverson can be found for an Abraham Lincoln. Some common players can be had for 99 cents with free shipping. With the obvious condition sensitivity due to the easily damaged die cut net and corners, graded cards of the top players command a premium but none of them will break the bank.
There have been less than 400 total cards from the Net Burners set graded by PSA, with one single card garnering the ultimate PSA 10 Gem Mint designation. Amazingly, that card is card number 44, the second Kobe Bryant card in the set.
Overall, it’s a very fun and inexpensive way to get your hands on rookie year cards if some of the most legendary players and draft classes of all time.
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.