Wow, there’s cards on shelves: Finding and breaking a booster of 2020-21 NBA Chronicles

When I restarted my sports card collecting habit two autumns ago, global demand for cards was sky-high and global supply was super low. A would-be collector walking into a big box retailer anywhere in the country with a wallet full of cash in those days (at least a year starting in summer 2020) would almost always find nothing but empty shelves, ransacked moments after their weekly restocking by a line of sweathogs looking to stock their own eBay stores at a big markup.

It was a real problem! Sports card collecting is, at its core, an activity for children and young people, and if young people aren’t able to find/afford packs to open, how will they fall in love with the hobby and grow up spending too much money on shiny pieces of cardboard with pictures of their sports heroes and heroines?

I haven’t even bothered to look at stores’ card shelves for several months for two reasons: the aforementioned scarcity, and more recently, a genuine lack of interest in new cards. They’re overpriced! They don’t offer a good return! Cards come out of packs with damage! I’ve talked about all of this before in this space, and it just really wore on me. Other than occasionally picking up a 1964 Topps Giant single to finish my set (down to less than five cards to go!) on eBay, I have completely stopped buying cards.

Today, though, I was in a Meijer and I decided to walk past the shelves in the toy section that are normally empty, but are designed to hold packs and boxes of sports cards. I wasn’t sure what to expect, though I’d recently read an entry from one of my favorite collecting blogs, Pre-War Cards, about how he’d stumbled across well-stocked shelves of new packs at a store in his neighborhood recently, so I was curious what the situation was in my neck of the woods. Has supply caught up with demand?

I wish I’d taken a picture, because it was shockingly well-stocked. There was even a lot of basketball, my favorite sport and the only sport I’ve seen exactly ZERO sealed product of in the “wild,” so to speak, since I started collecting again. I had a choice between a few basketball products, including the last two seasons of Panini Chronicles, so I bought a booster of 2020-21 Chronicles, mainly because I already have a lot of the rookies from 2019-20 that I would want.

Exciting, right? Well, before I even made it out of the store, I’d already had a deflating moment. There weren’t any prices on the boxes or packs on the shelves (just lots of notes saying that you can’t return sports cards to the store for refunds), but in my experience, the retail price for most blasters has tended to be around $20. Maybe $25. This one was $35, as I discovered at checkout.

Well, it’s 40 cards, I figured, so that’s still less than a dollar a card. Not completely horrible, but I couldn’t help but think again: This is a hobby for kids, and this set, Chronicles, is kind of an entry-level-ish set, one that would be really perfect for a young collector, and yet a small box of cards is $35.

No matter, I thought: I’ll still have some fun with this. I love the NBA! And then I wondered what these boxes are going for on eBay. After all, MY store’s shelves may be well-stocked, but maybe this area (and Mr. Pre-War Cards’s area) is an outlier, and demand is still high for these! As it turns out, no: These are going for about $35 (or in a couple of cases, significantly less) on eBay. (If you’re reading this well beyond January 2022, that link may show you a different story)

That’s one question answered: Clearly supply has caught up with demand, at long last, or perhaps demand has fallen enough that supply can keep up. Either way, the era of the sweathog dominating the shelves at your local Target or Walmart or Meijer appears to be over! Reason to rejoice, perhaps?

So I came home, dreams of quick eBay riches dashed for the moment, and went to work opening the packs. I’d learned my lesson from the last purchase I’d made of some Panini soccer cards: I’m opening all the packs while I’m excited to open them! I normally would follow my rating rubric for opening a box of cards to rate the set, but because of the variety of different sets represented in this box, I think it would be difficult to rate in my traditional way. The slideshow below will depict the contents of each 5-card pack, a list of each card in each pack follows, and then I’ll close with a few observations about these cards and my experience.

  • Pack 1: Tyrese Maxey Luminance (rookie) and Playbook (rookie, pink foil variant), Jae’Sean Tate Essentials (rookie), LaMelo Ball Threads (rookie), Obi Toppin Rookies & Stars (rookie)
  • Pack 2: Stephen Curry Essentials, Nico Mannion Essentials (rookie, pink variant), Alekskej Pokusevski Playbook (rookie), Aaron Nesmith Panini (rookie), Chris Paul Chronicles
  • Pack 3: Luka Doncic Luminance, Killian Hayes Prestige (rookie), Anthony Edwards Rookies & Stars (rookie), Zion Williamson Optic Hometown Heroes, Onyeka Okongwu Marquee (rookie)
  • Pack 4: James Wiseman Prestige (rookie, pink variant), LeBron James XR, LaMelo Ball Playbook (rookie), Payton Pritchard Panini (rookie), RJ Barrett Chronicles
  • Pack 5: Saben Lee Essentials (rookie), Patrick Williams Panini (rookie, pink variant), Moses Brown Donruss (rookie), Stephen Curry Threads, Saddiq Bey Rookies & Stars (rookie)
  • Pack 6: Deni Avdija Luminance (rookie) and Playbook (rookie), Damian Lillard Chronicles, James Harden Marquee (pink variant), Anthony Davis Marquee
  • Pack 7: Patrick Williams XR (rookie), Derrick Rose Optic Traded, Kawhi Leonard Rookies & Stars, LeBron James Prestige, Killian Hayes Panini (rookie)
  • Pack 8: Kevin Durant Luminance, Devin Vassell Essentials (rookie), Devin Booker Chronicles, Donovan Mitchell Chronicles, Anthony Edwards Playbook (rookie)

Thumbs Up to:

  • The general variety of card styles and sets included here. As I said before, this would be a great way for a young or beginning collector to try out a lot of different sets with one purchase. I think the Chronicles mixed bag concept is ultimately a winner.
  • The look of most of these cards. Luminance is always a favorite of mine with its big, bold photography and stylized name typography. I was really taken with the design of XR and Essentials, both shiny foil bombs, but done well. And even though the base Chronicles cards aren’t worth much, I dig the fun design and the newspaper-style factoids about the players.
  • The selection of players included. Opening these reminded me somewhat of my experience opening a blaster of last season’s NFL Prestige set: There are a ton of rookies in here, and a lot of star players. Each of these 5-card packs had at least one card that made me go “ooh!”

Thumbs Down to:

  • The value of these cards. I took a quick look at the price guide for cards from this set, particularly the prices set by sellers at COMC, and I said “ooh” again, but in a lower, less impressed tone. Another deflating moment. None of the cards in this box are going for much more than $2, and none of them are going for much less than $2, including the rookies of star players LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards. This aspect of the hobby, coupled with the suddenly packed shelves, is making me think the crash I have been predicting is already upon us. It may be a slow-motion crash, but these low prices for cards of key rookies tell me they’re overproduced, a la the card boom of the 1990s.
  • The designs of some of these cards. I know I said some nice things about several of the set designs, but some are quite ugly (Marquee, Rookies & Stars) or just plain boring (Threads, Panini, Playbook, which I almost forgot about). I guess that’s the nice thing about this mixed-bag approach, they can try some things out without devoting a full set run to them (and then likely losing a lot of money).
  • The cost. I already mentioned it above, but while $35 for 40 cards isn’t necessarily highway robbery in this day and age, it’s also not exactly allowance-friendly for young collectors, at whom this set is presumably targeted.

Although I won’t give it a thumbs down because ultimately luck is always a toss-up with opening packs, I do think it’s worth mentioning that I had a bit of a bum box in terms of inserts. I got a few pink variants of cards, which are the least rare and least sought-after tier of variants, no serial-numbered cards, no autographs or even jersey patch cards. That said, I did have an overall positive experience, just based on the variety of cards and the star power of the players I got. I’d probably rate it a 3 (of 5) on the Andrew Taylor Recommends Excitement index, which is a decent score!

THAT said, though, I still feel as though $35 is too much to pay for this amount of cards. It’s not $100 for 40, like it would have been a few months ago on eBay, but I wasn’t paying that either. For this amount of money, I could have got one of the short-print cards I need to complete my 1964 set with a few bucks left over. Instead, I have a few admittedly cool cards of some cool players that aren’t ultimately worth a lot and don’t move my collection in any meaningful direction. The pack itch is scratched for a while, but I can’t say I’ll be running back to any stores in the near future for more sealed stuff to open.

One thought on “Wow, there’s cards on shelves: Finding and breaking a booster of 2020-21 NBA Chronicles

  1. Think you’re probably pretty close to the target.
    Enjoyed reading you article and remember , A card is only worth what someone will give you for it.
    Robert Grindstaff

    Liked by 1 person

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