1998-99 Fleer Playmakers Theatre Offers Rare Spotlight and Stage for NBA Stars

Randomly inserted into 1998-99 Fleer Basketball packs, the Playmakers Theatre insert set is among the toughest insert sets of the era to chase. The concept was a bit off the wall, but the cards definitely stand out.

The design is very ornate, with die cut, sculpted “curtains” against a bold gold holofoil stock. The intricacy of the design is reminiscent of what you would see in your local community arts center or on a theatric stage in a major city.

The card backs feature the same drawn curtain idea with a bright spotlight that offers a paragraph about what makes the player so “feature film worthy.” There’s a small action shot of the player and the stamped serial numbered to just 100 stamped copies.

With each card offering just 100 copies, it’s challenging set to finish.

Combining the stage motif with the biggest stars on the basketball court, Fleer somehow makes this unlikely combination work. The intricacy of the design and the bright gold foil really makes these cards stand out from the rest of the cast of cards that season. You really have to hold one in your hands to appreciate it, though.

The 15- card set features the players listed in an alphabetical order checklist, with the first card being Vancouver Grizzlies do it all forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He’s pictured with the ball in his hands in the retro classic Vancouver Grizzlies uniform.

The second card in the set features Milwaukee Bucks sharpshooter Ray Allen. Jesus Shuttlesworth is seen driving to the hole, getting ready to release a shot under the rim. Allen literally was a movie star, playing the aforementioned Stuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s hit basketball film He Got Game. 

Is Kobe Bryant is the third act in Playmakers Theatre. If there was ever a player who deserved to be on stage, front center, it was The Black Mamba. Kobe is seen dribbling the ball past a helpless defender.

The star power keeps coming as the fourth star in the set features San Antonio Spurs all time great Tim Duncan, seen dribbling toward the rack. Duncan starred in plenty of NBA Finals when it counted most. 

The Big Ticket for the show is next up in the set as Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Kevin Garnett is featured ripping a rebound out of mid air and screaming at the top of his lungs while he does it. Garnett was definitely a featured performer and still a very young player at the time.

One of the biggest stars of court and commercials at the time Anfernee Hardaway is the sixth card in the set. Penny was pure box office back in the day and, barring injuries, would have been one of the all time greats on teh court an in entertainment.

The classic Nike ad campaign including the Lil Penny commercials are still some of the greatest of all time. 

Another NBA leading man is found at the seventh card in the set when Detroit Pistons superstar Grant Hill makes an appearance on the stage. Hill was one of the bigger stars of the era and again, barring injuries, could have been one of the all time greats.

Cultural icons definitely fit the bill of players in the Playmakers Theatre set as Philadelphia 76ers superstar Allen Iverson is featured at the eighth card in the set. AI is seen post crossover, dribbling the ball ready to make a highlight reel finish. Iverson was as big of a personality and presence as any player in the league in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

The ninth card in the set features the biggest star of them all, Michael Jordan. MJ is seen dribbling the ball with his classic intensity on full display. Jordan would have been the main character in every play ever. His Playmakers Theatre card is one of the most valuable inserts of the late 1990s.

The 1tenth star on the stage is Karl Malone, who is getting ready to throw down a classic one handed dunk on the stage. 

Coney Island’s finest, Stephon Marbury is the 11th card in the set. Starbury took his bright light to Minnesota and teamed up with Kevin Garnett to be one of the better young tandems in the league at the time.

The bright lights of Tinseltown were the perfect place for Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal to be on full display. Shaq was one of the first athletes to cross over into movies, music and every other entertainment platform and is a perfect fit in the Playmakers Theatre set.

The winner of the best supporting actor or cast member comes in at card number 13 in the set. Chicago Bulls Hall of Fame forward Scottie Pippen is featured, getting his moment in the spotlight.

The young star Keith Van Horn is the 14th card on the playbill. The New Jersey Nets forward is featured in the best new artist category. Van Horn went on to have a solid, if not spectacular, career.

The curtain call and final card in the set is Boston Celtics forward Antoine Walker. Having all the markings of being a matinee idol, Walker fashioned a solid career in the league.

Playmakers Theatre cards are highly sought after by 1990s basketball collectors and those who collect specific players who are in the set. Many of them are in private collections where they’ll likely stay for the long term. 

There are a number of non-embossed and non-serial membered cards from the same set that carry far less value. Beware of the differences and know what you have in hand or in your sights. There was also a “retro” version done in 2012-13.

The real deal, fully embossed and serial number cards from the 1998-99 issue sell for thousands of dollars. . A BGS 9 Penny Hardaway copy netted nearly $5,000 in September. A BGS 8.5 Shaq went for over $4,000 last month. Expect to pay the price of a house for high grade copies of Jordan and Bryant. Cards of this stature are usually gobbled up and placed it into high end private and personal collections, never to be seen again.

A PSA 10 version of the Jordan card sold for nearly $200,000 in a recent auction conducted by Goldin.

While the 1990s were full of attainable insert sets, the 1998-99 Fleer Playmakers issue is one that is worthy of the red carpet.

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.

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