NBA rookies already creating a buzz in card shops

The past three seasons have not been strong ones for basketball card sales at most hobby stores, but with a deep crop of rookie prospects preparing to enter the NBA this season, a number of hobby retailers say the 2007 basketball card products can’t start showing up soon enough.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Pacific Northwest. Store owners in that region probably would have been happiest if the cards started arriving May 22, the day the Draft Lottery came up aces for the Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Supersonics, who won the rights to select Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, respectively.

“I got about 30 calls (on draft day) from people wondering where they could get an Oden rookie card,” laughed Cameron Purdy of Hoopla Sports Cards in Portland. “A lot of them sounded like they don’t know anything about cards, but at least they were calling.”

In Seattle, the Sonics have played the past two seasons with the specter of the team relocating to a new city. That has soured many fans on basketball as a whole, but Don Joss of DJ’s Sportscards in Renton, Wash., believes interest will return this season.

“I think I’m going to get a lot of calls,” he said of this year’s early products. “I’m making a big pre-sell sign for the store for (2007) Topps Basketball, and I’ve left pre-sell messages on my answering machine and my website. With a product like Topps, where a box will have probably all the rookies and some duplicates, I’ll probably have good success with that.”

Dennis Hooker, proprietor of Hooker Sportscards in Eugene, Ore., is expecting this season’s basketball products to produce results similar to the banner 2003-04 offerings that featured LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. “I really think so,” he said. “It’s just moved to such a rookie-driven market. If you don’t have good rookies, it’s never, ever gonna sell. I really think I’m going to sell a ton of stuff.”

Retailers in other parts of the country are also expecting basketball card sales to be strong this year. “We’re not in a basketball market,” said Ben Pezold, owner of The Collectors Store in St. Charles, Mo. “But when there are strong rookies, my people who buy baseball, football and hockey will start buying basketball.”

Keith McDonough, who owns Bleachers Sports in Winnetka, Ill., said the basketball rookie crop is a big reason for optimism heading into the second half of the year. “Basketball is going to be great,” McDonough said.

So far, the only product store owners have been able to offer that includes rookies – or at least the promise of rookie cards – was Topps Finest, which included redemption cards for the new draft class. Topps Basketball is scheduled to arrive in late August. Upper Deck will debut its rookie cards in early September with the Fleer Ultra Basketball set.

“Finest has been pretty popular so far,” said Purdy. “I went through a couple of cases in just a few days.”

That type of brisk basketball business has been rare in most hobby stores the past few years. In 2003-04 you could have had a store in the desert and still sold (basketball) cards, but the last few years the demand has dwindled to marginal,” said Randy Archer of Baseball Cards & More in Portland. “Now, I think we’ll again sell pretty much every (basketball) product we have. I’m getting calls every day from people asking ‘When is Topps coming in? When is anything coming in?’”

– Brian Earnest

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