The Uphill Battle of Big Men in Sports Cards

Card Ladder
Feb 3, 20223 min read

Joel Embiid, Karl Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, and Bam Adebayo are four of the best players in the NBA and have been for a few years now. With all likely being all stars and two in the MVP race, one would expect for their sports cards to be on fire. The data tells us compared to forwards and guards of similar or even lesser caliber of play, they tend to make laps around all top centers markets.

Now why might this be the case? At the end of the day they are putting up big numbers on winning teams.

  1. Historically big men but specifically centers do not sell well

Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and Hakeem Olajuwon are some of the greatest players to have ever played the game. From the early 90s to the 2010's all of these players have dominated the league at some point and time. All being first ballot hall of famers, NBA champions, and league MVP's these players have the hardware to be ranked as all time greats. Yet seemingly they all do not demand the prices one would expect by looking at their resumes.

2. Relatability

This for one could be because big men for the most part are simply not relatable to the average person. The average height for a male in the United States is 5'9" which makes it hard for fans to relate to players like Duncan, Hakeem, or Embiid.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw Nike or Adidas make a signature shoe for a center? Joel Embiid has a signature shoe with Under Armor but when if ever have you seen someone wear Joel Embiid's shoes?

When looking at the biggest shoe deals in 2021... it is apparently obvious as to what is missing... Out of the 12 player, 8 are guards and 0 centers make the list. Keep in mind this DID NOT include Kobe who would have ranked top 3.  

People like what they can relate to as it gives them a sense of pride and representation. Isaiah Thomas was a fan favorite for that very reason, your  average American saw him as a relatable figure and not someone who won the genetic lottery. This can also be applied to race and ethnicity as we saw with the strong support of Jeremy Lin during Linsanity. Was Jeremy Lin even during Linsanity a top player? No. Was he averaging what Kyle Lowry did year round? Yes. The difference being is that Jeremy Lin gave Asian fans a sense of pride and representation they otherwise did not have without him. We still see this today with Chinese sensations Yi Jianlian and Zhou Qi outselling current NBA all-stars. The sports card market is much more complex than who plays good and this in my opinion is an example of that.

3. Winning

In this era the odds are stacked against big men with the non stop fast pace of play with space and pace offenses. You rarely see teams outside of Philadelphia give it to a big man in the post and go to work. The game has changed so much we see centers specifically struggle to win titles. Great players such as Lamarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl Towns, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Deandre Jordan, and just about every other team with a #1 or #2 option at center has never delivered a title in the last decade.

Also should be noted big men tend to have knee and foot problems at a much higher rate than any other position