Taking the Unconventional Path – 1995-96 Topps Pan For Gold

It’s interesting for me to see inserts of semi-star players, taking a term out of the beckett magazines I used growing up. The 1995-96 Topps Pan For Gold includes players who took an uncommon path to success in the NBA. These guys didn’t play at traditional NCAA powerhouses, and they may or may not have been a top draft pick. This set also has two Indiana Pacers, which just does not happen often.

Pan For Gold cards were 1:8 Series 1 retail packs. These can all be picked up easily. Pippen, Rodman, and David Robinson are the most expensive but can still be found for a few dollars. Each of these features the player in front of the opening to a mine. A simple, but effective design, especially when you have the gold for the Pacers at the forefront, but I’m biased there.

Rik Smits was drafted near the top of the NBA draft (#2) out of Marist, a power from the North East Conference (NEC). Smits went on to team with Reggie Miller and help the Pacers to consistent playoff appearances throughout the 90s, culminating in a NBA Finals appearance in 2000. Smits battled the best centers of the 90s and although is not recognized as one of the best, he more than held his own more often than not. Smits even made an appearance in the 1998 All-Star game. I regularly imitated the Dunking Dutchman’s signature jump-hook in my driveway growing up, and it actually became a go-to move for me playing pickup basketball.

I could write about Rik Smits all day but I’ll say that without Rik Smits, the Pacers would have looked tremendously different and wouldn’t have been the balanced team that had so much success in the 90s. From a card perspective, this is one of the few insert sets for Smits, so I’m glad to have this card in my collection.

And on the other side of many 90s Indiana/New York playoff battles, Charles Oakley certainly made his presence felt with the Knicks. He, like Smits, made a single all-star appearance, took an unconventional route to the NBA, coming out of Virginia Union, and was also a top 10 draft pick. In the next decade, Ben Wallace would also enter the NBA from Virginia Union.

Every great team needs a guy like Oakley. Relentless, tough, that’s how he made his mark in the NBA over a long 19 year career. Oakley averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in 6 NBA seasons. He’s currently 22nd on the all-time rebounding list.

The Admiral, as most know, entered the NBA after two years of military service with the Naval Academy. He then went on to immediately turn around the Spurs and make them a contender.

Can’t get enough of those Spurs warm-ups. I was focused on the Pacers and their playoff runs, and my Dad is a Jazz fan so I watched them quite a bit too, but the Spurs have always been my unofficial 3rd favorite team. I collect Duncan and I don’t turn away cards of Robinson. Both guys are undervalued in the hobby in my opinion, Robinson especially so.

As I’m looking back at 1995-96 Topps, the Pan For Gold insert set is just scratching the surface. There’s a number of quality insert sets that are pretty large and provide a means to pickup inserts of guys who just don’t have many inserts. Then you have cards like Mystery Finest and Refractors, draft picks cards, Power Booster parallels, the list goes on. More to come on this set in future posts.

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