As you may or may not have seen, we busted a box of Panini’s new high-ish end basketball offering on video a couple of days ago. We promised both a review and a contest, so here’s both wrapped up into one lovely little McDonald’s apple pie box package!
You’ll notice a theme in this review: I know very little about basketball. I mean, in understand the rules and the goals and the boom shaka lakas and all that, but I have absolute(pun)ly no idea who most players are and which ones as any good. What’s worse is that I have no frame of reference for telling who is good. How many points per game is good? I know MJ got 55 in a playoff game once and that was news (and like 50% of the scoring done by the Bulls that night) so that’s a high water mark. But what does your regular, everyday Ryan Theriot type put up? And defense? No clue. A bunch of blocks and steals is probably good, but how much is a bunch?
Okay, enough of my ignorance. These base cards represent the whole hall of base from our one box and I think they look just fine. The stock is relatively solid and the action shots look nice. I’m not a huge fan of the design- in fact, I almost never like a base card that has the player cut out of the real action and tossed in front of some Tron-like grid or some abstract (often symmetrical) design like the one we have here. Show me a nice photo of a player on the field over this any day. Of course, basketball is at a disadvantage because they play on lame, evenly-lit same-colored floorboards every night. So, as far as base design in a semi-high end set like Absolute goes, these are fine. Not quite an afterthought (though only one line of stats on the back does beg the question) but also not cards with any “wow” factor.
I mention this in our video break, but
Bonus question: Can you guess which player I know in the above scan?
I make no excuses for my love for the Stargazing inserts. Anything with false color deep space imaging is basically like a giant piece of cake for the big fat nerd inside of me. That being said, even that insert set suffers from Panini-itis. That is, lots of dead space where they can toss a plain white swatch or sticker auto. I don’t know anyone who thinks this is a good idea except for Panini’s efficiency guru (not that I think they actually have one, but you catch my drift). The sad thing is that the only set that eschews this unfortunate policy is the vertically-oriented Hoopla set, a decent (if busy and disappearing-footed) set in its own right. The funny thing is, the relic version of this insert doesn’t work well at all from what I’ve seen on eBay- it’s too crowded. So what’s the solution? It’s obvious to me: stop cannibalizing insert sets for relics and autos or come up with a design that truly works equally well with both versions. I’m not asking the impossible- Topps does it with every single set.
You’ll also see some base set SP/parallel versions up top there. I think they’re going for a refractor kind of vibe with the Spectrum shiny, but it took a second glance for me to notice the difference- even with the numbering and “Spectrum” tag right on the front of the card! That’s not too big a gripe because at least they’re all numbered and I have some serious trouble telling refractors from base in Topps’ chrome products too. The ticket-like Frequent Flyer is of a sweet classic player from my youth and I have to say that I am just plain done with ticket-related sets, inserts and parallels. There’s nothing compelling about the look of a ticket. Let’s move on folks. Overall, I was underwhelmed with the inserts, which is becoming something of a pattern with Panini products for me.
Okay, here’s the bread and butter for Absolute. Each pack of Absolute contains a hit. And each box contains at least one auto/relic (often a Rookie Premiere Materials like Mr. Monroe up there). The autograph checklist is deep and spans a large range of subjects from mid-tier draft picks to serious legendary players. All autos are stickers (another unfortunate Panini trademark) which is a shame because those RC Premiere cards would look loads better with a solid on-card signature. I absolutely love the ball piece and I wish more companies would do it (with actual game-used balls and not just the one that dude was holding in the picture). These are hurt by their high numbering (/499) and relatively easy pull status but are not bad looking cards. In fact, design-wise this is my favorite of the bunch.
I was so stoked we pulled one of these. Unfortunately, every problem I have with the “leave space for the relic” tactic is evident here: It seems really small and there’s still room for an auto below it, messing up the feng shui of the card. Every time I see one of these relics with the space for the auto below it, it’s just a sad reminder that I didn’t get the best version of this card. Woe is me. This card is numbered to 49 and I’m not sure how it differentiates from the ones that are numbered to things other than 49. I noticed on the non-relic versions that the “STAR” can be either gold or silver so I’m guessing the gold version of this guy is numbered to something higher. Barely-there parallels are a pet peeve of mine and that’s a scar on the face of the beautiful nebulae hanging out behind Brandon there.
This guy is numbered to 99 because he’s the Spectrum version I think. Once again, the sticker auto detracts from what would be a really nice looking card. I will admit that these look much better in person than on scan. However, from what I can gather, we didn’t exactly get the next Karl Malone in this card, so I suppose I could complain about player selection like this in a higher end product, but I’ll leave that to you guys in the comments.
This is the prime relic that I think we were guaranteed in our box. It could have been worse, especially as this fella is #/25 (and I know his name!). The design of this set is a bit puzzling but it does at least have a reasonable purpose: show off that prime relic! I do wish that the photo was a little bigger… maybe if we ditched that space for a sticker below the relic hole, we’d be in better shape. If you’re not laughing right now, it’s because you missed that I just typed “relic hole.”
There’s something to be said for consistency, and Panini provides that every time. I’ve never had any major problems with their products and this one is no exception. I will confess that the too-similar designs between many of their sets is a blemish on their record, and there’s always an element of parallel-happiness that grates on me. Since I’m not a basketball expert, I have to rely on eBay to gauge my value score and eBay sayeth: not good. We didn’t hit any big names, so we’re stuck with a box that would likely have disappointed many purchasers. That’s the name of the game in any product of course, and especially with high end 4-pack products, you’re really rolling the dice. That’s not to say I didn’t like this box or the product- it just needs something to set it apart from the other Panini basketball products to push it over the edge from “That was okay” to “I can’t wait to see what they do with it next year!” On-card autographs would probably be enough but, barring that, this set needs a real kick in the design pants to make it more than just another 4-hit-per-box-kind-of-like-Contenders-in-most-respects product.
Design – **
Set Collecting – *
Inserts – **
Hits – ****
Overall – **.5 out of 5
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for! There are only a handful of cards here, so one lucky winner gets them all. I’m going to try to make this contest a learning experience for me. So here’s how you enter.
Leave a comment below telling me two things:
1. Who is the best player we pulled in this box?
2. What are good stats to look at to help me tell who is good?
Don’t forget to give me some ranges for number 2 there- I know a .300 batting average is great, but what should I be looking for in PPG, FG%, etc? Oh, and don’t forget your email address!
You have until this Thursday night at 11:59PM CST to enter so get your entries in quickly and spread the word!