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The Potential of a Side Collection

I have always found collecting to be a journey, shaped by certain preferences and boundaries that may be self-imposed or circumstantial. You may root for a baseball team your grandparent loved when they were young; you may have played a sport that did not lead to a career but left a lasting passion you now funnel into your local teams; you saw a player before they broke out into a professional career and you have sought their cards ever since. The reasons why and the ways how we collect are varied, but sometimes your collecting habits may elicit a “who?” or “why?” from others. While most collections seem self-explanatory, I’ve found many collectors have side PCs (personal collections) that have more nuance and lead to learning more about a specific collector’s habits as well as The Hobby’s collecting traits as a whole.

One collector that inspired my fascination with niche side PCs is Mark Sanchez (@mjs_sportscards) when I saw a post about a Batista (wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista) Panini One Wrestling card he had picked up. In the post caption, Mark mentioned that he is not a wrestling collector and that he had been priced out of buying a lot of products in his main focus, basketball. He goes on to say that he has a Filipino PC and had been interested in adding a Batista card to this collection for some time when he saw other collectors speaking about a wrestling product. He reached out to a friend with insight into wrestling and one of the collectors that had been discussing the product before committing to “the one.” Mark was able to learn about the card, more about Batista the wrestler, and connect what he previously knew about Dave Bautista to the wrestling character Batista’s career. 

When I read about Mark’s Filipino PC and how choosing a specific way to collect had opened avenues of learning and growing and collecting, I was fascinated. His Filipino PC was not for pre-existing sports preferences; it was linked to identity, and uniting his identity with his passion for collecting facilitated furthering relationships with other collectors and learning more about the accolades of Filipino community athletes. It is an open-ended collection that can be grown for years, linking Mark to other collectors and expanding into athletes we may never have otherwise underappreciated as he shares his collection online.

Another collector that has a niche side PC that has intrigued me is Kristina Thorson (@kristinaspc) and her Maxi Kleber collection. I am not a Dallas Mavericks fan, I had barely registered the name “Maxi Kleber” in my mental list of active players, and I am sure I have heard his name mispronounced on a broadcast before and not thought twice about it (it’s pronounced “Kle-bah,” in case you were wondering).

Since I saw Kristina’s post about pursuing his full rainbow collection of 2020-21 Panini Prizm Basketball, though, all of that has changed. She and her partner, Chris (@chris_hoj), were collecting Luka Dončić cards and watching Dallas Mavericks games when she noticed a player who had an essential impact on the Mavericks’ and Dončić’s success, though his statistics did not necessarily reflect it. Kleber was drafted to the Mavericks in 2017, but did not make his Prizm debut until the 2020-21 product was released in 2021. When Kristina had obtained all three one of ones, she saw a rare and coveted opportunity amongst collectors: complete the player set rainbow.

Kristina’s journey to collect the rainbow of a player she admires with a lower demand and a lower price point is one of my favorite hobby stories. She was able to set an attainable goal she was passionate about that may not be achievable due to high demand, low supply, and financial constraints that accompany collecting franchise players like Luka. While admiring cards that are popular and expensive is always fun, having an alternative appreciation for cards often perceived as “less valuable” can reinvigorate the excitement of chasing your next big get. Kristina now has all but one of Kleber’s cards from this set, so if you or anyone you know comes across a Fast Break Neon Green Disco 2020-21 Maxi Kleber out of five, you know where to find her.

After learning of these and other of my friends’ more niche PCs, I was inspired to reflect on my own collecting preferences. Growing up in Central Florida in the 90s, there were few figures more significant than Shaquille O’Neal, and I have always admired him even beyond his time with the Orlando Magic. Being an elite Shaq collector, however, is an apex I could never reach, though I collected low value cards of his that visually appealed to me. One day, as I was organizing my cards, I found a pattern: in many of Shaq’s cards, he has his tongue sticking out. While not as ubiquitous as Michael Jordan’s habit, it’s a goofy little quirk that I was now searching for in every Shaq card I encountered. I can look for them across many products and teams, and I rarely spend more than $8 to acquire a new addition to this PC. I have friends that scout “Shaq with his tongue out” cards now, and as I look for base cards for my embroidery projects I’m also able to add to my niche collection. It is not an investment in my hobby prestige, but it is an investment in myself and what brings me joy within this space. 

The varied formats of side collections revealed the possibilities available if you are willing to find a less conventional collecting habit. If you are financially unable to acquire cards you want for your main collection, you can choose to seek out cards at a lower price point that still fuels your interest. Sitting down at a dollar box and sifting through cards for hours can be a form of meditation, panning for personal gold while having lowered expectations and a proportional budget. One of your saved eBay searches might have a hit that ties neatly into your niche PC and there is less hesitation to hit the “Buy it Now” button. Niche collecting allows for a purposeful and manageable way to continue your hobby journey while abating the pressures and expectations a main PC can often burden us with. If you have a collection you would like to share, please do, and if you find a “Shaq with his tongue sticking out” card, you know of an interested party.


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