The 1972 Topps Basketball card set is one of the most popular and sought-after sets in the hobby. It’s simply a thing of beauty. From the set checklist, filled with great rookies, superb non-rookies, future Hall-of-Famers and eventual head coaches, to the art-show worthy card design, it’s tough to find a card set in any sport that even comes close to this one.
It’s also a historic set, considering it combines player cards from both the ABA and the NBA, two competing basketball leagues that shared a number of superstars in them. Imagine if the 1984 Topps Football set had both the NFL and USFL rookies in it!
While this set is mostly known for having Julius Erving’s rookie card, there are tons of great rookies and non-rookies, who have gone on to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame. Weirdly, the 1972 Topps set has many great cards of future NBA head coaches! If you were an NBA fan around the time of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, then you are going to be quite familiar with many of the future head coaches in this set.
Also, all self-respecting Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks fans should work to get the cards from their respective teams in this set. They are stocked with some amazing players:
1972 Topps Basketball Cards Design
The design of these cards is a classic example of the early ‘70s era, and for once, that’s a very good thing! The cards feature a white border with a black border around the player’s photo. The player’s name, team, and position are printed in black at the top of the card.
It’s the upward-rising team name at the bottom, along with the full background colors behind each player, that really distinguishes these cards as something different.
The back of the card features a short biography of the player, as well as his statistics for the previous season, like most other sets. The card number is printed in black at the bottom of the card.
The design of the 1972 Topps Basketball cards is simple, but effective. The cards are easy to read and the design is timeless. From a display standpoint, these cards are phenomenal, as I have collected nine graded versions of these cards and I proudly display them in a rainbow of NBA greatness!
The Best 1972 Topps Basketball Rookie Cards
This is a 264-card set, with base cards of players from both leagues, as well as many subsets, including ABA and NBA All-Star cards. Both leagues also have their championship series documented game by game, with the 1972 NBA Championship series going five games before the Lakers beat the Knicks. The ABA Championship Series went seven games, so there were seven cards, depicting the Indiana Pacers’ successful title defense over the New York Nets.
Julius Erving, Virginia Squires No. 195
Erving was one of the most exciting players in NBA history. He was a two-time NBA champion with the Philadelphia 76ers and a four-time scoring champion. Erving was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. He was also known as “Dr. J” for his acrobatic dunks.
Amazingly, Erving was once offered to the Knicks by the New Jersey Nets because of money owed due to territory restrictions. The Knicks rejected the trade and wanted the money instead. Classic Knicks, am I right!?! Sounds like a Clippers move!
Julius Erving All-Stars, Virginia Squires No. 255
For basketball collectors who want a piece of Dr. J at his earliest, you can do so by buying this All-Star card. This is still his rookie season, making it a rookie card, but it’s just not considered his true rookie card. It is, however, a great action shot – and it’s a perfect placeholder for when you can afford Erving’s true RC!
Phil Jackson, N.Y. Knicks No. 32
Jackson is known for being a legendary head coach of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams and the Los Angeles Lakers. But he was actually a rookie back in 1967 with the Knicks, but this is his first basketball card, making it his rookie card. He was a power forward with the Knicks, winning NBA titles in both 1970 and 1973. Interestingly, he didn’t play on the 1969-70 championship team because he was recovering from spinal fusion surgery. He was the team’s top player off the bench for the 1973 title, however.
Jackson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. He won 11 NBA championships as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. He is known for his triangle offense and his ability to get the best out of his players.
Artis Gilmore, Kentucky Colonels No. 180
Gilmore was a five-time ABA All-Star center before he became the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 1976 ABA Dispersal Draft, when the two leagues merged. He was an 11-time All-Star overall, and he won an ABA MVP award for this 1971-72 NBA season. Gilmore became NBA-famous with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, playing through the 1987 season before retiring.
George McGinnis, Indiana Pacers No. 183
While McGinnis was a star for the Pacers in the ABA, he would eventually go on to play with Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. He also played for the Denver Nuggets before coming back to finish his career with the Pacers from 1980-82. Unfortunately, the Pacers had to give up promising young forward Alex English to the Nuggets for McGinnis. McGinnis is an NBA Hall of Famer, and he is one of just four players to have their jersey retired by the Indiana Pacers, including Reggie Miller, Roger Brown and Mel Daniels.
The Best Non-Rookies in the 1972 Topps Basketball Card Set
While rookie cards are the gold standard for all sports card collectors, this set is chock full of great non-rookie cards, as well!
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks No. 100
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Abdul-Jabbar was a dominant force in the league for two decades. He won six NBA championships with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995. He is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.
Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers No. 1
Chamberlain was one of the most physically gifted players in NBA history. He held numerous scoring and rebounding records, including the single-game record for points scored (100). Chamberlain was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979, and he won two NBA championships with the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers had several great cards in this set, as you’ll soon find out!
Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers No. 75
West was known as “Mr. Clutch” for his ability to come up big in big moments, so much so that the new NBA Award for “Clutch Player of the Year” is named after him! His silhouette is also the basis of the NBA logo. He won one NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers and was named Finals MVP. West was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980. He won one NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers and was named Finals MVP. He would also become a great executive with the Lakers (winning eight championships), Grizzlies, Warriors and Clippers. West was named NBA Executive of the Year twice, also!
Pete Maravich, Atlanta Hawks No. 5
Pistol Pete was a college basketball legend at LSU, averaging over 40 ppg in three consecutive seasons, before being drafted by the Hawks in 1970 with the third overall pick. He was one of the greatest playmakers in NBA history, but the latter part of his career was saddled with injuries. The New Orleans Jazz traded for Maravich in 1974. How good was Maravich? His jersey is retired by three NBA teams: Hawks, Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Oscar Robertson, Milwaukee Bucks No. 25
Robertson was a 12-time NBA All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team selection, and 1964 NBA MVP. He averaged a triple-double for the entire 1961-62 season, the only player in NBA history to do so. His card (#14) is one of the most valuable cards in the set.
Rick Barry, Golden State Warriors No. 44
Barry was a prolific scorer who helped the Warriors win their first NBA title back in 1975, as well as helping the Oakland Oaks win the ABA title in 1969. That makes him one of just four players to win an ABA and an NBA championship. Barry is the only basketball player to lead college basketball, the NBA and the ABA in scoring!
Walt Frazier, New York Knicks No. 60: Frazier was a 9-time NBA All-Star, 6-time All-NBA First Team selection, and 1970 NBA Finals MVP. He is one of the most popular players in New York Knicks history. His card (#21) is a valuable card in the set.
Dave DeBusschere, New York Knicks No. 105: DeBusschere was a 7-time NBA All-Star, 5-time All-NBA First Team selection, and 1970 NBA Finals MVP. He is one of the most successful players in Detroit Pistons history. His card (#22) is a valuable card in the set.
John Havlicek, Boston Celtics No. 110
Havlicek was a 13-time NBA All-Star, 8-time All-NBA First Team selection, and 1965 NBA Finals MVP, making “Hondo” one of the most successful players in Celtics history.
Bill Bradley, New York Knicks No. 122: Bradley was more than a basketball player, as he would eventually be elected to become a United States Senator from New Jersey. He went to Princeton, was named the NCAA Player of the Year in 1965. He even won an Olympic gold medal in 1964. He also won two NBA titles with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973.
- Elvin Hayes, Baltimore Bullets No. 150
- Connie Hawkins, Phoenix Suns No. 30
- Calvin Murphy, Houston Rockets No. 31
- Dave Bing, Detroit Pistons No. 35
- Bob Lanier, Detroit Pistons No. 80
Great Boston Celtics Cards
- Don Chaney, Boston Celtics
- Don Nelson, Boston Celtics No. 92
- Paul Silas, Boston Celtics No. 55
- Dave Cowens, Boston Celtics No. 7
- John Havlicek, Boston Celtics No. 110
Great Los Angeles Lakers Cards
- Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers No. 1
- Gail Goodrich, Los Angeles Lakers No. 50
- Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers No. 75
- Happy Hairston, Los Angeles Lakers No. 121
- Pat Riley, Los Angeles Lakers No. 144
- Jerry West All-Star, Los Angeles Lakers No. 164
- Wilt Chamberlain All-Star, Los Angeles Lakers No. 168
- NBA Champs: L.A. Lakers No. 159
Great New York Knicks Cards
- Jerry Lucas, New York Knicks No. 15
- Phil Jackson, N.Y. Knicks RC No. 32
- Walt Frazier, New York Knicks No. 60
- Earl Monroe, New York Knicks No. 73
- Dave DeBusschere, New York Knicks No. 105
- Bill Bradley, New York Knicks No. 122:
- Willis Reed, New York Knicks No. 129
- Walt Frazier All-Star, New York Knicks No. 165
Future NBA Head Coaches
Something else that stands out about this awesome basketball card set is the number of future head coaches in it!
Phil Jackson, New York Knicks No. 32: Jackson is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history. He won 11 NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
Pat Riley, Los Angeles Lakers No. 144: Riley is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, winning five NBA championships with the Lakers and Miami Heat. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. He is known for his “Showtime” Lakers teams of the 1980s and his “three-peat” with the Lakers in the 2000s.
Lenny Wilkens, Seattle Supersonics No. 81: Wilkens is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history. He won one NBA championship with the Seattle SuperSonics and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals twice. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998. He is also the NBA’s all-time leader in wins as a head coach.
Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets No. 21 (coached the Bullets from 1988 to 1994)
Don Nelson, Boston Celtics No. 92 (coached the Bucks, Warriors, Knicks and Mavericks from 1976 to 2010, and was named NBA Coach of the Year three different times)
Butch Beard, Cleveland Cavaliers No. 142 (coached the Nets from 1994 to 1996)
Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets No. 103 (coached the Rockets and Lakers from 1992 to 2005)
Rick Adelman, Portland Trail Blazers No. 117 (coached the Trail Blazers, Warriors, Kings, Rockets and Timberwolves from 1989 to 2014)
Don Chaney, Boston Celtics No. 131 (coached the Clippers, Rockets, Pistons and Knicks)
Billy Cunningham, Carolina Cougars No. 215 (coached the 76ers from 1977 to 1985)
Dan Issel, Kentucky Colonels No. 230 (coached the Nuggers from 1992 to 1994, then again from 1999 to 2001)
These are just a few of the future NBA Hall of Famers featured in the 1972 Topps Basketball card set. It is a valuable and historic set that features some of the greatest players and coaches in NBA history. If you’re a fan of the NBA, be sure to add this set to your collection.