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Curtains for Panini Basketball

Updated: Feb 6

When I first saw the 2023-24 Panini Prizm Basketball Victor Wembanyama Rookie Card (#136 out of 300 cards in the base set), I thought it was another one of those clever Lememe James card memes.  Most of you may be familiar with it, but to be brief, you have a standard 2.5 inch by 3.5 inch trading card with the classic Panini Prizm silver border with a black outline.  You then have potential Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama (hereinafter “Wemby” for my typing fingers) dribbling a basketball with his left hand, gaze forward, mid-stride or perhaps mid-trot.  The classic Rookie Card RC shield is to the right of his face.  As far as card designs go, there’s nothing spectacular or special about it, but it is the background that had me and many others questioning the picture choice.

I cannot assume that every single reader of this is from the United States and matriculated through public K-12 schools.  Perhaps you are from a European or Asian school, perhaps you went to a small private school, maybe you were home schooled.  But if you went to a public school that had a stage in an auditorium, you will be familiar with draped curtains over a hardwood floor.  That is the background behind Wemby for his Panini Prizm Rookie Card.

Recently, I had Neo from Neo Cards & Comics on my podcast (The Card Diary by Hobby S. Thompson, specifically Episodes 61 and 63), and he made a good point that Wemby’s 2023-24 Panini Hoops RC #277 has what looks to be a hardwood court floor with a black background, but there are no signs of curtains in the card photo.  Yet, in the Prizm card, you can easily identify the ribboning or folds of the black curtains behind Wemby.  What we don’t know, at least I don’t, is whether the background is photoshopped or not.  Was this image used to troll collectors or was it genuinely perceived as a sensible card design?  (As an aside:  give me the days when the image of the player was different from the front and the back, as opposed to nowadays with Panini cards where that image is identical.)

We know that Panini is going to lose its licenses to the NBA and NFL and its players to Fanatics (it’s already happened with the WWE and UFC), but until that happens, whether it’s by natural course of the end of the licensing agreement or a negotiated buyout, I am wondering whether this is going to be a graceful ride into the sunset or if Panini is going to troll collectors on the way out.

The curtain card is one prominent example, another is the 2023-24 Donruss Basketball Next Day Autographs NO AUTOGRAPH cards.  This time, it’s not just Wemby but several of his fellow rookie draft class compatriots.  For his card, Wemby has on his home white jersey, with his gigantic left hand either tugging at or touching his jersey and his massive right hand cradling a basketball like I would hold a grapefruit.  Just below his image and likeness and just above his name, is the phrase in all caps:  NO AUTOGRAPH.  Was this phrase put here to deter would be in person on card autograph seekers?  Was this phrase put here to troll collectors and to remind them that Fanatics held the exclusive rights to Wemby’s autographs?  The only people who really know are the folks at Panini America, and as far as I know, they have been completely mum with this, and many other aspects of The Hobby.

Whether it’s in The Hobby or outside of it, I think that at the end of the day, if there is an issue, any individual or group of individuals wants to be heard and listened to.  From many accounts, Panini America stopped listening to, or at least publicly responding to, collectors.  It would be great to read or listen to someone from Panini America discuss the card design choice for these or any cards.  Maybe Fanatics will be more transparent, maybe they won’t.  TIme will tell, but until then, we have NO AUTOGRAPH cards.  I guess it’s better than some school auditorium curtains.


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