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Collecting the Chronology of Top Shot

It’s hard to believe we are already in our 5th series (2023-2024) of NBA Top Shot.  We have seen such a variety of strategies in the product distribution, approach and the moments themselves.  We’re still in the early rise of the digital evolution of collectibles and in this blog, I wanted to take a reflection on the different series of Top Shot and how I think they’ll fit into the legacy of the product.  Be ready – we are going to draw parallels to cardboard and physical card collecting through this two part blog.  That isn’t to say “Top Shot needs to be more like traditional, physical cards.” 

Physical cards have gone through so many changes and evolutions the last 75 years and they are still figuring out what works.  That product is incredibly mature and they are still continuously trying to innovate, adjust and re-position.  Just in the last few years alone we have seen the rise of parallels (dozens of one card is still wild to me), the explosion of grading cards, image variation short prints, redemptions (puke) and even a tacofractor (I can only imagine if Top Shot did this how much people would have went wild).  There are numerous other business streams built on top of the cardboard foundation like the above mentioned grading  companies, at times controversial breaking industry, content producers, buy/resell marketplaces like eBay and of course the brick and mortar physical card shops.  The physical ecosystem of traditional card collecting is massive and well established. 

Now imagine building a company from the ground up to completely re-invent and re-define not only the collectible product itself, but the entire industry surrounding and built on top of it.  The full business ecosystem of digital collectibles is still being built on top of the product we are continuing to evolve as technology and business change daily.  As we are building, all of the series on Top Shot are expected to fit into every possible part of the ecosystem.  How many breakers are breaking 1952 Topps?  Now how many are breaking 2023 Bowman?  Somehow though we need to find a place for Series 1 to have the same utility and price action that 2023-2024 Series 5 does?  That is where we need to find the collectability, the longevity and how these previous series are going to fit into the grand scheme of Top Shot as it evolves.  Imagine opening a box of 2018 Topps and you get a redemption for a Ronald Acuna Jr. autograph?  Guess what it is worth $0 because it is expired and can not be redeemed.  The point here is everything has its place, everything has its time, but not everything is forever.

That is what keeps me excited as I believe we are still building.  We have so much opportunity to innovate, to redefine collectibles and to build an ecosystem unlike anything else in collectibles.

I’ve categorized each series of Top Shot into it’s own “era.” 

Series 1 – the 1952 Topps of digital collectibles.

Series 2 Part 1 (/7500, /15000) – the nostalgia series

Series 2 Part 2 & Series 3 – the “junk wax” era

Series 4 – collector’s only

Series 5 – the modern era

In an effort to keep these blogs readable, we are going to finish out this post with Series 1 and Series 2 Part 1.  If you’ve made it this far, you’ve already invested at least about 20 Tik Toks worth of your scrolling time, so thank you and let’s get into collecting the chronology of Top Shot.

Series 1: The 1952 Topps of Digital Collectibles This to me is the inevitable comparison and ultimately where I think everyone buying into Series 1 is hoping we land.  The LeBron James debut will turn into the 1952 Micky Mantle of digital collectibles and there is enough star power fired around it with Luka, Steph, Giannis, Jokic and more all featuring Top Shot Debuts, that we have our supporting cast of Willie Mays cards that is going to prop this set up for the long term.  Does it matter that we have parallel tiers of rares / legendaries built into digital?  Not in my opinion because the mint counts are so low.  We also know the finite scarcity of these grails, something which we do not know with physical cards, outside of those that are graded.  To me the parallel tiers of rare / legendary are going to command a premium like a graded version of a 1952 card.  Is everything in the set going to be valuable long term?  Of course not.  Your Troy Brown or Ish Smith debuts probably fall by the way side, but will still command some demand from the set builders, the team set builders and when they find their own utility periodically. 

Series 1 also includes the bubble moments, the empty arena moments and some of the lowest mint counts of common debuts we will ever see.  This is scarcity in digital collecting at its finest, with the debuts of the biggest stars you will see for the next 5-10 years.  The next wave of stars is still many years from establishing themselves as household names.  There is a lot of history here, a lot of star power and it also gets the bump from it being “the first.”  We likely never see bubble moments, empty arena moments and such a massive list of star debuts in one set ever again.  It doesn’t have the huge rookie checklist like the modern sets are  getting, but you have Ja Morant and Zion Williamson true rookie Top Shot debuts sitting in there.  Arguably two of the potential biggest superstars ready to take the leap if they can get different areas of their lives together. 

All the boxes are checked here for Series 1 to be our historical landmark, we just can’t wait 20-40 years for it to get the true appreciation like the 1952 Topps set did.  The world is moving faster now and wants results quicker.  We need Series 1 in Top Shot to age in digital years, so 5x-10x as fast as the world used to work.  We almost need Series 1 to artificially age through new user acquisition, Top Shot hitting more mainstream / integrating with basketball culture and driving demand on those low mint moments.

Series 2 Part 1 (/7500 & /15000 mints): The Nostalgia Era Early Series 2 is where a good majority of people (myself included) got our start in Top Shot.  This almost could be called the Hype Era, because that’s what it was during that time.  The massive intrigue, mystery and online explosion of Top Shot was hitting everyone with the itch to experience something new.  A call back to the nostalgia for a lot of us who did collect physical cards as kids, but in the modern era.  Digital basketball moments and history, collectibles presented in a new way.  A lot of us remember our first moments (and their price).  I remember the first night targeting some "affordable" guys I thought that may break out – John Collins, Cam Reddish, Lonzo Ball and Draymond Green, all /15000 mints because back then the /7500 were just priced so insanely.  We saw a lot of those rare sets come in like Rising Stars and who can forget Seeing Stars (even though you may want to forget what you paid for them).  Maybe the best thing debuting in S2 was the Cool Cats master challenge.  This to me was one of the best things on Top Shot.  The speculation buying driving pricing action, driving interest in the product, the dialogue on Twitter, the perceived value of the rewards; all while knowing there was a master challenge in play for the end of the year.  This is such a great part of the Top Shot ecosystem that builds all year, something that is not done in cardboard.

That first experience I think is what is going to eventually bring people back to appreciate what early S2 was on Top Shot.  All those /7500 mints that seemed so far off are very much at attainable price points.  Those “insert” or subsets like Rising Stars and Seeing Stars still have the same great player line up and Cool Cats still has the Nine Lives Lounge; but now all of those things feel attainable throughout the journey.  Oh and don’t sleep on the star power stacked in S2 with Anthony Edwards, Lamelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Tyrese Maxey leading the way of the true quad badge rookie Top Shot debuts that have continued to carry a premium due to be full, true Top Shot rookies. 

I think people are going to eventually come back to appreciating their first series on Top Shot, the first moments they bought, they wanted or those sets they wanted to do, but never did.  Will the price action pump back to what it is?  Not likely, but that is not to say we can’t still see demand and collecting of early S2 emerge.  We talked about S1 needing to age rapidly, well that works in our favor here, because “your first” on Top Shot that wasn’t all that long ago is going to feel like forever ago as we keep progressing into new sets and seasons. 

Next time we will hit part 2 of the blog to wrap up Collecting the Chronology of Top Shot with S2 part 2, S3, S4 and 2023-2024 (S5). Until then watch more moments and we ride at dawn...

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1 Comment

Michael Whalley
Michael Whalley
Dec 28, 2023

Interesting comparisons. Makes a lot of sense!

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