The Only Topps Basketball Release to Feature the San Diego Sails

The 1975 Topps basketball set was unique for two reasons. First, at the time, it was the largest basketball set ever produced (330 cards), and it was the fifth and final time Topps included ABA cards (the ABA-NBA merger would occur in 1976). In this article, I will focus on a unique situation and “subset,” in that the 1975 Topps basketball set was the only major card release to have featured the San Diego Sails basketball team.

1975 Topps #234 Lee Davis

I’m not saying that Topps ignored the San Diego Sails basketball team in its previous sets; the Sails only existed for a single year! The franchise did play three previous seasons as the Conquistadors, who were the ABAs only expansion team. But the team was purchased in 1975, and the new owner brought in a new coach, changed the entire roster, and re-branded the team as the Sails. On the Team Leaders card for the Sails, you can see that the back of the card lists leaders for the Conquistadors.

1975 Topps #285 – San Diego Sails Team Leaders – Front
1975 Topps #285 – San Diego Sails Team Leaders – Reverse

Unfortunately, no one in San Diego seemed to care about the team, and only 3000 fans showed up to the team’s home opener. It got worse, as under 2000 fans came to their third home game, which was the last for the franchise. The owner was told the Sails weren’t a part of the ABA-NBA merger, so he shut down the team on Nov 12, 1975, with a final record of 3-8. 

1975 Topps #245 Travis Grant

The NBA took four ABA franchises: the Spurs, Nuggets, Nets, and Pacers. Three other ABA teams also folded: the Spirits of St. Louis, the Kentucky Colonels, and the Virginia Squires.

1975 Topps #256 Dwight Lamar

However, a team did return to San Diego when the Buffalo Braves came to town and changed their name to the Clippers, keeping the nautical naming theme. But in 1984, the Clippers moved to Los Angeles, and San Diego (the Country’s 8th largest city) has been left without an NBA team since.

1975 Topps #264 George Adams

Now going back to the 1975 Topps basketball set, I’ve always been a fan of it, and all 1970s basketball sets, for that matter. The cards have nice portraits and actions shots, a lot of start power, and Moses Malone’s rookie card. And because the set has cards from both leagues before the merger, it features subsets from both league’s statistical and team leaders, along with playoff cards and team checklists.

1975 Topps #274 Tim Bassett

Topps featured the Sails on 11 cards, and that’s the same number of games the team played! I’ve been sharing the Sail’s cards throughout the article, but here is the checklist and photos of the rest of the cards:

  • #234 – Lee Davis
  • #245 – Travis Grant
  • #256 – Dwight Lamar
  • #264 – George Adams
  • #274 – Tim Bassett (He signed with the New Jersey Nets and had Topps cards in 1977, 1978, and 1979)
  • #285 – Team Leaders
  • #296 – Warren Jabali
  • #305 – Caldwell Jones (He signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and had Topps cards in 1976 and 1977)
  • #317 – Jimmy O’Brien
  • #328 – San Diego Sails Team Checklist
  • #328 – San Diego Sails Team Checklist – Hand-Cut
1975 Topps #296 Warren Jabali
1975 Topps #305 Caldwell Jones
1975 Topps #317 Jimmy O’Brien
1975 Topps #328 San Diego Sails Checklist

The hand-cut team checklist is a PSA pop two card that collectors acquired as part of an uncut sheet from the Topps Sports Club for $2.50 and a wrapper.

1975 Topps #328 San Diego Sails Team Checklist Hand Cut – PSA 2
1975 Topps Basketball Team Checklist Uncut Sheet

Ultimately, if it weren’t for Topps and the hobby, many people might have forgotten about the San Diego Sails. Lucky for us, the hobby is about so much more than it looks like on the surface; it’s an excellent way of preserving and reminding us about sports history. Happy collecting!

Leave a Reply