A High-Grade Collector’s Nightmare: The 1971-72 Topps Basketball Stickers

You’ll sometimes see the 1971-72 Topps Basketball Stickers insert set referred to as Topps Trios or insert sticker panels, but no matter the name, one thing is certain, they’re really hard to find in nice condition. Sports Collectors Daily actually called them a “high-grade collector’s nightmare.” And they’re right; of 4627 stickers submitted to PSA, there are only 28 PSA 10s and 224 PSA 9s. And while the distribution of cards in the Pop Report looks “healthy,” most cards don’t even warrant submission. 

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Overview

The set contains 26 standard card-sized panels. Twenty-two panels show a trio of black-bordered individual player photos with the player’s name in yellow and team city in white below the picture—the other four stickers in the set display square ABA and NBA team logos. The ABA player card numbers have an “A” suffix added to the numbers to differentiate them from the NBA player card numbers. The backs are, of course, blank since this is a sticker set. The insert set’s design sort of mimicked Topps’ baseball card set’s black borders that were issued earlier in 1971.

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Distribution

The cards were issued one in each pack of 1971 Topps Basketball cards. On this wax pack wrapper, you can see an “extra insert in every pack,” referring to the stickers.

1971 Topps Basketball Wax Pack Wrapper

The 12 and 24-count boxes had the same text advertising a “special insert in every pack!!”

1971 Topps Basketball 12-Count Wax Box
1971 Topps Basketball 24-Count Wax Box

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Printing

The set’s unconventional size meant that the sheets ended up with an interesting placement and duplication of cards on each sheet “panel.” The Topps Archives did a great job summarizing it, but I think it boils down to (I’ll use the card’s first number) 34, 37, 40, 43, 1A, 4A, 7A, 10A, 13A, 16A, 19A, 23A, and 24A showing up twice, 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, and 31 showing up three times, plus four copies of 22A and 14 copies of card 46 (the NBA team logo card). The Topps Archives blog also shared that O-Pee-Chee used the trio format for a series of CFL cards the following year. 

Huggins and Scott sold this uncut sheet of 1971 Topps Stickers for $1035 in October 2008.

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Uncut Sheet – Huggins and Scott Example

And this different sheet of basketball stickers sold on eBay in April 2023 for $18k (if the buy it now price is to be believed); the seller noted that he thought maybe five uncut sheets exist.

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Uncut Sheet – eBay Example

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Condition, Population, and Sales

Now, why are these cards such a high-grade nightmare? First, and most significantly, a lot of the panels were miscut from those sheets straight from the manufacturer. Second, a lot of the stickers were peeled. Third, the black borders are incredibly condition sensitive (just like the 1971 Topps Baseball cards). And fourth, a lot of kids would write on the blank backs.

Considering that condition sensitivity and the short printing of certain cards, you can end up with some really intense bidding for high-grade cards. For example, the Alcindor/Hawkins/Mullsin card (37/38/39) is one of those short prints for which just a single PSA 10 example exists. Most publications consider it the most valuable panel in the set. That lone PSA 10 last sold for $2299 in April 2019.

1971 Topps Stickers Hawkins/Mullins/Alcindor – PSA 10

However, the same card sold for more in August 2006, $3521.30.

1971 Topps Stickers Hawkins/Mullins/Alcindor – PSA 10

Diving into the Pop Report a bit more, the most-grade stickers are Maravich/Kaufmann/Havlicek (393), the NBA Team Logo (325), Hawkings/Mullins/Alcindor (313), Chamberlain/Johnson/Van Lier (279), and West/Reed/Walker (260). So the most duplicated card on the sheet (the NBA Team Logo) and the biggest stars. 

As I said, these cards are really low pop in high-grade, leading to what may appear to be high sales prices to some. A Maravich/Kauffman/Havlicek PSA 10 (pop 2) sold for $1532 in September 2019 on eBay.

1971 Topps Stickers Maravich/Kauffman/Havlicek – PSA 10

Heritage Sold a PSA 10 NBA Team Logo (pop 3) for $528 in May 2017.

1971 Topps Stickers #46 NBA Team Logo – PSA 10

Memory Lane Inc. sold a PSA 10 ABA Team Logo #24A for $668, again, way back in August 2012.

An ABA Team Logo #22A PSA 9 sold for $760 in December 2021. And in Jan 2021, a PSA 9 sold for $890, and another 9 sold for $650 in Nov 2020. There’s just one Gem Mint 10 copy of card 22A.

1971 Topps Stickers #22A ABA Team Logo – PSA 9

The Chamberlain card has no 10s in the pop report, but each of the eight 9s commands higher prices as time passes. A PSA 9 Chamberlain, Johnson, Van Lier was sold for $1500 by Heritage in April 2021.

1971 Topps Stickers Chamberlain/Johnson/Van Lier – PSA 10

If you’re a high-grade set collector, there are a few illiquid cards. The least graded cards in the set include Wesley/White/Dandridge (127), Jones/Wise/Issel (122), Cunningham/Bellamy/Petrie (119), Jones/Carter/Brisker (116), and Hudson/Rule/Murphy with just 103 copies. There are just two Gem Mint 10 examples between these five cards.

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Raw Sets 

Luckily, this is a great set to complete raw if you’re not particularly to condition, and with just 24 items, it’s pretty quick to assemble and easy to display. Most raw commons sell for between $5 and $10 on eBay. And you can pick up ungraded sets for a couple of hundred bucks. These six cards are part of a raw set listed on eBay with an asking price of $824; others are available right now for $499 and $599.

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Cards From Complete Set on eBay

Goldin Auctions sold a raw set for $492 in February 2020 that included these panels.

1971 Topps Basketball Stickers Cards From Complete Set on Goldin

Conclusion and Related Content

1970s Topps basketball cards had lower print runs than their baseball counterparts, so when you consider that just a single sticker was included in each pack of 1971 Topps basketball cards, they’re actually relatively uncommon. And coupled with their condition sensitivity, it makes putting a high-grade set together really tough, but a few folks have managed to do it!

Here are a few pieces of related content you might be interested in checking out:

  • I highlighted the 1971 Topps Stickers, card #46, NBA Team Logo, as one of the first “logoman” cards in Newsletter 28
  • These stickers weren’t the first basketball card inserts; that distinction belongs to the 1969-70 Topps Basketball set. The “Topps Rulers” were inserted in each pack.
  • And if you’re into cards with low print runs and a unique look, here’s a list of 9 incredible 1970s basketball rookie cards

Happy collecting!

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