Sorting It Out: The Act of Sorting Basketball Cards written by Matt Gilman

Written by Matt Gilman

More blogs by Matt Gilman

In a world of stress and worries, I can say as a card collector, there is one thing about collecting that can help squash that stress and wash those worries away, it’s called sorting. Believe me, if you haven’t used sorting as a stress relief before, you should! Imagine sitting in a quiet area looking at sport cards, maybe even in-depth at the stats on the back or the minor details of the design, putting them into sections or piles and figuring out how you want these to be displayed afterwards. Taking your time and enjoying every piece of cardboard along the way. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Sorting is something that we all need to do in this hobby and we all have our own ways of doing it. In my newest series, I will walk you through how I do my sorting and hopefully it will give you some tips on how you may want to do yours.

I collect all sports and non-sports cards, so, we’ll be taking a glance at each of those types, starting today with basketball cards. Each sport and non-sport has their similarities with how I sort them, but let’s focus on the differences. To read part one on how I sort baseball cards, go here.

Next up, basketball cards. Keep in mind you don’t have to sort your basketball cards like I do, but I am hoping today’s post may inspire some ideas in your mind of how you may want to approach sorting your collection.

Before I will even begin a sorting project, I always make sure to have plenty of supplies from Bags Unlimited on hand. I don’t want to go into sorting without enough items to take care of the cards I’m prepared to sort out. I don’t think my wife would be very happy to come to a dining room table covered in cardboard.

So I always grab multiple 3” three D-ring binders and make sure that each has at least 50 9-pocket pages.

Next I always make sure to have a few acrylic 15-card hinged holders. I will discuss what I do with these in a few paragraphs.

I also grab some acrylic 100-card hinged holders.

Of course you got to have some Toploaders on hand. I like these two different sizes. The regular Ultra Pro toploader size holds standard thickness cards while the ‘Super Thick’ Ultra Pro holds cards with up to a 180 pt thickness.

And you can’t use Top Loaders without “penny” sleeves or, Card Sleeves, as they are technically called. At least you shouldn’t go without them unless you like your cards with a scratched surface.

800 ct storage boxes are a must have, as well, in my sorting world. I like to have at least two empty and ready to fill.

Along with its 3200 ct storage counterpart, I try to have at least one of these per sport to make sure I have enough space for what I use them for. We will discuss it below.

Now that we’ve added all of the right pieces together, we have enough supplies to get started.

So, let’s get started!

After doing some trading, eBay buying, pack-busting or maybe finding a surprise in the mail box, I always end up with many stacks of basketball cards. The picture above was from a recent mail day I had from a buddy of mine on Twitter. Whether the stack is big or small, it’s better to take care of what you see in front of you before you get too far behind sorting. It can sometimes get a tad frustrating, having so much to sort at once.

Basketball, unlike baseball, doesn’t have many mini-piles from the bigger stacks. On average, there may be six to eight piles for basketball, which is roughly half of what I do for baseball. Why is that you may ask? Well, basketball cards are not really my main collecting point. There are certain cards I seek out, but overall it’s probably third place for the sports I collect. My favorite sport, football, I will tackle next time.

Across the top, starting at the left, it’s the autograph pile. My duplicate pile usually goes in this row as well but I didn’t  have any to put in there in this mail day round.

Second row: starting at the left, base cards, rookies, college/oddball stuff, 90’s inserts

Bottom row is star players, shiny stuff, basketball inserts and relics.

A lot of these cards will be added to binders, but many others will have a variety of new homes.

Let’s start out with the hits first!

Let’s take this 2014-2015 NBA Hoops Signatures autograph of Philadelphia 76er Arnett Moultrie, protect it and store it. I first slide the card into a penny sleeve and then slide that into the regular top loader since the card isn’t thick. I always make sure to use a toploader along with my penny sleeves. The rigid edges protect the card corners and also make sure it doesn’t bend easily when you put it into storage.  Using just a penny sleeve could leave it susceptible to damage as it’s only a thin layer of plastic. Those are mainly meant to protect the surface of the card.

Here is the finished product. If the autograph was of a more valuable player I would be doing this first in my sorting rotation as I wouldn’t want to risk the card getting damaged on my desk.

Up next is the signed relic card.  Like with baseball, if this card had been on the thinner variety, I would have penny sleeved it and place it into a toploader. But since, this card is extremely thick, I will be placing it into the 15 card count hinged box.

So instead, and I have found this effective for over ten years, I take the 15 card  count  plastic hinged box, open it up and lay the card in, then close the cover. It’s that easy.  I have never once had an issue with damaged cards using these and I can even say that after a few dropsies. Never one dinged or damaged card.

Here’s the final product. These crystal clear cases also make for great displaying if you have a display case to put them in.

I don’t really have a lot of room for displaying cards, so, what I do is use the 3200 count boxes and put the relics and autographs in them by sport, standing upright. It makes for easy access to grab the box out and search for hits. In 2019 I plan on putting all of my hits by team in these boxes.

Now that we are done with the easy work, it’s time to for the challenging part, binder-ing. Most of my cards go into binders.

Each of the following has their own respected binder. Unlike baseball, I only use a few binders to take care of my basketball card needs.

I‘ve mentioned this before but I am a huge 90’s collector, especially when it comes to the inserts in the late 90’s; 1995-1999 are my main years of collecting them. I will occasionally dig back to 1994 but not very often. These inserts bring back my beginnings-nostalgia, they were some of the coolest cards on the market and many hold their value to this day. A lot of the cards from then, including base cards, I have started to chase down and began building sets of and I am always looking for help towards completing those.  Most of mine go into the binder, but more valuable and rare ones like this 1996-1997 Z-Force Slam Cam Shaquille O’neal go into a penny sleeve than a toploader.

90’s basketball also was the best to watch. I grew up watching many basketball legends; the likes of Shaq, John Starks, John Stockton, Karl “The Mailman” Malone, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, and of course the NBA GOAT, Michael Jordan, among many others. Nobody will ever, ever be MJ.

I have a binder specifically for shiny cards. Anything that’s a refractor from Topps Chrome or Panini Prizm or, in this case, Panini Optic, goes right in this binder unless it’s a specified star player that I put in a different pile. A lot of collectors, without me explaining why, will understand why I collect the shiny stuff all in one binder. They are so eye appealing!

Basketball inserts are all tossed into the same binder unless they are star players, 90’s, or cards valued roughly at $20 or more.  I do something a bit different with these. In 2019, I plan on working differently with basketball inserts and will start to sort them by team, finally after 20 years of placing them into binders this way. I need to be even more organized than I already am so it makes my searching much easier. I also plan on switching things up on where I store them. I don’t have all of the plans laid out yet, but I will eventually and hope to start before the New Year.

The basketball rookie pile also goes into binders unless the rookie card is valued at $20 or is unique. The rookie pile I sorted above gets broken down into team piles. I used to just toss all of my basketball rookies into a binder like the basketball inserts, but, when I went to look for a specific rookie card I couldn’t ever find it because they were everywhere. So in 2018, I reworked my basketball rookies and sorted them all by team. It’s such a relief to have that done, especially when it comes to trading.

Take note that I didn’t toss duplicate2016-2017  Donruss rookie card of Chinanu Onuaku into the doubles pile. That’s because I don’t toss any duplicate rookies from any sport into that pile. Rookie cards I believe are the driving force of the hobby so I hold onto every one, two or even three of the same card I can. It has paid dividends in my collection in the past.

I also wanted to point out the card above, in my team sort photo, in the bottom right hand corner of Miami Heat player Sherman Douglas. Well, it’s not so much about the player but about the card. It’s a 1990-1991 Hoops basketball card. If you haven’t heard or been hiding under a rock, this particular year and brand made a huge splash recently in the hobby because of one card and what unique feature it has.

That one card, this Mark Jackson. What sets it apart? Well in the background behind Mark Jackson features what is to believe to be the Menendez brothers, Lyle and Erik, who killed their parents in their mansion back in August of 1989. It was a very high profile trial that took many years to find the brothers guilty of the murders. Recently a few people stumbled upon this card and noticed them in the background and the timeline seems to fit as well as this photograph would have come from the previous NBA season.

Here is a closer look at the brothers. It’s amazing just having this discovery on a card could take it from a few mere cents value to selling close to $50 each. Many collectors, including yours truly, dug through old boxes to find the card. I on the other hand wasn’t intending to sell mine as I just wanted it as a piece of hobby history. I do kind of wish mine was in better shape but at least I can say I have one.

And that does it for my binders.  I don’t plan on adding anymore basketball binders to my program like I am for baseball. Like I said, I am not a huge basketball card guy.

Before moving onto boxes, I wanted to mention what I did with those more valuable inserts and rookie cards. I put them in toploaders and penny sleeve and toploaders like the Shaq and Ervin Hayes above.

Onto Trading Card Storage Boxes

Now we get into the next part of my sorting and the final few piles on the sort mat. Star Players, college players, duplicate pile and trade pile.

Before I begin, I always make sure I have index cards on hand. These I cut to fit the slots in the 3200 count boxes that go upright. It usually measures out to be ¾ of the size of a full index card.  This has been my way of doing this indexing for years but I am always open to trying new ways to sort them. That’s why I recently gave Bags Unlimited line of trading card box dividers and spacers a try.

These ones are for standing upright in the 3200 count boxes

And these are for the 800 count boxes that are for storing cards horizontally not vertically and are not as deep as the 3200 ct boxes.

I found that these worked a lot better than index cards. It may be something I continue to switch out in the New Year. They are very sturdy and don’t fold and bend like the index cards do.

Let’s start out with the base card pile from above. I break this down to by teams so they can be placed into the boxes.

Here is a look at one of the base cards against the dividers. Perfect fit for standing up.

I place a team in each row, put a divider in, and then put the next team in. Of course with having collected since the mid 90’s, I have multiples of these boxes now with some of the teams filling up a row and more. That’s when the indexing becomes even more important.

Now I take the pile of players and sort the cards by player. Most will be put into the box using the dividers.

However, these three players; LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan get the VIP treatment from my player stacks. I don’t collect these guys per se, but they are big-time winners and have the most valuable cards in the NBA so, I try to binder these instead to give them extra protection.

As for the remaining cards, I start with the players with one in each row.                                         

Then add a divider card to each before adding the next player in the front.

The next two parts of my sorting project goes in the 800 count boxes. I only need two of these boxes for this. 

College Basketball cards and oddball ones go into one of the boxes, not sorted in any fashion; just tossed in there. Not sure if I will improve that method down the road or not.

My trade pile is also placed in the 800 count boxes. I turn the index cards sideways and label in front of each section of cards for who I am sending them to. This makes it so I won’t have to look all over the house for my trade bait for my usual trading buddies.

The final thing I haven’t mentioned yet, is I take the 100 count plastic hinged boxes and use those to store smaller sets in or sets that are a tad more valuable. This 1995-1996 Topps basketball set I completed awhile back and wasn’t a part of my sorting pile above and is just used as an example. I find these hinged boxes to be more efficient to use because they don’t take up as much space a one of the white boxes do and they stack nicely on a bookshelf.

That does it today for my basketball card sorting. I hope there was something above that will give you an idea on how you may want to sort your collection or maybe spark an interesting idea for yourself. Up next I will be breaking down on how I sort my favorite sport and most complex one, football cards. There are many steps pretty close to the baseball one, but football cards I take more seriously because it was a sport I played. More on that in the next post.

Til next time, keep on collecting!

Matt G