SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) – Maybe the Luka Doncic rookie basketball card that recently sold at auction for a record $4.6 million was a bit rich for your blood. Perhaps you’d be interested in a more affordable alternative – say, a virtual card of the Dallas Mavericks forward currently listed for a mere $150,000? Not long ago, there’s no way you’d plunk down even $1.50 for a digital image that could be copied for free. But sports trading cards have gone convincingly digital, complete with rare collector’s items and the adrenaline rush of opening a fresh pack — minus the stale, shattered plank of powdery bubblegum you might remember from childhood.
These digital cards, dubbed “moments,” appear on screen as spinning, floating digital cubes that each feature a video highlight of an NBA player. They sprang into existence just five months ago, after the Canadian tech startup Dapper Labs convinced the NBA that it could not only prevent cheap — well, free — knock-offs, it could help the NBA make a few bucks in the process.
What makes all this possible is a clever use of the cryptocurrency technology called blockchain, which allows the creation of permanent certificates of ownership that can’t be copied or deleted. The same technique recently allowed the artist known as Beeple to sell a digital work for almost $70 million.
Most moments — typically ones in heavy circulation — cost around $20 and often below $10. Of course, the most prominent transactions – a LeBron James dunk recently went for $210,000 – get the most attention. Despite some early tech hiccups, the NBA says it is “thrilled” with the response from fans, who bombard the Top Shot website every time new packs of cards drop.
So are some current and former NBA stars who just invested in Dapper, including Michael Jordan.
Each pack drop injects thousands of new cards into the market, offering buyers an affordable way to add to their collections. The cheapest packs have three “common” cards and cost $9. More expensive packs with more and rarer cards can cost almost $1000.
Fans halfway around the world are setting their alarms in the middle of the night just to get in line for a chance to buy a pack. Videos of the flashy pack openings are logging tens of thousands of views all over YouTube. Even NBA players are getting in on the action. I’m not going to lie, it makes me feel like I’m a kid again,” Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross said. “At lunch, at school trading NBA cards — it’s fun.”