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A Collector's Guide to Enjoying the 2024 NBA Playoffs (When You Have No Idea Where to Start) Part 1

Updated: May 2

Another regular season of the NBA has wrapped and we have now segued into the 2023-24 Playoffs! I am personally very grateful that my team, the Orlando Magic, have exceeded pre-season expectations and made it into the first round of the Playoffs for the first time in five years with our best record in over a decade. If your team made an early exit during the Play-In Tournament, did not make it into the postseason at all, or you are not usually invested in the NBA but want to have a vested interest in the Playoffs, fear not. Whenever the Magic miss the Playoffs, I still need to find a way to enjoy the postseason, so I find ways to create stakes and pick a team and/or player to root for through every round. While I would love to recruit every one of you to support the Magic, I have decided to be more democratic and offer options from every remaining team that may have a player that resonates with you.  

Part of our love of sports is the human interest that comes from normal people capable of exceptional feats, so I have compiled a list of one non-superstar from each of the remaining sixteen teams that I think have interesting traits worthy of your consideration. To correspond with my selections, I am also choosing one of their cards that I like; the criteria is not price or prestige, but purely subjective eye appeal of my own nebulous standards. If you disagree with my selections, please know that I do not care, but am willing to see what card and/or player you would choose in your own list in a respectful manner. This is part one and will cover eight teams in the Eastern Conference, while part two will be released in the coming week.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks - Bobby Portis

Although he is an NBA Champion (2021) and was the 22nd pick in the first round of the NBA draft in 2015, Bobby Portis is a player you might not know much about if you are not an avid Milwaukee Bucks fan. He started his career in Chicago with the Bulls and bounced around to a couple other teams, but it was not until he landed in Milwaukee in the fall of 2020 that Bobby Portis really settled into his role. Playing alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday (more about him later), Portis has been a valuable part of the Bucks’ defense whether starting or coming off the bench. With Giannis out of the Playoffs so far due to injury, Portis has been able to put up double-doubles of 15 points and 11 rebounds, and 14 points and 11 rebounds in games 1 and 2, respectively. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1995, Portis stayed in his home state for college playing for the Arkansas Razorbacks and won  the SEC Player of the Year in 2015. Raised by single mother Tina Edwards, the oldest of four boys is passionate about giving back to his family and his community. His foundation’s main objective is to give back to single mothers in Arkansas and Milwaukee, and he regularly sponsors Christmas shopping and mani-pedis for Mothers’ Day. While scrolling through Bobby Portis’s cards online, the card that struck me the most was his 2022-23 Panini Chronicles Luminance Portrait Signatures Swirl Parallel /25. I found the simplicity of the design complemented the portrait of Portis very well, and the Swirl gives the card an understated dimension that increases interest without overbearing the viewer. There is also an Asia Jade Gold parallel /5 of this card that was a close second, but I was unable to find any of Portis’s in this parallel. 

2. Cleveland Cavaliers - Max Strus

From undrafted to Playoff regular, Max Strus seems to be a player determined to be present in the postseason. Born in a Chicago suburb of Hickory Hills in 1996, Strus’s basketball career has been hard-earned from the start. After attending Division II Lewis University, he left for DePaul where he was forced to sit out for a year due to NCAA transfer protocol. After declaring for the 2018 Draft but not retaining an agent in order to maintain college eligibility, he returned to DePaul for another season after gauging professional teams’ interest. After going undrafted in 2019, Strus started his professional career at the Boston Celtics Summer League team but was later waived and signed with the Chicago Bulls on a two-way contract, but ended the season due to an injury. In November of 2020 he joined the Miami Heat on a training camp contract and his professional career finally began to take off. While the Heat made the Playoffs every year since Strus joined them, his big moment came when he helped seal the team’s Playoff position by scoring 31 points against his former and hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, in a Play-In game. In his first season with the Cleveland Cavaliers this year, he has become a strong pillar of the Cavs core, especially after a home win against the Dallas Mavericks with a beyond-half-court buzzer beater resulting in a win that lit up Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Strus has an annual summer youth basketball camp at his former high school, and is an ambassador for the Weish4Ever Foundation and recently surprised the 4 Cleveland Clinic patients with $5,000 each totalling to a $20,000 Weish4Ever grant. The card I selected for Max Strus is a recent one, and though my first two cards in this article are from Chronicles and NBA Hoops, hear me out; the 2023-24 NBA Hoops Orange Explosion /25 shows Strus in his former team’s jersey with a note of his trade to the Cavaliers and the Cav’s crest. Though this card shows the bridging of his past and future in the NBA, the Orange Explosion emphasizes his in-action photo and grounds Strus back to the game he has dedicated so much to. 

3. Boston Celtics - Jrue Holiday

The son of two college basketball players, Jrue Holiday was born in Los Angeles, California in 1990 with basketball in his DNA. A highly decorated high school basketball star, Holiday was invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Jordan Classic in 2008 while also being named the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year Award and signing on to play at UCLA. While in high school, he was also a part of his school’s gospel choir, the percussion section leader, AND maintained a B average. After one season at UCLA, he declared for the 2009 NBA Draft and was the 17th pick in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers where he later became the franchise’s youngest All-Star at the time in 2013 at 22 years old, and also married his college sweetheart, soccer star Lauren Cheney, in July of that year. Holiday also played for the New Orleans Pelicans from 2013-2020 after being traded in the summer of 2013 where the first few years of his career were riddled with injury. In 2016, however, Lauren, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in soccer, was pregnant with their daughter when she received a brain tumor diagnosis. Lauren delivered their daughter, J.T. (Jrue Tyler), in September of 2016 and the benign tumor was successfully removed in October of that year. On November 18th, Jrue returned to basketball. While with the Pelicans, he reached many milestones, but a highlight is that in December of 2019 in a game against the Indiana Pacers he and his brothers, Justin and Aaron, became the first trio of brothers to “share the court simultaneously.” In November of 2020 he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks where he was a vital part of the 2021 Championship winning team. This past fall, he was signed to the Boston Celtics team and in April inked a deal that runs to 2028 during the Celtics incredible 64-18 regular season. Among other accomplishments, Jrue and Lauren started the Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund, Jrue was named to the 2023 All-Star team for the second time, received the Teammate of the Year Award three times, a gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and most recently was named to the USA Men's Basketball team for the 2024 Paris Olympics, just to name a few. The card I have found to like the most of Jrue is his 2014-15 Panini Gala /79. I love the composition of this card’s design, and the combination of a portrait and full body/color and black and white photos really highlights the player and the person. The photo does not do this card justice, as it also has a “silver” overlay, but It has been my unrivaled favorite thus far.  

Born in 1995 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Caleb Martin seemed, much like Max Strus, an unlikely candidate to be a strong member of a Miami Heat team competing in the 2023 Finals. That team, however, was built from underrated players and a strong will to prove themselves. Younger brother to twin Cody by one minute, Caleb was a skilled athlete playing both basketball and football in high school. Caleb and his brother played one season at North Carolina State University before transferring to play for the Nevada Wolf Pack mens team. After sitting out the 2016-17 season due to the NCAA transfer requirements, Caleb averaged 19.5 points and was voted the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, while Cody received Defensive Player of the Year. In 2018, Caleb and the Wolf Pack made it to the Sweet 16 round of March Madness and both Caleb and Cody attended the NBA Draft Combine but decided to return to Nevada for their final year. In 2019, Caleb went undrafted while Cody was drafted to the Charlotte Hornets in the second round with the 36th overall pick. Caleb did end up signing with the Hornets and made his NBA debut on October 25, 2019 off the bench, but was sent to the G-League affiliate team, the Greensboro Swarm, the following month in a pattern of back and forth between the Hornets and Swarm until he was waived in August of 2021. In September of 2021, the Miami Heat signed Caleb to a two-way contract and by February 2022 the Heat converted him to a standard contract after 44 games and ten starts. Allegedly rapper J. Cole vouched for Caleb, which may have impacted the Heat’s decision to look into Martin in the first place. That year the Heat made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before being eliminated by the Boston Celtics, but the following season the eighth-seeded Heat upset the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the Playoffs to go on and eventually defeat the Boston Celtics in a seven game series. Though the Heat were beat by the Denver Nuggets, Caleb was given much credit for the Heat’s success in making a trip to the NBA Finals for the second time in four years and was one vote shy of receiving the ECF MVP award.  For my card selection, I chose a card that I think shows the intensity Caleb has brought to his NBA career thus far. The 2020-21 Panini Absolute Future Signatures Level 2 /25 is a beautiful blue color match of Caleb in his Hornets uniform, and his portrait exudes the hunger and drive needed to go from undrafted to NBA Finals stalwart. 

5. New York Knicks - Isaiah Hartenstein

At seven feet tall, Isaiah Hartenstein is a breakout powerhouse for the New York Knicks in their 2023-24 season, but he is not new to the basketball scene. Born in Eugene, Oregon in 1998, he moved with his family to Germany in 2008 for his father, Florian Hartenstein’s, professional basketball career after several years of splitting his time between Oregon and Germany. As an American kid in Germany, his limited German vocabulary and disinterest in soccer helped his love of basketball flourish. At 15 Isaiah joined the Artland Dragons’ junior team with his dad having a history with the professional club. The team went to the 2013-14 championship and Hartenstein was named MVP and his father was named Coach of the Year. Hartenstein continued his career in Germany with many accomplishments and eventually made his Basketball Bundesliga debut in 2015, the top tier of professional basketball in Germany. Though he considered a college career in the states and went unpaid for one season in order to maintain eligibility, he opted to continue his professional growth and stay in Europe by moving up to a Lithuanian league in 2015. He made his debut in 2016 with Žalgiris Kaunas and helped lead them to win their first King Mindaugas Cup. In 2017, Hartenstein declared for the NBA Draft and was selected in the second round as the 43rd overall pick to the Houston Rockets. From 2017 to 2020, Hartenstein went between the Rockets and their G-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he won the G-League Championship in 2019 and received the G-League Finals MVP. After being waived by the Rockets in 2020, the Denver Nuggests signed him to a contract, but in March of 2021 he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He later signed with the LA Clippers, but finally landed with the New York Knicks in July of 2022. In Game 2 of the 2024 series against the Philadelphia 76ers, he was instrumental in the defense of the controversial final moments of the game that helped Donte DiVincenzo’s three-pointer seal the win for New York. Also, he and his wife, Kourtney Kellar, are expecting a son this June! The card I selected for Isaiah Hartenstein is his 2020-21 Panini Immaculate Modern Marks Red /25. While I am not a big fan of his autograph here, I like the card design and red parallel, but I also like that he is on the Cavaliers for this card and that contract was the start of his journey to New York.

6. Orlando Magic - Jamahl Mosley

As a highly invested Orlando Magic fan, I could have simply made a list outlining why I personally love each and every part of the 2023-24 team. The person leading the charge, however, is Head Coach Jamahl Mosley, and I had to take this opportunity to sing his praises and share how he got to his current position in creating a young, capable team in a new generation of Magic. Jamahl Mosley was born in 1978 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to James and Deborah. His parents divorced when he was young, and at 13 he, his mother, and his brother moved to San Diego, California where he excelled on the Rancho Buena Vista High School basketball team and was a CIF player of the year in 1997. After high school, Mosley attended University of Colorado from 1997-2001 where he played all four years and also developed a fondness for mixed martial arts. After college, Mosley played overseas in Mexico, Australia (where he was named the NBL Best Sixth Man in 2002), Spain, Finland, and South Korea from 2001 until 2005 when he returned to the states after his mother died in November 2004. This time period resulted in Mosley pivoting into a coaching path by volunteering (unpaid) with the Denver Nuggets on the player development staff. In 2007, he became a full-time assistant coach before moving on to the Cleveland Cavaliers as an assistant coach in 2010. In 2014 he joined the Dallas Mavericks as an assistant coach before graduating to defensive coordinator in 2018. Mosley has played a role in the development of some of the biggest names in the game, including Kyrie Irving, Carmelo Anthony, and Luka Dončić. While in Cleveland he met his now wife, Kristina Andersen, who were married during his time in Dallas and have three children together. In July of 2021, Mosley was named the head coach of the Orlando Magic and has cultivated the young team into serious contenders in just three short years. Earlier this year, Mosley signed a four-year extensions with the Orlando Magic and was recently named a finalist for NBA Coach of the Year after receiving the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for October/November 2023. I have searched high and low for card of Mosley with very little luck; however, the one card I was able to find is currently in transit to my mailbox. The card seems to be a promo for the Australian team the Victoria Liberty Giants from their 2002-03 season and shows Mosley reaching with a basketball towards the sky, his signature with #5 graphic, and it also includes a tear away coupon for a free youth ticket with every adult ticket purchase. I cannot wait to add this card to my collection and to share more details once it arrives. 

7. Indiana Pacers - Myles Turner

The rise of the Indiana Pacers has been a long time coming, but the team had a brilliant start to the 2023-24 season, and one player that has been a part of their long-laid groundwork is Myles Turner. Born in Bedford, Texas in 1996 to parents David and Mary, Turner began his love for basketball at the age of six. As he grew, he played for the AAU basketball for the Texas Select team and attended many camps and tournaments including the Nike Big Man Skills Academy in 2013. After a decorated high school career, he declared his commitment to play for the University of Texas after his senior year in 2014 and the number two player in the ESPN 100. Before heading to Texas where he planned to study psychology, he participated in both the McDonald’s All-American Boys Game and won the Americas championship on the FIBA Under-18 National Team. After spending one year at University of Texas and being awarded the Big 12 Freshman of the Year award, Turner opted to declare for the 2015 NBA Draft and was selected as the overall eleventh pick to the Indiana Pacers. In his first season he was awarded the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in February and was also selected for the NBA All-Rookie Second Team and by the 2017-18 season he was elected team captain while the Pacers continued to make the playoffs from 2016-2020 and returning to the Playoffs this year. Myles is a huge fan of Star Wars and has been since his mom gifted him the original trilogy, which then tied into a passion for Lego. Myles has been invested in Lego since childhood when his parents did not allow him to play video games, and his collection as an adult is vast. A centerpiece to his collection is a lifesize version of him dressed as Darth Vader made completely of Lego, which pairs well with his annual Star Wars Day gameday costumes. The card I selected for Myles is from the 2015-16 Court Kings Rookie Portrait Base. There are several parallels for this card, but the gold detail really compliments the deep blue hues of the card, and I like the quiet power he exhibits in his pose as a young player with a bright future. 

8. Philadelphia Sixers - Kelly Oubre Jr.

Kelly Oubre Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1995 to Kelly Oubre Sr. and Tonya Coleman, but he has never stayed in one place for very long. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Oubre’s family moved to Richmond, Texas where he played at George Bush High School until transferring to Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada for his senior year. In 2014, as number ten in the ESPN 100, Oubre committed to the Kansas Jayhawks for his college basketball career and also participated in the McDonald’s All-American Game. After his rookie season, he declared for the 2015 NBA Draft and was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 15th overall pick in the first round, but his rights were then traded to the Washington Wizards where he would play until a December 2018 trade to the Phoenix Suns. Though he reached many personal milestones in Phoenix and greatly contributed to their culture by nurturing the “Valley Boyz” culture, he also dealt with several injuries and was traded to the Golden State Warriors in November of 2020. In 2021 he signed with the Charlotte Hornets, but in December of 2022 he suffered an injury that had him sidelined for several months. In September of 2023, Oubre signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, but was a pedestrian hit-and-run victim in November, leaving him with several injuries and causing him to miss eleven games. Despite all of this, he is currently a starter for the Sixers in the 2024 Playoffs. On a personal front, Oubre created “Valley Boyz” merchandise with all proceeds going to UNICEF for Hurricane Dorian relief for his former teammate, Deandre Ayton’s, home country of The Bahamas. Oubre is also married to wife Shylynn with whom he has two children. I selected Kelly Oubre Jr.’s 2015-16 Panini Threads Wood Rookies parallel. I love the visual texture the wood grain image brings to the card, and I like the clean, minimalist nature of the graphics, statistics, and photo. It just feels like a unique card that honors a rookie well.


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