CSG Gets Nostalgic with Topps Basketball Card Featuring Bird, Magic and Dr. J

Posted on 11/4/2021

The top card from the 1980-81 Topps set brings together three of the NBA’s most legendary players.

Topps introduced a new concept to the world of sports card collecting when it released its 1980-81 set of basketball cards. Every card in the set featured three players, each on its own “mini card,” with perforations that allowed the standard-sized cards to be separated easily into three smaller cards. The mini card concept didn’t catch on, but the set produced a card that is considered by some to be the “holy grail” of basketball card collecting.

The 1980-81 Topps Bird 34/Erving SL 174/Johnson 139 card features NBA greats Larry Bird, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Julius “Dr. J” Erving on one card. The three Hall of Famers are among the most well-known names in the history of basketball. Cards featuring any one of the three are highly prized by collectors. It's easy to see why a card that features all three all-stars together is listed among the most valuable basketball cards of all time.

Certified Sports Guaranty® (CSG™) is honored to have graded a 1980-81 Topps Bird 34/Erving SL 174/Johnson 139 basketball card CSG 8.5, with sub-grades of 9 for Centering and Corners and 8.5 Edges and Surface.

Click images to enlarge.

In addition to being two of the NBA’s greatest players, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are considered one of the league’s greatest rivalries. The two spent their entire careers with the teams that drafted them: Bird with the Boston Celtics and Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers. Their teams dominated the sport in the 1980s, thanks in large part to the leadership of Bird and Johnson. They faced each other in the NBA finals three times, with the Lakers winning twice.

The 1980-81 Topps cards capture Bird and Johnson in their rookie years. The images on the fronts of the cards show them in action on the court, Bird in iconic Celtic green and Magic releasing a jump shot in his purple and gold Lakers uniform. The back of the #139 Johnson mini card highlights his 187 steals and appointment to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team. The back of the #34 Bird mini card celebrates him as Rookie of the Year and notes that he is the first Indiana State alumnus to play in the NBA.

Before retiring in 1992, Larry Bird established himself as an NBA legend, being named the NBA MVP three years in a row and the NBA Finals MVP twice. Magic Johnson’s record was just as impressive. It includes five NBA championships, three NBA MVPs, and three NBA Final MVPs. Both of the players' jerseys have been retired.

Erving was nearly ten years into his career when he appeared on the 1980-81 Topps card. He was an established all-star, having won two ABA championships, three ABA MVP awards, and two ABA Playoff MVP awards. The #174 Erving mini card is a “scoring leader” card, showing Dr. J in his red Philadelphia 76ers uniform and noting his record 26.9 points per game. The back of the card lists the 76ers all-time scoring leaders, with Erving ranking tenth.

In addition to his long list of records and awards, Erving is well known for winning the first slam dunk competition in basketball history. While competing in the 1976 ABA Slam Dunk Championship, Dr. J ran the length of the court and took off from the free throw line before successfully dunking the ball. The electrifying feat won the contest and is considered the shot that brought the slam dunk to center stage in the world of basketball.

While the mini cards were designed to be separated, collectors in the 1980s were wise not to succumb to the lure of those perforations, as intact cards are the most desirable. But even separated panels have value, and CSG can grade the individual panels as well. For more on the sports cards that CSG grades, see the Cards We Grade page.

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