1951 Topps Magic, Bill Matthews #65: What Makes a Barrier Breaker?


Contrary to the bell curve for even the most common of “common” players, surprisingly (sadly) this ended in much the same way as it began—with a card, a name, and some minimal, dashed off numbers and space-filler information. The research task at hand: a fairly obscure American college football player by the name of Bill Matthews, also whose card (#65) in the 1951 Topps Magic seems to be among the very few, if not the only one, horizontally oriented in that set. From the outset Matthews at least appeared to be a prominent and gifted football prospect. (However, future success is of course rarely guaranteed for talented college athletes.) Despite a promising early career, the relative lack of additional biographical information about Matthews feels even more curious in light of the number of available artifacts from his youth: newspaper game scores and summaries, articles in school publications, surviving football game programs, etc. Ultimately, Matthews was an appealing young standout who at some juncture must have fallen short of his competitive goals. In as much, his existence has become one largely unknown, unheralded. Yet during his scintillating prime, flashes of brilliance surely lit up his chosen gridiron stage.

According to his trading card, Matthews was a halfback. He played for New York University, a football program with its share of ups and downs—not first-downs—but mostly losses and woes. In fact, Matthews’s very college football career (as well as any potential professional one) likely suffered along with the losing NYU varsity football program, as it shut down after 1952 and remained defunct.[1]

Working backwards from the age printed on his 1951 trading card, Matthews was born around 1925. Also, he hailed from Carteret, NJ. The trading card back elaborates on Matthews and his promise as a player:

The top ground gainer for the Violets last year. Coach Hugh Devore [who succeeded Matthews’s earlier coach, Coach Edward Mylin] expects big things from Bill, who’s a fast and shifty runner. . . .

1951 Topps Magic Football card 65 Bill Matthews Card Back

On occasion, Matthews reportedly lived up to his talents. In the introduction from an interesting, elaborate story of apparent controversy regarding student-athlete transfer rumors among opposing football programs, an editorial titled “Conning the Campus” from a 1949 issue of The Michigan Alumnus (volume 56, number 11) describes Matthews as a “sophomore whiz” whose performance “was outstanding on the frosh eleven last year, a one-man gang who scored 54 points and accounted for all but one touchdown tallied by the first-year men” (187).

the-michigan-alumnus-conning-the-campusMatthews looks like he continued to improve in subsequent seasons. Referring to one sports researcher from Net54baseball.com:

One of the few highlights I could find of Matthews’s playing days was in a 21-13 victory over the King’s Point Mariners when he scored two touchdowns, one a 78-yard punt return for a score (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 6, 1951). [However,] his play could not overcome the lackluster team, described as ‘a weak outfit’ (Syracuse Post Standard, November 26, 1950), who ‘dropped six in a row’ in 1951 (Syracuse Post Standard, November 25, 1951).

Returning to that “Conning the Campus” report, The Owosso Argus-Press ran a short item on January 5th, 1950 and followed up on Matthews and his controversial or at least sudden departure from the NYU program. The item likewise praises Matthews as “a grid whiz” with no shortage of “prowess.” However, it remains largely unclear why Matthews briefly left NYU (and equally unclear are his specific aims for moving to Michigan, though presumably those plans had something to do with football).

In any case, after his absence during the 1949 football season, Matthews later returned to play for NYU in the fall of 1950. An NYU vs. Fordham game program from that season explains that “He returned to school the season after one year’s absence and battled successfully for the starting right half position. Fast and shifty. . . . Played football, basketball and track while at Barringer High School.”


That same NYU vs. Fordham game program reveals another interesting point for this era in terms of racial integration among American colleges and college athletics: regarding the other NYU starting player photographs, Matthews was one of three players of color.

Only three years before this, in 1947 Jackie Robinson was the first player in decades to break the “color barrier” for Major League Baseball. Robinson himself played college football—for UCLA several years prior, between 1939 and 1940. But even with NYU, college sports were far from being cohesively, peacefully integrated. For example, one New York Times article from 2001 reflects on some notable student unrest and protests that occurred during the 1940 and 1941 seasons:

In 1940 and 1941, [one] Ms. Witkin and six fellow students helped lead thousands of classmates in denouncing a little-known but widespread practice in college athletics known as the ‘gentlemen’s agreement.’ If a game was scheduled between two schools and one of them objected to black athletes participating, the opposing team would keep the black players out of the contest. . . .

But Ms. Witkin, a biology major, and other students took action when they learned in the fall of 1940 that Leonard Bates, a star fullback on the N.Y.U. football team, would not be allowed to play in a November game at the University of Missouri.

They began circulating petitions, wore buttons and picketed the university administration, chanting, ‘Bates must play!’ It was at the time the largest protest against the gentlemen’s agreements, and it took place nearly two decades before the start of the mass civil rights movement.

Broadly speaking, though, the hurtles for race relations appeared a little less formidable at schools in the North such as NYU than those obstacles faced in the South at places like Mississippi State or the University of Alabama. In “Breaking the College Color Barrier: Studies in Courage,” Richard Lapchick similarly acknowledges this:

Generally, the conferences north of the Mason-Dixon line integrated much earlier than the SEC and ACC. William Henry Lewis was an African-American All-American football player at Harvard in 1892 while attending Harvard Law School. William Edward White played baseball on Brown’s 1879 team.

Still, whether it was Jim Thorpe competing for Carlisle against Harvard in 1911 or Ernie Tanner playing for Whitworth College in 1908, integration was far from an easy task—especially for the early waves of these brave students of color. Indeed Lapchick himself prudently notes that “No matter where the school is located or when the walls fell, though, all these college pioneers encountered various forms of racism that might have stopped less courageous men.”

And I certainly keep those less quantifiable contexts in mind when I consider players as “barrier breaking,” perhaps a term that I use a little more loosely than some others do. But even in baseball, for example, there were different periods where a few black athletes played very early before the majority colluded to ban them—and then of course another, bigger wave of integration later with Robinson.

Certainly some schools were integrating well ahead of other schools (and ahead of the professional leagues). Again, though, how pervasive was this early integration for many of these institutions and how limited to areas where administrators wanted to simply exploit some talents over others—say, admitting young black athletes more readily than admitting some equally or more deserving young, black scholars? And what of those schools that may have had one or two or three student-athletes of color? Again, that does not necessarily demonstrate a program was peacefully “integrated,” another point to which Lapchick alludes. Even if one such school had a black football player twenty years prior, I would still credit another black athlete as a barrier breaker when part of an early wave of under-represented, bold faces.

Again, a sports card and player researcher from Net54baseball.com, perhaps puts it best:

Point being: [this] one card, the 1951 Topps Magic Bill Matthews probably represents tens or hundreds of other individuals who struggled against exclusion in sports. While an NFL career never materialized for Matthews[,] that could be for any number of reasons. Was he Jackie Robinson? No. Was he Marion Motley or Ben Willis? No. But I would say any individual who integrated the college or professional gridiron or baseball diamond prior to the Civil Rights Movement (1954-68) was a ground-breaker.

[1] From Net54baseball.com: “the NYU football program was cancelled [on] March 10, 1953. The 1950-52 New York University were a less than impressive aggregate, led by Coach Hugh Devore who compiled a career record with the Violets of just 4 wins, 17 losses, with 2 ties.

Drunk Hasselhoff: An Exclusive, Authorized Interview as the Actor Talks Baseball, Berliners, and Angela Lansbury*

1983 Donruss Knight Rider #23

Interview by M. G.

MG: Danke, Fräulein. And if I may, that’s a lovely apron-dress thingy you’re wearing tonight.

[Barmaid walks away unamused.]

DH: (sighs) It’s called a dirndl.

MG: Ah, so she misunderstood. I thought perhaps she didn’t like me.

DH: Right. What paper did you say you’re with again?

MG: Paper? Come now, Hoff, you should realize it’s the digital age. After all, you’re “The King—

DH: “The King of the Internet.” Yeah, very funny.

MG: Huh, they’re showing baseball on TV. I would have thought these Germans would all be watching soccer.

DH: They were. I changed it.

MG: Wow. You better watch your back.

DH: They know me here, and I’m friends with Boris, the owner. Besides, the O’s are in the playoffs, dammit, so of course. . . . Wait—what the hell are you drinking?

MG: Uh, Heineken. Why?

DH: Nobody here drinks that shit. It’s not even German.

MG: The Dutch aren’t German?

DH: At least order a Becks or Bitburger.

MG: What are you drinking?

DH: Laphroaig (coughs), ten-year.

MG: Scotch isn’t exactly local.

DH: I’m making my way through the E.U. France is next.

MG: Which brings me to my first question: Now I understand it’s a sensitive topic, but what made you pick this place for our meeting?**

DH: For one, I prefer that you don’t know my hotel.

MG: Fair enough.

DH: You might be one of these crazies with “Looking for Freedom” as their ringtone. You just never know with fans: look what happened to Nancy Kerrigan.

MG: In truth, that wasn’t one of her fans; he was more a henchman for Harding.

DH: So if you were to, say, crack a pipe over my head in an alley later tonight, it could really be for someone else’s benefit.

MG: Right. Nothing personal against you.

DH: Oh, that makes me feel much better.

MG: You know what I meant, though: why did you pick here, a bar? I thought you were on the wagon—or is it off the wagon?

DH: It’s on, and I was more just clinging, kind of dragging in the dirt.

MG: Hanging on for dear life to a cheese burger.

DH: (grimaces) You had to go there.

MG: Sorry. . . . It doesn’t make up for it, but we do have something in common.

DH: You’ve been to Betty Ford?

MG: No, we grew up in the same place.

DH: (looks up at the game) You’re from Baltimore?

MG: Well, no—not really. It’s a small town an hour west—

DH: Frederick?

MG: Yes! You know, it was briefly the capital of Maryland at the start of the Civil War.

DH: Wasn’t it named after Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist?

MG: That’s a popular misconception.

DH: Guess what the folks in Baltimore call Frederick?

MG: What?

DH: Fredneck.

MG: Yeah, well, your name sounds like an onomatopoeia for your damn poofy hair.

DH: Onomatowhaty?

MG: Forget it. I guess you don’t spend as much time outdoors soaking up the rays as back in your Baywatch days, huh?

DH: Actually, you’d be surprised how much of that show was filmed on set.

MG: As popular as the show made you back in the states, you’re pretty well liked around here. You really parlayed that singing atop the Wall business into a career.

DH: What can I say? As far as audiences go, they’re absotutely wunderbar.

MG: That reminds me: I wanted to ask if I could have your autograph.

DH: I’d be delighted. Whaddya got?

MG: Would you sign my 1982 Knight Rider trading card set?

DH: The whole thing? That was like a fifty-card issue.

MG: Fifty-five.

DH: Christ.

MG: It’d really mean a lot to me. You know, I grew up on that show. Michael Knight was my role model; he practically raised me.

DH: That’s genuinely disturbing.

MG: Honestly, every Saturday afternoon—it was like my generation’s The Lone Ranger. I believe it was the lead-in for Murder, She Wrote. Of course, this was well into syndication.

DH: Gawd-damned Angela Lansbury. She showed her true colors in The Manchurian Candidate. Still I’ll admit she’s one fine strawberry shortcake.

MG: Yeah, I guess she used to be pretty sexy.

DH: Used to?

[In the background, the crowd on the television erupts with a home run hit by Baltimore.]

DH: [Tosses his drink back and slams it down.] This is it! This is the year!

MG: You think so?

DH: If Showalter can’t do it, nobody can.

MG: So how about it? Will you sign the cards?

DH: What’s in it for me?

MG: I’ll give you half of the proceeds when I sell them on E-bay.

DH: Hmm. Kid, I’ll tell you what: throw in a glass—no, make it a bottle of Pernod and you’ve got yourself a deal.

*This interview is neither exclusive nor authorized. And, of course, it’s probably not real.

**Note: Berlin’s Da Lichtenstein is well-known for catering to expats; hence Hasselhoff likely felt there was less chance of being spotted by eager fans and sycophants.

Vintage Y.M.C.A.—Postcards and Memories

YMCA Magazine

Regardless of whether it was necessarily “fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.,” for many folks it was necessary—especially during peak years of influence, such as the Depression-wracked 1930s. Despite the Y.M.C.A.’s widespread influence and notability as a community institution advocating good health and exercise, misconceptions about its name or even its mission are nevertheless plausible. Recently, I myself needed to revise at least a couple of false assumptions regarding some basics about this historic organization.*

Oddly enough, much of my misinformation about the Y.M.C.A. stems from and relates directly to its very name and branding. My own limited though still formative time spent participating in youth sports at a local Y likewise has bearing. But for years now, perhaps decades, I largely assumed that the acronym stood for Young Men’s Community Athletics, which of course is incorrect on multiple counts.

First, to explain the mistaken “Athletics”: like many other children raised in more urban areas (in my case, in Maryland), my first-hand experience with the Y.M.C.A. dealt primarily with its athletic facilities. To a scrawny seven-year-old, the massive complex and expansive playing fields were indeed impressive in their seemingly sprawling nature.

In fact, the Y.M.C.A. was where I first learned some disappointing yet important lessons about team sports. Mainly, I disliked them immensely, as a participant at least. (I would later prefer the more individualistic sports, such as boxing or tennis, though I was by no means brave enough for the former.) Specifically, I found that the defensive positions on the soccer field generally were fairly tedious postings best suited for watching the grass grow around my cleats—until opponents suddenly raced by to score on the goalie whom I repeatedly let down.

Nonetheless, I learned another active and more useful skill (an actual, life-preserving one) when I also received swimming lessons at the Y.M.C.A. Yes, I’ll forever remember that Olympic-size pool and one such early yet pivotal lesson: the very first time when some instructor encouraged me with patient optimism as I prepared to slip under water with my eyes shut tight, that literal blind faith in the coach as I held my breath and went below the surface. It was a small but significant step, and swimming would turn out to be a key bonding activity for my family. So the membership and whatever fees or donations were not an entire loss. In sum, with these types of activities as the full extent of my experiences at the Y.M.C.A., it’s understandable how I might assume that the last letter stood for Athletics rather than Association.

Next, and the even more surprising point of confusion: I only just discovered that the “C” represents Christian, not Community. This felt like an additionally striking revelation—in that I recall nothing other than a secular though of course supportive quality about my time and experiences at the local Y.M.C.A.

Moreover, not unlike these vintage promotional postcards from the East Coast, any emphasis on the literal “Christian” with my local Y.M.C.A. was in all probability scarce or at least less than prominent. (The organization’s full name and thus the word Christian are likewise wholly absent from the front cover of the widely circulated Y.M.C.A. magazine publication.) The purposes of this I can only assume pertain to branding—branding with as little alienation and as broad an appeal as possible.

YMCA postcard, front

In any case, these particular vintage postcards interest me for a number of reasons. Again, they help clarify some of those long-held basic misconceptions that I had about the Y.M.C.A. And while they’re admittedly not the most visually stunning, the Trenton, New Jersey, Y.M.C.A. postcard front is handsomely colorized, more like an illustration than a photo.

YWCA, front

Meanwhile, for the Y.W.C.A.—after all, these associations existed for women, too—one such postcard opens as an attractive, tri-fold pamphlet with an old map showing a section of downtown Philadelphia. This same Y.W.C.A. building still sits nearby the Schuylkill River’s east bank, not far across the way from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

YWCA, tri-fold, 1

YWCA, tri-fold, 2

As artifacts, the postcards are additionally informative (and on different anthropological levels). For example, check out those bargain lodging rates for the Philadelphia Y.W.C.A. Even when adjusted for inflation, those prices must be very reasonable still. Then the Trenton Y.M.C.A.: the note on the back of the postcard reveals just one of the many reasons why someone might seek temporary housing at the Y, such as a presumably young man named “Ray” being forced to quickly find shelter on account of another person, whom we’ll only ever know as the formidable “rita” [sic], who once “broke up the house.”

YMCA postcard, back

Lastly, these relics feel personally relevant, too. Recalling the frequent, much-anticipated family jaunts up I-95 North to the City of Brotherly Love—to visit perhaps my closest childhood friends, my cousins—I now wonder how many times I might have been near or even passed by this very site of the Philadelphia flagship Y.W.C.A. building (its origins, circa 1870). At its best, for years it served as a much needed place of learning and as a shelter for women and children. No longer: it closed down years ago, but more recently it has served as a charter school. That’s a far better fate for an aging city building when considering the demise of the Philadelphia Y.W.C.A.’s neighboring annex, which stood abandoned for years before it was demolished to make way for some high rise apartments.

Ultimately, I genuinely hope that both the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. continue to succeed in their respective missions. The goals feel like more than charity for charity’s sake; rather, this brand of altruism wants to provide a means for change, in order that those who receive help may subsequently help themselves and, ideally, others as well. So even if I never developed into much of an athlete, I still maintain fond memories and respect for the always generous public service of my local Y.

YWCA, map

*Remarkably or not, none of these misconceptions had anything to do with the Y.M.C.A.’s reputation of being “associated with homosexual subculture through the middle part of the 20th century,” certainly a status that many listener’s interpret in the popular song by The Village People and later parodied with a memorable dance sequence in Wayne’s World 2.

**Postscript: These YMCA postcards continue to show up in the local thrift shops in my area. For the time being, I’ll add any new picks below here. . . .

YMCA Hotel, Roof Garden--Chicago, Illinois

YMCA Hotel, Cafeteria--Chicago, Illinois

Poor Minnie Miñoso, 1960 Topps


1960 Topps #365 Minnie Miñoso

Decay. Witness the passage of time in card stock’s weather and wear, how the years streak in creases across his weary face. Hard lines demarcate quadrants wrought by some child’s bicycle spokes or an adolescent’s Velcro wallet—reckless vestiges that make it all the easier to abandon a poor memento.

Exploit. Having traversed the smaller ballparks to eke out a living as a player in the Negro leagues, along with winter stints in Cuba, Miñoso had seen a lot by this point in life. Doubtlessly, this artifact also experienced some long, exacting seasons; unlike a bottle of wine, it gained few improvements with age. A splintered wreck, it’s a far cry away from shore—and at remove from earlier, more intimate Topps or Bowman issues. And the frame is horizontal. (Diamond kings prefer vertical portraits.) Truth or Capitalism: the body outlives its use. And after a career-high 184 hits in 1960, the next year brings a slump; then Chicago trades Miñoso to St. Louis in ’62. Subsequently, he fractures his skull and breaks his wrist in an outfield wall collision. Next he’s sold in ’63 to the Washington Senators, who let him go in October. Back to Chicago the following year for only 30 games, then the Show is done. . . . Perhaps poor 1960 Topps Miñoso could have gone unnoticed for another few decades whilst moldering away in the corrugated recesses and narrow rows of storage box obscurity with the likewise huddled undesirables of his era. Just one among many cardboard souls coffined away indefinitely. The inevitable crumbs of history.

Refuse. As with the startling longevity of Miñoso’s own career—which later included extended playing days for the Charros de Jalisco of the Mexican League as well as for Chicago with some notable but brief tribute appearances at the plate—this inglorious piece o’ cardboard seems to have an uncanny, almost preternatural desire to stay in the game. It keeps hanging tough in the batter’s box, fighting off the fouls, bruises, and dings of time until the bitter end.

Vinyl Pulp Ephemera—Featuring Nirvana, Jefferson Airplane, Genesis, and More Music from Dementia 13

Nirvana, Black Flower

It’s hard to quit a habit. Take cigarettes: usually, the only way to successfully kick the addiction involves switching the means of chemical dependency (i.e. moving from cigarettes to some other form of nicotine, such as patches, substitute cigarette “sticks” or vaporizers, etc.) If the appeal of the cardboard craze ever loses its luster for me, then it stands to reason that I’ll likely need to pick up some new interest to compensate for the void—a new prompt for the would-be wordsmith to continue to wax nostalgic.

Although that potential move still feels far down the dark proverbial road, I can foresee that it may be paved in sweet shellac and vinyl. Also, several precedents exist for this in my brief, personal history. Not least among those sentimental variables would include a heritage of vintage Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, and early Genesis vinyl LPs (seriously, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” never sounded so good as on an old Sony turntable). With adolescent and subsequent college years came a couple of relishing reads and far too many viewings of High Fidelity. Then there’s a previous life as an aspiring audiophile and dabbler in various home recording projects that ranged from audio books to lo-fi pop songs—none of which ever came close to full fruition. Much of that is in the past. My blue guitar doesn’t even live with me anymore. . . .

Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow

Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

Lately, though, the vintage vinyl realm has spun back well within sight and earshot. This re-introduction comes mostly thanks to Toronto’s CIUT 89.5 FM radio station and, specifically, the weekly Dementia 13 program.

At first listen, the show appears to situate itself with some fairly strongly defined constraints of genre and era. But as the saying goes, appearances can be deceiving. In fact, Dementia 13 features a remarkably eclectic medley of the following:

Musical rarities from the other side of the Psychedelic Era. Early Prog Rock, Acid, Sunshine Pop, Garage, Beat, Freak Folk and Psychedelia of all sorts; the period’s best gems on 33-45 rpm.

Clearly, this is not your typical 60s- and 70s-themed pop radio show. Hosted and run by one Christian Hamilton, the program is every bit as much a curatorial experience as it is mere entertainment. While Hamilton plows almost straight through each hour-long show’s playlist with little if any pause (as it should be for a radio music show), at the end she summarizes the vintage tracks with a balance of palpable, infectious enthusiasm yet almost scholarly efficiency and insight. Seemingly at will, Hamilton recalls with equal ease the origins of New York City’s short-lived band Autosalvage, Blodwyn Pig’s lesser-known recording titled “Worry,” or some intriguing Jefferson Airplane trivia upon news of the recent, eerily simultaneous passing of bandmates Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner.


Jethro Tull, This Was

Certainly, some more popular acts like Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, or even a curious gem like “Keep the Customer Satisfied” by Simon & Garfunkel receive airplay to appease whatever slightly more mainstream or conservative tastes—or just to help ease the listener back to planet Earth after an epic trip through, say, Faust’s “Miss Fortune.” Again, though, Dementia 13 remains true to Hamilton’s apparent strength in digging up rarities from the often dusty (sometimes water-stained and moldy) vinyl underground. Without slipping into hyperbole, it’s clear that she takes this business seriously; whereas many folks continue to see old records as mere novelties or token hip collectibles, Hamilton exhibits a curator’s penchant for resurrecting the old as something utterly innovative and fresh.


Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water

And that quality is what makes the program even more invaluable as a music resource: the rarities really feel like rarities.

Again, take that band Autosalvage, for example, and a featured track called “The Great Brain Robbery” played on a past Dementia 13 show from December. You won’t find that tune available on Spotify.

Or, from a more recent broadcast: “Village Girl,” by Rockshow of the Yeomen (or maybe it’s just The Yeomen?). I bet you can’t find a digitized version of that song anywhere. Apart from a few purveyors of vinyl, according to the internet that song simply does not exist.

Even picks that may be refresher material for some vinyl veterans will likely be informative to others. So perhaps you already knew that before Seattle’s Nirvana of the 90s there was a 60s British group that went by the same name. (Actually, they also sued the famous grunge band before eventually settling.) But, honestly, when did you last branch out and listen to 60s Nirvana? Have you ever witnessed their reverberant, uplifting song “We Can Make it Through”?

And the rare tracks are not merely rare. They are exemplary—an edifying listening experience in experimental-pop music. In the context of Hamilton’s efforts, the Psychedelic Era’s output was anything but narrow; rather, the very point here was to broaden horizons. Moreover, most of these decades-old recordings feel historic, not dated. Instead, Dementia 13 highlights how these works should be both heard and, oddly enough, seen anew.

That brings me to one final point, especially relevant within the purview of pulp ephemera: these old records—in whatever their LP, EP, single, and/or 33-45 rpm format—they don’t just sound great. They look great, too! Surprisingly (in light of pop music’s long history of emphasis on image over music, artifice over substance), the Psychedelic Era’s record cover art largely succeeds in visually capturing or at least suggesting the sonic landscape with some truly powerful, evocative images. And the sheer size of many cardboard covers, slips, or gatefolds only adds to the stunning impact. Image and music: from an earlier time when, rather than detract or derail, one helped to convey and even amplify the other.

*Dementia 13 is broadcast on Tuesday nights at 7:00 pm (ET). The show can be heard live via internet streaming, and previous shows may be downloaded and/or requested. Record cover art of featured selections may be viewed on Instagram at dementia13radio.

♦ ♦ ♦

The following is just an additional, small sampling of the music from Dementia 13.

Perth County Conspiracy, Does Not Exist

The Best of Iron Butterfly Evolution

Sopwith Camel

The Electric Prunes, Underground

Jade Warrior, Released


The Move, Message from the Country

Sir Lord Baltimore, Kingdom Come

Flea Market All-Stars: Chamberlain, Jordan, and Bird—and More Basketball Cards from the Junk Wax Era and Beyond

1972-73 Topps #159, NBA Championship, Lakers are NBA Champs

This was an unscheduled stop. However, the signage promised in bright orange juice hues to deliver “Top Drawer” collectibles, antiques, and other “addictions.” Needless to say, I was pulled slightly off of my scheduled route.

As happens, the second-hand offerings generally underwhelmed. The pieces that stood out the most (aside from the eventual card finds, of course) included a slightly more memorable booth of some Budweiser connoisseur’s liquidation sale, which included dozens of elaborately designed beer steins, colorful but flimsy tin signs from the early 70s to the promotional ilk of the those televised slogan-chiming frogs, and a billiards hall style overhead light with a surprising amount of character—but not enough to overlook the cheap plastic light shade as well as the scattered grime of old beer and cooking oil. (Unfortunately, all of these were also priced to sit rather than sell.) Nevertheless, this flea market’s showroom was about the cleanest that I have ever encountered, with nary a vagrant dust bunny to be found anywhere, which is probably due to the fact that the business is less than a year old. As such, the pristine and tidy order of the establishment facilitated my search for the otherwise easily overlooked: a small wicker basket full of largely junk wax era and later basketball cards organized, for better or worse, in zip-locked and stapled packs of the pre-sorted variety.

Tempted by some more interesting (re: less familiar) cards that some enterprising individual strategically placed at the front and back of the transparent packs, I plunked down three dollars total for a few packs buried near the bottom of the basket.

When I later returned home and opened the packs, I was careful not to manhandle the tightly packed decks while removing them from their zip-lock cases—so to avoid damaging the corners. (I even went to such laughable lengths as employing an office staple remover and then scissors to more gently remove the cards.) Of course, any concern about ruining the condition of some valuable find was soon proven a moot point with the hand-picked selection of commons and over-produced star player cards. Still, material value is far from the primary motive for this addiction pastime.

Ultimately, I discovered some curious relics that inspired me to dig a little bit into the past of some players previously unknown and/or under-appreciated by me, especially with my limited knowledge of basketball history.

First, here is a sampling of cards from the Coca-Cola-emblazoned Collegiate Collection of 1989. Apparently, these come from a series called North Carolina’s Finest.

1989 Collegiate Collection

1989 Collegiate Collection #187, 1971-72 ACC Champs: This almost lovingly gilded card is certainly a visually attractive stand-out. The on-court photo of the team pictures the Tar Heels with their newly won ACC trophy, along with a towering 6’9″ hall of famer in the young yet still mustachioed Bob McAdoo.

1989 Collegiate Collection #187, 1971-72 ACC Champs

1989 Collegiate Collection #61, Billy Cunningham: Another eventual NBA hall of famer is Billy Cunningham, who would go on to be a longtime player with the Philadelphia 76ers. Later, Cunningham was also the 76ers coach, and he led Philadelphia to a championship in 1983.

1989 Collegiate Collection #78, Pete Brennan: Alongside such hardwood legends is an All-American named Pete Brennan, now a relative unknown. Brennan was a successful college player who simply did not fair well in the NBA. He was drafted as a top candidate in 1958 (1st round, 4th pick) by New York—but during one of the (many) lackluster seasons for the Knicks. Brennan averaged few minutes, scored even fewer points, and his time as a player in the NBA would come to an end after a single season and an early playoffs exit for the Knicks.

1989 Collegiate Collection #6, Dean Smith: again keeping in mind my lack of familiarity with basketball history (or simply a dwindling long-term memory), at first I wondered why in the heck a college dean deserved his own basketball card. . . . Then I did some refresher / introductory reading on the stellar career of Coach Dean Smith, who sadly passed away in 2015. He amassed a slew of NCAA Regional and ACC championships, along with two biggies by winning the NCAA Division I championship in 1982 and again in 1993. It seems that he was every bit as remarkable and respected a figure off the court, too; for example, reports indicate how he advocated for student-athletes of color well beyond his own self interest and the purview of athletics. Of course he also coached one of the greatest basketball players and athletes ever. And on how many occasions has Michael Jordan warmly, publicly kissed the crown of another grown man? Dean Smith was one liked guy.

Miscellaneous 1990-2004: Whether technically junk wax, junk foil or gloss, or just junk, the flea market pick certainly yielded some modern star players. These included more Reggie Miller cards than I care to own—not because I actively dislike him but largely due to so many three-point daggers in my Knicks fan memories. Then there’s a downright gaudy card of Karl Malone, of whom I always felt ambivalent—surprisingly so, given his very solid career. . . . It also seemed weird to see B.J. Armstrong wearing a Warriors instead of a Bulls jersey.

Junk Wax--and Beyond

2000 Bowman's Best #70 Karl Malone

1997 Upper Deck #38 B. J. Armstrong

And speaking of the Bulls, this assortment included at least one silly card (courtesy of 1994 Upper Deck and McDonald’s) with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird from their “Nothing but Net” promo days. Given his millions earned from endorsements like McDonald’s (and Nike, Gatorade, etc.), though, it should be evident that money does not necessarily purchase taste: case in point, Jordan’s sweater here is absolutely hideous.

1994 Upper Deck--Highlights, Nothing But Net, 1 of 15

1972-73 Topps #159, NBA Championship (“Lakers are NBA Champs”): Closing this medley out is the lone vintage pick of a presumably 1972-73 Topps basketball card that reads 1971/1972 on the front and ©1968 N.B.P.A. and ©1969 N.B.A. on back. Confusing, no? The front features a rebounding Wilt Chamberlain (he of the infamous claim to 20,000+ conquests). Also on his resumé, Chamberlain went on to appear in Conan the Destoyer (1984), a role for which he was given appropriate screen credit; however, seemingly due to space constraints, Chamberlain’s name credit on the back of this card appears with an amusing abbreviation, “Cha’rlain.”

Well, goodnight Cha’rlain—goodnight you princes of cardboard, you kings of court!

1972-73 Topps #159, NBA Championship, Lakers are NBA Champs