I’ll go record, again, and state that I do not like Panini products. They embody, to me, everything that is wrong with sports card design. They tend to be busy, they don’t focus on the photo, they seem lower quality, and they use (mostly) sticker drop autographs. They are like the anti-Bowman (oh Bowman, how I love you). This dislike for Panini shouldn’t be much of an issue in a free marketplace, I should just be able to choose a different brand, and I can in most sports. But not basketball, and I love basketball. The worst thing the NBA has done, other than fixing it so the Suns couldn’t win a championship, is give Panini a monopoly over NBA cards. I do understand that Upper Deck does still produce basketball cards, but being an Arizona fan I can’t fathom buying a box of North Carolina basketball and I like to collect products that have a full range of rookies since rookies are the life-blood of basketball cards. Basketball, unlike baseball, has a discrete rookie class every year and the potential stars are much easier to identify immediately, this has always been a draw of basketball cards, both for me and, I’m sure, many others. Therefore, I’m stuck with Panini.
I recently purchased two packs of 2012-13 Hoops. This is the Panini product that I most tolerate. Though it is a little busy and seems a little lower quality than what Upper Deck and Topps used to produce, they actually focus of the photo and player action unlike other Panini products. This years design is decent. It features simple borders on the top and bottom, which coordinate to the team colors of the player featured. I’ve always enjoyed products that coordinate the borders with team colors, it adds diversity and gives the cards some personality. It also has the “Hoops” logo featured far too prominently; it is centered and in a font that is about three times bigger than the player and team names. Hey Panini, I know I bought a pack of Hoops, you don’t need to remind me, next time focus on the player, ok? There are also a lot of stars on the cards, and I don’t mean good players, I mean literal stars. This detail is not too distracting but it does seem like an odd edition, the cards would be so much cleaner if they didn’t have the stars.
Besides solid photography, the main draw of hoops, for me, was the immense rookie class. Hoops features rookie cards of this years draft class and last years rookie due to last seasons lockout. This means double the chance to get true rookies, and my first chance to pull a Derrick Williams rookie card, and hopefully, an autograph. I had the pleasure to be present at many big D-Will moments when he was at Arizona, including his monster game winning block against Washington, and I’ve been biding my time waiting to get my hands on some autographs and memorabilia.
Unfortunately, I only got one rookie card in my two packs and it wasn’t Derrick Williams. It was Damian Lillard, which is ok because I’ve always like the Blazers and, also, because the rookies, based on my observed insert rate, seem like true chase cards. Maybe if I buy a box of Hoops I’ll get my D-Will card, or maybe I’ll just shell out the twenty dollars to get the auto on eBay. Other rookies to chase, if you’re not a big Arizona fan, are Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, whose autos are both going for upwards of three figures on your favorite auction sites.
Hoops also has a handful of insert sets. I put eyes on two of them. The first was a Tim Duncan “Board Members” insert. This card was nearly indistinguishable from the base cards. The photo was smaller and so was the Hoops logo, so good and bad. The design was boring to begin with, but the addition of Tim Duncan, the most boring pro athlete in history, actually put me to sleep. The other insert was a “Spark Plugs” insert featuring Al Harrington. This insert was the biggest reminder that Panini makes these cards. It is hideous and stupid. The card is dominated by the words Spark Plugs and a drawing of a spark plug. A picture of Al Harrington is noticeabl on the edge of the card. The Hoops logo makes a prominent return, prominent. Where the Board Members card put me to sleep, this one made feel mildly depressed.
Some other cards of note: A Jason Terry card. Jason Terry owns a sandwich shop near my house called Which Wich, which features some Jason Terry memorabilia. He also graciously signed a bunch of items for me when I was 13, right after the Wildcats won the national championship. I’ve always been a fan, but he did make me very sad when he said he was rooting for Washington in the game that is pictured a few paragraphs above. I forgive you Jason Terry, for now. The other card is a Mike Dunlap card. Mike is the new coach of the Bobcats, which is career suicide, but he also coached Arizona for a year between the Olson and Miller eras. He always seemed like a good guy, so I hope he can turn the Bobcats around. I also like the addition of coach cards, I wish every major set would include coaches and managers.
Overall score: 3/5
Check out the full Hoops checklist.