Like many collectors around my age, my interest in memorabilia began with baseball cards. Although I no longer actively collect baseball cards (or even have the ones I did collect – but that’s a story for another time…), I have a soft spot for sports cards in general and as curator of KU BALLS have continued to collect the NBA cards of former KU players. For historical purposes, of course…
That’s why five years ago I was excited to learn that Upper Deck had a special release focusing solely on Kansas basketball. It was only Upper Deck’s second release focusing exclusively on a single college basketball program (UNC was the first two years before), and had cards for players, coaches, and key moments over the 100+ years of Kansas basketball. The 220 card set included:
- 76 base cards of individual players, coaches and contributors
- 24 Monumental Moments cards that highlighted items such as the Rules of Basketball, the Rock Chalk Chant, championships, and other events
- 15 Distinguished Numbers cards commemorating key players in Kansas basketball history
- 10 Final Four Legacy cards commemorating key players and coaches over Kansas basketball’s history who participated in a Final Four
- 5 Final Four Duo cards highlighting key, “one-two” punches in the Final Four
- 21 specially designed Icon F/X cards
- 24 Jayhawk Hall of Fame cards representing players and coaches who have distinguished themselves as some of the best in the game
- 30 Jayhawk Legacy cards representing the program’s most popular players
- 10 Jayhawk Legacy Duo cards
- 5 Jayhawk Legacy Trio cards
The 76 base and 24 Monumental Moment cards were the most commonly available ones, with the remaining, “specialty” cards being slightly more difficult to find.
As if that wasn’t cool enough though, Upper Deck also had autographed versions of most all the cards (obviously of players & coaches alive at the time the cards were released – no James Naismith or Wilt Chamberlain signatures), which were randomly inserted into packs of cards – approximately one autograph card of some sort per each box that contained 24 eight-card packs. Autograph cards were obviously limited in number, and they were available in proportion of the actual card. In other words, autograph cards of the base set were rare, and autographed cards of the specialty cards were extremely rare. As proof of this, there were only 25 autographed versions of each of the Jayhawk Hall of Fame, Legacy and Distinguished Number cards.
The rarest autographed cards though, included the Final Four Legacy and Legacy Duo cards – each of these cards were serial numbered to 10.
Even rarer than those cards however, were the autographed versions of the Jayhawk Legacy Trio cards as there were only three cards made of each of them.
Now, even with the scarcity of autographed cards already built into the set, there were additional factors that made other cards even more rare. Okay, one factor: errors. Upper Deck is a top-notch company that has been a key influencer in the sports memorabilia industry for around 30 years. But every set, every product release, usually has some misprints, defects, omissions and errors and the KU basketball set is no exception.
As you can see, there are two, autographed Scot Pollard base set cards. The commonly available one, number 56 in the set, is the bottom card that’s unprotected. Number 55, the top card in a case, is rare and in high demand by collectors. Although I reached out to Upper Deck’s customer support team to try and learn more of the story – why Scot Pollard ended up being duplicated in the set, how many #55 cards there were, etc. – unfortunately they “were unable to find anyone with direct knowledge of this set”. Amazingly though, there is still another card error that’s in even more demand.
Unless you’re a philatelist, there’s a good chance you might not recognize the above stamp. It’s the “Inverted Jenny“, one of the most famous errors in the history of collectibles. Printed 100 years ago in 1918, the Curtiss JN-4 airplane was accidentally printed upside down. Only one sheet of the roughly 100 that were printed in error was found, and after a century of the sheet being split into individual stamps and small blocks of stamps that were sold, it has become the Holy Grail of stamp collecting. In fact, one of the Inverted Jenny stamps sold for $1.3M just last month. If you’re like me though, you might best remember the Inverted Jenny from the Richard Pryor movie Brewster’s Millions:
Okay, the error in the Upper Deck KU Basketball set isn’t that valuable, but other than the Legacy Trio cards it’s the card that’s in the most demand: it’s Sherron Collins. How rare is it? Well, of the two cards below of guards from Chicago, the card of the player from KU is worth more…
So, what happened to make this card more valuable than a rookie Michael Jordan card? Apparently, Collins never sent his signed stickers back to Upper Deck for this set. The only reason there are any autographed cards at all is because Upper Deck had a handful of stickers left over from a different card & set that Collins had signed, and they used those for this card. Although it isn’t exactly known how many of these cards exist, it’s believed there are only 6-10 that are “out in the wild”.
So, again, it’s not worth anything close to an Inverted Jenny stamp, but the mistake combined with the card’s scarcity makes Sherron Collins’ card the Inverted Jenny of Upper Deck’s homage to Kansas Basketball, and one of the primary cards that collectors of KU memorabilia treasure & seek out.