Consumers can get pretty much anything online these days, whether they’re ordering items from shops like Amazon, getting takeout delivered through sites like GrubHub and UberEats, or having custom items made through Etsy.
Naturally, as sports fans got back into card collecting in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can expect that people were ordering sports cards and boxes through online retailers like eBay, StockX, Blowout Cards and more.
But, what you likely wouldn’t expect is the rise in collecting digital items themselves, specifically through a platform called NBA Top Shot.
Marketed as “officially licensed digital collectibles,” fans can collect video highlights, known as “Moments,” as if they were pulled out of a pack of cards that you would find at a card store or at retailers like Target or Walmart.
“A new era in fandom has arrived — beyond repping your team, or loving your favorite player,” NBA Top Shot wrote on their website. “Now, own basketball’s greatest Moments with NBA Top Shot.”
The site, which encourages users to “grab a pack and secure this season’s most coveted plays first,” thrives off of a model crafted by the sports card industry, where limited supplies of items lead to high levels of demand.
Moments are often “numbered” out of a limited amount, giving fans the ability to be a part of a small group with access to some of the NBA season’s biggest plays.
“Giannis’ slams. Luka’s dimes. Kyrie’s crossovers. Every night, an NBA star does something so amazing you need to watch the highlight on repeat,” NBA Top Shot wrote. “Now you can make those plays yours, all officially licensed by the NBA and minted on the blockchain in limited supply.”
The items aren’t tangible like a true sports card, and simply exist in a digital sphere for fans to enjoy online.
And, while NBA Top Shot may confuse those who are more accustomed to opening up a pack of cards and being able to display or sell a physical rookie card or autograph, the platform has an incredibly large following to show for its efforts.
According to USA Today, the platform had more than 350,000 active users as of Wednesday, February 24, and 100,000 purchasing users.
NBA Top Shot had 135,000 Twitter followers as of Friday, February 26, with 33,000 on Instagram at the same time.
And, according to The Action Network, multiple items have already sold for $100,000+, with a LeBron James “Cosmic” dunk selling for a whopping $208,000 in the digital market.
With such a high demand, the folks behind NBA Top Shot have had to deal with plenty of growing pains in a short amount of time. The site frequently sees hundreds of thousands of collectors waiting in line to try to score a rare pack, and multiple drops have been postponed in recent weeks as the community continues to grow.
But, card collectors dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and an increased difficulty when it comes to finding sports cards at retail stores still view the platform as a nice change of pace from the new norm.
Twitter user @ChaseBreaks has built up a following of his own in the hobby, both by helping collectors when it comes to sports card restocks and by informing people about a variety of NBA Top Shot news.
While he’s been able to buy physical cards in person and online on some occasions, he has also fallen victim to an issue that has plagued the sports card industry: bots purchasing newly-released products online before the common user has a chance to buy a box themselves.
“The TopShot line isn’t fun, but a 5% chance at getting a pack is much better than 0% with first-come, first-bot drops,” @ChaseBreaks wrote while waiting on a rare NBA Top Shot pack drop on February 26.
With so many eyes on the product, even NBA players themselves are getting in on the virtual hobby.
Several Charlotte Hornets stars, including Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball, were seen posting about the movement on Twitter, along with members of the Golden State Warriors, the Atlanta Hawks, the Portland Trail Blazers and more.
The hype even caught the attention of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who told the USA Today that NBA Top Shot was “a real market with real collectors and real value.”
“The TopShot growth is unreal,” @ChaseBreaks wrote on February 22. “Prices just keep going up. I may wish I held on to more moments, but I’m selling some of the ones I don’t care for while it all feels too good.”
Time will tell how NBA Top Shot handles the rapid growth and the increase attention and stress on its platform and servers, and users will quickly find out if the hype can be sustained over a long period of time.
But, for now, sports fans have to admire the rise of NBA Top Shot, the potential future when it comes to collecting.