Under the Magnifying Glass – 1996-97 Skybox Premium Close-Ups

1996-97 was a huge year for basketball cards. Huge draft class, first year of Topps Chrome, some other iconic sets like EX-2000, Metal, and I think Skybox Premium goes into that category. It was the only Kobe rookie I actually pulled from a pack in my childhood. It was the first year of Autographics as well, which stuck around for several iterations. What I don’t have in my collection is a ton of inserts from 1996-97 Skybox Premium. Many of these inserts are new to me when scanning the checklists. That’s part of the fun of these flashbacks, discovering things I missed 20+ years ago.

Close-Ups is one of the top inserts from that year’s Skybox Premium set. The theme of it reminds me of the ‘Special Forces’ insert set I wrote about just recently. Close-Ups is about looking into the magnifying glass and seeing what these players bring to the court. What put these guys over the top? In some cases these are obvious (Kidd’s passing ability), and in other cases not so obvious at first glance (Howard’s passing for a big man).

Also there’s a subtle die-cut element to these, in two spots, I guess to play up the zoomed-in theme.

Close-Ups is a relatively small checklist, only 9 cards. In addition to the three shown, Penny Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, Mourning, Hakeem, Stackhouse, and Damon Stoudamire are included. No rookies, but several second year players. Quick trivia- who remembers Stoudamire being the 1995-96 NBA rookie of the year? I didn’t.

Close-Ups were 1:24 in Series 1 boxes which made them a relatively tough pull at 1 per hobby box. The checklist makes them very affordable to pick-up. No Jordan, no Shaq, no rookies (including Kobe) on the checklist, but it’s a cool design.

Bonus– While I’m talking about 1996-97 Skybox Premium I thought I’d show the four I have in my Pacers autograph collection. Two of the four are non-Pacers uniforms but I’ll never shy away from a first-year Autographics card. Autographics were 1:72 hobby packs in Series 1 and Series 2, so 1 in every 3 boxes.

Smits is obviously my favorite of the four, since he’s a top 5 favorite player of mine all-time, and he’s in a Pacers uniform. I’m glad to have the others in my collection as well, though. Some big names signed for this set, including Ray Allen, Clyde Drexler, Kevin Garnett, Grant Hill, Toni Kukoc, Steve Nash, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem, Scottie Pippen, and many others.

What are your favorite inserts from the 1996-97 card cycle? Any that you appreciate now that you didn’t realize existed then?

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