During the 1997-98 basketball release calendar, the Hoops brand continued its Skybox influenced change of course in terms of forward thinking design ideas for base cards, inserts and parallels.
The 1997-98 rookie crop offered a few future Hall of Famers, a few players who had nice runs in the league and a few who never quite made their mark.
One of the more esthetically pleasing all rookie insert sets was the Hoops Top of the World line.
Randomly found in Series 2 boxes at a rate of one in every 48 packs, these were not the easiest cards to find and instantly recognizable.
The players were featured in various poses, literally standing on top of the earth. The card featured a very catchy, all-encompassing foil backdrop that featured the aforementioned player standing or soaring on a half sphere of planet earth at the bottom of the card under their feet. Above earth was a layer of textured basketball design which led into an image of the galaxy at the top of the card front with deep blues and purples and a starry backdrop. The words “Top of the World” are featured in a multi colored, clear font. The team and player’s name is featured over one of the player’s shoulders.
The card back features an even larger richer look into the deep expanse of outer space. There’s another posed action shot of the player, the Top of the World text once again with the player’s name and the team logo below with a small paragraph explaining what made the rookie featured an out of this world talent.
The 15-card set starts off in style with San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan, who is, as you would imagine, looking very stoic with the ball in both hands placed right below his Spurs number 21 jersey. As we all know Duncan went on to have one of the more accomplished careers in the history of the NBA and stands (on earth) as one of the greatest big men of all time.
The second card was Philadelphia 76ers rookie forward Tim Thomas. Thomas fashioned a decent career as a versatile big man after starring at Villanova for his short time at the university. Thomas, who didn’t have to leave the Philly area going from college to the pros, is seen grabbing a rebound on his card front is his card front hovering above Earth.
The third card in the set features Denver Nuggets big man Tony Battie, pictured in the same stance as Duncan on his card front and looking intently at the camera grasping the ball in both hands. Battie spent a decade in the league, bouncing from team to team and finishing with a career scoring average of just over six points per game.
The fourth card in the set features New Jersey Nets rookie forward Keith Van Horn, who is also posed with the ball in hand displaying his Nets 44 uni. Of course being a star of lighter pigmentation, the Utah Ute is compared to Larry Bird and Kevin McHale on this particular card back. Although Van Horn never remotely reached those heights he did have a solid decade long career in the league, averaging 16 PPG for his career.
Exciting Vancouver Grizzlies guard Antonio Daniels comes in at the five spot. Daniels has seen getting ready to throw down on his card front with the ball cocked behind his head and a scowl on his face. One of the cooler cards in a photographically cool set.
Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Derek Anderson his featured next in the set. The sharp shooting wing man is featured looking even further into space on his card. He’s either deep in thought or just wants this photo shoot to be over.
The seventh card in the set features then Boston Celtics rookie Chauncey Billups, who went on to have one of the best careers of any player in this particular rookie class not named Duncan or McGrady. Chauncey won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2003-04, when he was the NBA Finals MVP. He was one of the best floor generals and leaders of this class.
Toronto Raptors rookie sensation Tracy McGrady is found at card number eight. T-Mac went on to have a Hall of Fame career, being one of the most potent scores and exciting finishers of the era.
Former Cincinnati Bearcats force and then Denver Nuggets rookie Danny Fortson this next up in the set. Fortson fashioned a very solid career in the league, being one of the more reliable rebounders in the game. As an added bonus, years prior, he briefly attended the same high school as my son in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
The tenth card in the set is Indiana Pacers rookie Austin Croshere. Croshere found his niche in the league being a hard working, blue collar, reliable shooter and spent a number of years filling that role. He’s found on his card front as many others are with ball in both hands looking up into the camera above.
Tariq Abdul-Wahad is the 11th card in the set. The Sacramento Kings guard is seen cheesing with a big smile on his face and the ball resting on his shoulder by his head. It’s a fun looking card of a guy who spent a handful of years in the league, only averaging double digit points one of those years.
Golden State Warriors rookie Adonal Foyle is the 12th card in the Top of the World. The Warriors had high hopes for this defensive presence and shot blocking machine. He never became a star but did spent 13 seasons in the league and is now a TV commentator for the Warrioirs.
Next up is Houston Rockets rookie Rodrick Rhodes. The six-foot six swing man never really made his mark in the league unfortunately. RR spent small parts of three seasons in the league before it was all said and done.
Kentucky star and Boston Celtics rookie Ron Mercer is the 14th card in Top of the World. Tabbed to be the next great Boston Celtics star, Mercer had a nice career in the league. Teamed with fellow rook Chauncey Billups and second year sensation Antoine Walker, the Celts future was bright. The picture on Mercer’s card shows him standing there very pedestrian, ball in hand, blankly staring into the camera.
The final card in the set features Miami Heat rookie Charles Smith. Unfortunately for Smith, he probably made the least impact of everyone in this 15 card insert set, starting just 36 games over the course of his career. He’s seen in his black Heat gear, ball in both hands staring off into space on his card.
Although not the biggest landmark insert of the 1990s, any fun, limited, foil inserts that features rookie year cards of Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups is worth a mention.
The PSA pop report reflects that very few have been graded, with only 43 in total and only three PSA 10s ever awarded. That is the area of any real value in the set.
You can often buy raw cards of the superstars in the set such as Duncan and McGrady for less than $25. The lesser known players can be had for the or the price of a bottle of Coke. Because they were fairly limited, the supply of 1997-98 Hoops Top of the World cards isn’t huge but you can usually find several dozen on eBay.
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]mail.com and @OffCenterTR on social media.