Things aren’t going well if you’re a sports card collector who’s looking to stock up on rookies from the 2021 NBA Draft.
As companies like Panini and Topps continue to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, basketball fans are suffering from massive delays to the sports card release calendar.
Typically, Panini is able to wrap up its products for a specific sport’s season a few months after the playoffs wrap up. To keep things fresh, fans could generally collect new rookies in some form within a month or two of that year’s draft.
The company worked to stay on track as best as it could with its NFL products, releasing 2021 Score Football on May 12, 2021, less than two weeks after the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Months into the 2021-2022 NBA season, however, Panini’s basketball products for the league’s 2020-2021 campaign simply won’t stop.
The 2021 NBA Draft was held later than usual, taking place on July 29, 2021 after the league’s postseason pushed into the middle of the summer.
Fast-forward four months, and Panini is still dropping products with rookies from the 2020 NBA Draft.
On September 29, two months after the 2021 NBA Draft wrapped up, Panini released its first product for the incoming rookie class, finally highlighting names like Detroit Pistons star Cade Cunningham, Houston Rockets star Jalen Green, and Cavaliers star Evan Mobley.
But, instead of going full-steam into the 2021-2022 season with the fresh rookie class, Panini released more cards from the 2020 NBA Draft.
Panini’s Donruss Optic Basketball, a staple in the hobby that usually comes out in the middle of a season, released in September, two months after the 2020-2021 season wrapped up.
2020-2021 Black Basketball dropped on October 11, and 2020-2021 Recon Basketball hit shelves on October 27.
2020-2021 Illusions Basketball released on November 17. 2020-2021 Chronicles Basketball popped up a week later on November 24.
2020-2021 Contenders Optic Basketball will come out on December 1, 2020-2021 Mosaic Basketball is scheduled to join the ranks on December 3, and 2020-2021 One and One Basketball will pile it on when December 8 rolls around.
Capping off the year, collectors will get 2020-2021 Immaculate Basketball on December 22.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, fans will see 2020-2021 Panini Flawless Basketball on January 5, all before the eventual shift to the new year with 2021 Prizm Draft Picks Basketball.
Between the draft in July and the end of 2021, only one other product featuring the new rookie class joined 2021-2022 Chronicles Draft Picks Basketball in the hobby’s fray: 2021 Panini Immaculate Collegiate Basketball, a higher-end release on November 16.
All in all, Panini will have released 13 products for the 2020 NBA Draft between the 2021 NFL Draft and the end of 2021, compared to two for the 2021 NBA Draft.
So, what went wrong?
Delays to a large amount of Panini’s key sets didn’t do the trick, with Optic getting pushed all the way back to September and Chronicles dropping well into the 2021-2022 season.
Add in the increased popularity for the sports card industry as a whole in 2020, and Panini may have decided to print as many sets as it could to coincide with one of the league’s premier young players in Charlotte Hornets star LaMelo Ball.
Unfortunately for Panini, there’s good news and bad news on that front.
The good news is that these 2020-2021 products are still flying off the shelves whenever they drop, even if collectors feel Panini is overprinting cards for Ball, Golden State Warriors rookie James Wiseman, Sacramento Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton, and more.
The bad news is that those same products aren’t coming even remotely close to the success that their 2019-2020 counterparts had a year earlier, and the butterfly effect leads to similar delays for Panini’s 2021-2022 releases.
That could lead to some major decisions for the company in one of its final years with an exclusive license in the NBA’s card collecting scene, and higher-ups may have to pick and choose which products are worth the time for the 2021 NBA Draft class.
Collectors could get disgruntled, especially considering they won’t see Cunningham, Green, Mobley, and company in their pro uniforms on a card until the midpoint of the 2021-2022 season.
Diehard members of the hobby will keep throwing money at Panini whenever they release a product with pro uniforms. But, the company could be playing a dangerous game as it relates to the long-term success of their red-hot business if they keep up with their current release schedule.