What do Curtis Martin, Dennis Ritchie, and Jan Brady all have in common? Relative obscurity. Sure, they all have their own level of notoriety. But let me give you this list instead – Barry Sanders, Steve Jobs, and Marcia Brady. I’m sure the second list of names gave you a very different reaction. Curtis Martin is obviously one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL. Top 5 in career rushing yards. But, did he capture the imagination and wow like Barry Sanders? Not a chance. Steve Jobs wouldn’t have sold even his first computer if Dennis Ritchie hadn’t first written the C programming language. Do you know who had two biographical films made about him within 4 years after his death? That’s right Steve Jobs. My favorite pop culture example is from the Brady Bunch. There is a classic episode where Jan loses it because she feels like her do-no-wrong older sister makes it impossible for her to shine. I mean, seriously, how could you ever top being Senior Banquet Night co-hostess?
I think there is at least one more thing we can add to the list of relative obscurity, 2018-19 Absolute Basketball. Released on the heels of Prizm, Absolute never stood a chance. Prizm is big, shiny, and almost universally adored. It seems to please the collector and the gambler. Prizm makes the world a better place just by waking up in the morning. Absolute? Meh. Why aren’t you more like Prizm? You’re not nearly as smart, funny, or pretty. Why spend $120 on an Absolute box when you could just go pick up a Luka Doncic Prizm Pink Ice parallel? Or better yet, you could buy 6 Prizm Blaster Boxes that give you about a 3% chance of pulling a Luka Doncic Silver Prizm. No way Absolute could pull away attention from its big sister, Prizm. If Panini made a sitcom, they could just replicate these scenes and replace the name “Marcia” with “Prizm” each time.
Let’s have a look at eBay tonight. If I search for 2018-19 Prizm in the Basketball Cards section, I get 37,796 results. If I search 2018-19 Absolute in the same category, I get 3,092 results. The highest price for any completed Absolute single on eBay is $535 for a Luka Doncic on-card autograph numbered out of 5. So far there are at least 75 Prizm Luka Doncic cards that have ended with a final price at that level or above. Ouch. Tough for a product that has essentially the same SRP ($120) as a hobby box of Prizm.
Speaking of that Doncic on-card autograph, does it matter that the autograph looks like it was written by someone completely different than whoever signed the beautiful “lulu” autographs on some of his other cards? To my untrained eye it looks like the penmanship of two different people. I would love to have someone with expertise take a look and give their opinion. What would happen if someone were to send one of each version in the same submission for PSA/DNA authentication? Would they claim both are legit? Should they? I’m not sure it matters to collectors, but it feels like it should. Let’s keep an eye out for how his autograph evolves throughout the rest of the season. It should be interesting.
Is it possible though that, despite relative obscurity, Absolute is actually sneaky good? Let’s take just a couple of minutes to take a closer look. If Absolute has an identity it is rooted in multiple swatch autographed memorabilia cards. This year is no different. So, no real surprises there. Unfortunately, the rookie material swatches are made with “player used” material, not game used swatches. I get that it’s early in the season and making these cards with game used material might be an impossibility. Player used means that the player supposedly had some kind of physical contact with the material used on the card. I would suspect the actual time in contact wasn’t any longer than is required by Panini’s legal counsel to ensure their claim of “player used” isn’t fraudulent. I have nothing to substantiate that statement, it’s pure speculation, but it does put some context around what a lower limit for “player used” might mean.
Why wouldn’t Panini push this product out to later in the season and fill it with actual game used material? What’s that? A replica Jaren Jackson Jr Grizzlies jersey can be purchased at retail for $56.99? A game used Jaren Jackson Jr jersey currently has a top bid of $740 with almost 2 weeks left to go? Huh. The jersey swatches on these cards are pretty small. They must be small if you’re going to try to pack 5 of them on a 2.5” x 3.5” surface and also leave room for an autographed sticker and a photograph that occupies about 40% of the card. Let’s assume the swatches average out to be 3/4” x 3/4”, which is likely pretty generous. That’s 9/16 square inches per swatch. Let’s also assume the average NBA jersey measures about 32 inches long (these dudes are tall) and 22 inches wide. One jersey then yields about 700 square inches of material on the front and 700 square inches on the back. That’s good enough to make something like 2500 jersey swatches for this year’s release of Absolute memorabilia cards. The total number of memorabilia “windows” on cards for most of the rookies, if you add them all up for a single player, comes out to just over 2000 “windows”. One jersey per rookie should be enough to supply the pieces required to manufacture these cards. At $56.99 per jersey, the cost per swatch works out to around just under $0.03 (USD) each. Wow, that’s cheap.
What about the autographs? There is a mix of on-card autographs (yay!) and sticker autographs (boo!). Most rookies have a total of 941 autographed cards produced across all the insert sets and “levels” (or parallels) in Absolute. The Draft Day Ink cards feature on-card autographs. There are 166 of these cards for each rookie in the set. The rest of the rookie autographs are on stickers. Do you know which other sets released so far this year have sticker autographs of rookies? All of them. Perhaps Trae Young can blame his shooting woes this season on mogigraphia from signing so many damn stickers. Trae could follow the Fultzian playbook and secretly seek out the opinion of every doctor in the country in hopes of finding one that will diagnose the root cause of his problems as an autographing injury instead of him just not being a good shooter.
Finally, let’s take a look at the cards in the set that don’t have an autograph element or have itsy bitsy pieces of textile on them. We’ll start with my favorite part of the 2018-19 Absolute release – the base cards! The design on these is nice. My favorite so far this season. I like the black background. It makes the colors on the jerseys and shoes pop. If you happen to pull a rookie card, you should have no doubt it’s a rookie card. The card design tells you no less than 3 times on the front – a foil RC logo, a giant RC logo on the background of the card, and the word ROOKIE in text down the side. If a basketball card genie would grant me just two wishes for the set design though, the first one would be for the foil stamping to be done in a color other than gold. Gold feels like an afterthought for a graphic design that is otherwise pretty thoughtful. A silver or ice blue foil would have made the aesthetic of these cards truly outstanding. My second wish is for better photographs. There is so much standing around on these cards you would think the players were road construction workers.
The base cards come out of the box in Ultra Pro One Touch Magnetic Holders. That’s good for a set of cards with a black background and border. It keeps edges and corners clean and sharp. But I don’t know that anyone cares about the ‘uncirculated’ nature of the cards created by the 2018-19 Absolute sticker that covers the seam between the two halves of the holder. Right now, the base cards aren’t selling as if they’re very desirable, so who cares if they’re uncirculated or not? Maybe Panini knows something we don’t?
Geeky stat alert! Absolute rocks because it is full of stuff that is serial numbered and it’s only available in hobby boxes. That means we can figure out how much of this stuff was made. Hooray! I’ve told you about the un-numbered base cards. There is also an un-numbered insert set called Glass. We can figure out the print run for this set too. I suspect that if you’ve been reading this long, the print run numbers for the Glass set is probably what you were looking for. Well, you’re in luck. I’ve got it!
Let’s start with the base cards first though. Absolute comes with 2 memorabilia cards per box. Each of these cards is serial numbered, therefore we can calculate the number of boxes and cases produced. Next, we know that each box also comes with 2 uncirculated cards. These cards can either be a base card or one of the two serial numbered base card parallels, gold (#’d to 10) and maroon (#’d to 7). After crunching the numbers on these we can say the following regarding base card print run and case production.
2018-19 Absolute Hobby Cases = 1945
2018-19 Absolute Base Card Print Run = 372 per card
Whoa. Only 372 copies of each base card. That figure applies to rookie cards as well. That sounds limited to me. Should collectors begin to gravitate toward the base cards in this set, the supply side of the equation is relatively small. I picked up the SGA rookie shown earlier for $8. That seems like a pretty reasonable value at this point. I wouldn’t want to open a $120 box containing some sticker autographs and a couple $0.03 swatches in order to get a certain base card but paying reduced prices on the secondary market for rookie cards limited to 372, and with very few parallels, seems like a reasonable value as it relates to card collecting.
To determine the print run on the Glass insert, I went to my favorite tool, YouTube and I watched breakers bust 10 cases of this product online. Fortunately for me, there are only two packs per box, so the breaks move fast. I counted the Glass inserts per box. Based upon the frequency of hitting the Glass insert cards and the number of cases produced, I have been able to estimate the print run for the Glass insert set.
Glass insert set print run = 78
Is Absolute sneaky good? If you’re just looking at memorabilia cards and autographs, I would say nope. It’s at best pedestrian. We’ve seen this same formula play out repeatedly with almost no cards becoming a ‘must-own’. If you’re talking about the Glass inserts, then … maybe? I don’t feel they’re quite limited enough to move the needle for collectors. Also, they come out of packs as redemptions only. We’ve all been burned by the Industrial Panini Redemption Complex in the past. Caveat emptor.
Note: Starting at the 17:41 mark in the video below, the Brady Bunch delivers maybe the most valuable life lesson ever presented on TV in a 1 minute and 16 second scene.
If you’re talking about the base cards, then I think yes, it is sneaky good. Solid design, limited print run, and only 2 very limited parallel versions that don’t really diminish the collectability of the base set. I can’t say that I think any basketball card should really be an investment. There is a relatively high probability that almost any card will lose value over time. Too many random things can happen to cause card values to drop. Some cards dodge these pitfalls. They are easily the exception. But, if you’re just looking to obtain a nice-looking card of a favorite player for your enjoyment, then you could do much worse than a 2018-19 Panini Absolute base card.
Till next time – Jeff