Sports trading cards have been big business for decades now. In the USA alone, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on buying and selling these physical cards, with most of the focus being on the NFL, MLB, and NBA. In 2020 the popularity of trading cards skyrocketed to a new level, mostly thanks to the coronavirus pandemic forcing people to stay at home.
Autumn 2020 also saw the creation of a dramatically different take on traditional sports trading cards – NBA Top Shot. Users still buy packs, build collections, and so on. All of that is done online, however, with this being one of the first steps into the world of digital collectibles.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about NBA Top Shot. We’ll explain what it is, how it works, and – ultimately – whether you should invest in it.
In at least one way, NBA Top Shot works similarly to traditional trading cards. You can buy the products in randomised packs, or purchase individual products from other people. Aside from that though, there are some pretty major differences.
For starters, the products are 100% digital – you never get any physical ‘cards’. Secondly, rather than representing players, cards actually represent highlights. Instead of getting a LeBron James card, for example, you get a card representing a specific LeBron James dunk. Technically the NBA still owns the actual rights to that highlight, of course – you’re simply getting a short, tradable video version of it.
Elsewhere, it’s worth noting that NBA Top Shot is a blockchain-based platform, meaning its ‘Moments’ are actually similar to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. We’ll explain exactly how that works in the ‘What is Blockchain?’ later. For now, let’s look at the ways you actually get NBA Top Shot cards.
As with traditional trading cards, you can buy ‘packs’ of NBA Top Shot highlights. The contents of these packs will be somewhat randomised – you’ll never know exactly which players you’re going to see, or which highlights will be represented. You do, however, know how many cards you’ll get. The cheapest packs, for example, will only get you three highlights. This then increases to five highlights for the next-cheapest packs, and so on.
You also have a general idea of how valuable your cards will be. Packs can cost anywhere from $9 to $230, and – the more expensive the pack – the more valuable the highlights within. That value could come from the exclusivity of the card, the fame of the player being represented, or the simple quality of the highlight itself.
All this is clearly displayed from within the ‘Packs’ section of the website. The cheapest packs are labeled as being part of the ‘Base Set’, for example. While the cards themselves won’t be rare, you can still get highlights from some big names here, including Steph Curry and Luka Doncic. More expensive packs are typically part of ‘Limited Edition Sets’. At the time of writing, for example, the ‘Run It Back 2013-14’ series was just released, featuring valuable throwback highlights by recently-retired legends like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan.
Unlike with traditional trading cards, the supply of NBA Top Shot packs are extremely limited. New ones are released via ‘Pack Drops’, which happen at irregular times. You must subscribe to the newsletter, or follow the Top Shot social media channels, to find out when they’re taking place. A single Pack Drop will usually involve around 25,000 new packs being released, and – if you miss one – then you must either wait for the next drop, or turn to the Marketplace.
As noted, packs are only released in a highly limited supply. In practice, this means that – if you’re not online when they drop – they’ll probably sell out before you can buy one. In this case, the Marketplace is the only way you can get new highlights.
None of the randomness of pack drops applies here. Instead, you can buy whatever highlights you like. There’s a search engine within the section to help you locate a specific player, team, or set. Once you’ve found the card you’re looking for, you can purchase it and add it straight to your collection.
The Marketplace operates on a peer-to-peer basis. All the cards there are owned by other users, meaning they can set their own prices. Select a particular highlight, and you can see how many copies of it are currently on sale, plus all the prices it’s currently being sold for in a dropdown menu. To buy it you simply select the price you want, and click the ‘Buy for $X’ button. Assuming your account details have already been saved, purchasing a card like this takes only a few seconds.
Of course, you can also use the Marketplace to sell any cards you don’t want. Given that you own the highlight, you’re free to set your own price here, and try to maximise the return on your investment. Once you’ve sold a card, you can either reinvest into a different highlight, or simply keep your profit as cash.
Challenges are the third and final way to acquire NBA Top Shots Moments. They’re also the only way you can get Moments which haven’t originally been released through packs, meaning – naturally – that these Moments are extremely rare.
Every time a new pack drops, NBA Top Shot will create a challenge. This will involve acquiring a certain number of Moments (usually 9-14), which belong to a particular set. You must complete this within a stated time frame, which can be anywhere from one to three weeks, and must hold on to the Moments until that time frame has elapsed.
Once the timer has finished, NBA Top Shot will create an exclusive Moment for that challenge. Only a few versions of it will be made, with the number depending on the difficulty of the task. Common challenges will see 1,000 Moments created, for example, but – for Legendary challenges – this might drop to as few as 25. Because of their extreme scarcity, Moments acquired via challenges will obviously be highly valuable on the Marketplace.
Once again, NBA Top Shot show plenty of transparency here. You know not only how many copies of the Moment will be created, and thus how rare it is, but you’re also told in advance exactly what the Moment will be. At the time of writing for example, one challenge is a Dwight Howard block and the other is a Luka Doncic assist. If neither of those appealed to you, you could simply sit these challenges out and wait for the next round.
NBA Top Shots is a very new platform, having only launched fully in October 2020. Even during its beta period, which ran from May until October, over $2 million in trades were completed. Its popularity has skyrocketed since then, with $1 million per day reportedly being spent on the platform.
Much of this increase in popularity has been driven by publicity generated by one-off major purchases. The purchase of a Ja Morant highlight for $35,000 certainly turned heads. This was smashed shortly afterwards though, when a single LeBron James dunk sold for $47,500. These are obviously exceptional purchases, but a Twitter search on any given day shows people spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on single Moments.
Casual users might never approach these prices, but there’s still money to be made. Any individual pack could result in you gaining a relatively valuable card, with the chances of that happening increasing drastically as you progress to more expensive packs.
So, how do individual highlights on NBA Top Shot get their value? Both the quality of the highlight and the fame of the star play a factor, but the biggest driving factor is the Moment’s rarity.
There are four levels of rarity: Common, Rare, Legendary, and Ultimate. New versions of common cards are created even after their release, meaning they’re unlikely to ever gain significant value. For the other three levels though – collectively called ‘Limited Edition’ – only a certain number will ever be in circulation. To give you an idea of the numbers involved, Common cards will typically have over 15,000 versions in circulation, but the current most valuable card on the Marketplace – a Ja Morant dunk – has literally only 25 copies on the whole platform.
At a basic level, a blockchain is simply a highly secure database. Data is stored on it in a heavily encrypted format, with new data being added over time. Whenever a new block of data is added, it is forever linked to all the blocks of data which came before it – hence it being a ‘chain’. That previous data can never be altered by users or hackers, making it a highly secure format.
When a person or company creates a new blockchain, they can use the data to represent whatever they like. It has been used many times to represent digital ‘coins’ – cryptocurrencies. In the case of NBA Top Shot, it is simply used to represent highlights, or ‘Moments’.
When you take ownership of a Moment, therefore, you are literally taking ownership of a specific set of code. Because of its encrypted nature, if you don’t actually share that code with anyone, they will never be able to access your Moment. And, when you buy or sell Moments on the Marketplace, you are basically exchanging ownership of that specific code with someone else.
Don’t worry, though – you don’t literally need to memorise or otherwise store long, complicated strings of numbers and letters. To make things a little more straightforward, NBA Top Shot will provide you with an encrypted ‘Wallet’ when you sign up to the platform. Any Moments that you acquire will then be kept within this secure storage space until you decide to sell them.
One of the biggest advantages to investing in NBA Top Shot is the sheer popularity of the NBA. This is a platform which has been officially licensed by one of the most valuable and famous sports leagues in the world. That’s an enormous potential customer base, and – given that the NBA takes a cut out of every purchase on the platform – it’s in their interests to market this product aggressively.
The history of traditional trading cards also clearly shows that this business model can work. Lots of people simply like to collect products, particularly when they’re related to their favourite sport. And by only having a limited number of pack drops, and making many of their individual cards extremely rare, NBA Top Shot should – in theory – tap into this business model with great success. If you can be there for a pack drop at the right time, or score a great deal on a Moment which should gain lots of value, there’s plenty of room for you to make money here.
There are a couple of reasons to be cautious, however. The biggest is that Top Shot is still so new. There’s a chance that – after the initial excitement wears off – the market could decline. In fact, that’s exactly what happened with developers Dapper Labs’ last product, CryptoKitties. The big difference here, though, is that – as mentioned – the NBA is already an enormously popular brand… which CryptoKitties certainly wasn’t!
The other potential risk relates to the actual form of the offering. Blockchain-based products like cryptocurrencies remain volatile, and have been subject to many booms-and-busts over the past decade. NFT (non-fungible token) products – i.e. those which are entirely digital – are also relatively unproven.
Ultimately though, at this point in time, NBA Top Shot is certainly heading in the right direction. Also, with individual cards available for as little as $1, or packs for $9, the barrier for entry is pretty low. For a minimal investment you can simply sign up, try the platform for a week or two, and decide for yourself whether it’s worth using over the long-term or not.
A digital-only platform on which you collect and trade short NBA highlights, or ‘Moments’. These are acquired either via packs – similarly to traditional trading cards – or the peer-to-peer Marketplace.
Definitely. This product has been officially licensed by the NBA, who also have a stake in the business. Developers Dapper Labs also have a track record of creating similar products.
New Top Shot packs drop at irregular intervals, so you must sign up for notifications by either email or social media to find out about them. When a new pack becomes available, you can buy it via credit/debit card or crypto.
Yes. The value of a Top Shot Moment depends mostly on its scarcity. If you get a rare Moment – via either a pack or the Marketplace – you may well be able to sell it at a profit later on.
Currently it is a dunk by 2020 Rookie of the Year Ja Morant against the Suns. Only 25 copies of it exist, and even the cheapest is listed at $100,000.
To purchase an individual highlight, you must use the peer-to-peer Marketplace. You can then search for the specific highlight you want, and buy it using either a card or cryptocurrency.