The set has 66 cards and includes only 44 players. Of the 44 players, 22 have an additional "In Action" (IA) card with a live-game photograph. Al Attles is the #1 card, and starting with Paul Arizin (#2 card) the 44 portrait cards are in alphabetical order. The 22 "In Action" cards are also in alphabetical order (cards #45-#66). The last card in the set is Jerry West's In Action card (#66).
Below you will find the following sections to this page:
The 44 players are an elite group, including 12 of the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History", 28 of 44 Hall of Fame players, and 18 of 22 In Action Cards of Hall of Fame players. Also, 23 of the 44 portrait cards are rookie cards. The 12 of the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History" are Arizin, Baylor, Chamberlain, Cousy, Greer, Jones, Pettit, Robertson, Russell, Schayes, West, and Wilkens. As with the 1986 Fleer set, the 1961 Fleer issue contains a large number of rookie cards because there were no card sets released in the four to five years prior. The majority of the league debuts of the 19 rookies in the 1961 set occurred before the 1961–1962 season: Baylor made his league debut in 1958, Chamberlain in 1959, Robertson and West in 1960, etc.
According to Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), the largest and most trusted third-party trading card authentication and grading company in the world, the highest-priced and most sought-after cards in the set are the Chamberlain (#8), West (#43), Robertson (#36), Baylor (#3), and Russell (#38) cards. As of 2022, a Chamberlain PSA MT 9 sold for $308,000, a West PSA MT 9 for $83,000, a Robertson PSA MT 9 for $65,300, a Baylor PSA MT 9 for $31,500, and a Russell PSA MT 9 for $18,600.
In terms of design, the front of the card is divided into three sections: The top section has the team name and logo. The middle section has the player's name and position: Center, Forward, or Backcourt. A player's photo in black and white is overlaid on a colored background in the bottom section. The backs were oriented horizontally, with a blue stripe down the right side. A near-circular notch in the stripe had the card number inside. The player's name, position and team appeared at the top, followed by his vital statistics, which were underlined in blue. The majority of the back featured a written biography of the player, followed by stats from the previous year and lifetime totals.
Cards #1-6 have, by far, the lowest pops in high grades. It is not a coincidence that they are all found in the last (far right column of the uncut sheet depicted to the left. My best guess is that the cards were cut from left to right leaving the last column with more room for errors in cutting and leading to narrower cuts. PSA will often refuse to grade those narrow cuts deeming them "minsize".
Grading companies grade a sports card based on corners, edges, surface and centering (and sometimes the amorphous "eye appeal"). However, as the expression "buy the card, not the grade" suggests, there are other factors to consider beyond the grade when evaluating how much to pay for a sports card. I have personally paid substantially above comps for a card that is "best in class" within its grade?
Below are some of those other critical factors to consider when evaluating a 1961 Fleer basketball card, these factors are unique to this set.
1. Diamond Cut
There is a diamond cut when the picture is not perfectly plum to the actual white borders of the card. In other words, always look to see if the white border tapers thinner or thicker as you look from one edge to another. Some diamond cuts are more subtle than others. higher/lower than the other, or when it is cut on an angle. A good way to see if it is a diamond cut is by looking at the back. Using the white line above the blue stripe to see if it is level or angled.
Diamond Cut - #10 Bob Cousy
#63 Dolph Schayes IA
2. Back Cut
Ideally, what should the back look like? The back a 1961 Fleer basketball card consists of two portions: a blue stripe with card number and then a larger, white/cream-backgrounded portion with text. In my experience, the ideal back cut is when the blue stripe is accompanied by a thin white/cream line about it (when holding the card vertically). It is slightly off-center in the back when there is no such white/cream line or too thin of a line.
Back Cut - Centered Back #10 Bob Cousy
Back Cut - Off-centered Back #59 Bob Pettit IA
Registration issues are most commonly found in the portrait shot cards (#1 - #44). With the In Action cards, the only area where imagery and coloring may not align is the upper rectangle with the team name and logo. You can see a registration issue when the portrait photograph and background do not match up perfectly. Often, in such cases, a white gap on one side of the player (and a darker outline on the opposite side) will be visible. You should also check the team logo to make sure it is properly aligned. See Celtics photo below. Unlike the 1957 Topps, the registration issues here are more focused on alignment (rather than clear coloring). Significantly, PSA may overlook this defect when grading, as the below, recently-graded PSA 9 Walter Dukes card indicates.
Photo Sync - #11 Walter Dukes
Photo Sync - #38 Bill Russell
Photo Sync - #8 Wilt Chamberlain
Logo with Photo Sync Issue
Perfectly Synced Logo
4. Acceptable Print Marks
Many cards from this set have print issues. It is critical to know which print marks are present on all cards of this player, or just some. For those universally-found issues, there should absolutely be no devaluation of the card (despite the flaw). On the other hand, a few cards have commonly-seen issues but those issues are not found on all cards. These should impact on your evaluation of such cards. The two cards which have acceptable print marks are:
#3 Elgin Baylor - Known defect
#47 Wilt Chamberlain IA - White line on the upper top portion, just above his name
5. Unique Print Marks
Print marks can be found on any of the cards in this set. These marks devalue the cards. Some print marks are black smudges on the borders, and others are lines and other flaws in the picture. The Jerry West #43 portrait shot sometimes has a unique print mark that is not found in the other cards. Below are examples of each.
#50 Walter Dukes IA - Black smudge on border
#17 Richie Guerin - Print line
#43 Jerry West - Orange on yellow background
6. Missing Blue Ink
Once in a while, you’ll see missing blue ink on the back of a 1961 Fleer card. Sometimes it’s more obvious than others. This devalues the card, as you likely figured.
#13 Dave Gambee - Missing blue ink on the back of his card
7. Recency of Grade
PSA's grading standards have tightened up through the years. Therefore, a recent slab with the same grade as an older one often (but not always) is a better condition card. In fact, we've seen recently-graded slabs with lower grades that appear nicer than some older slabs with higher grades. If you really are forward thinking, when AI becomes mainstream in card grading, these lower graded cards could earn a higher grade than their older predecessors. To identify a newer slab, look for the red, white, and blue PSA logo in the middle, bottom portion of the label. Also, usually the higher slab numbers are more recent than lower numbers.
8. POP Realignment
A PSA 9 Fleer basketball card (total of 1,418) is almost like a PSA 10. This is because, as of 7/1/22, PSA has only handed out 103 PSA 10 grades for any 1961 Fleer basketball. Tom Meschery #31 has the most with 6 PSA 10s and Tom Heinsohn #19 and Sam Jones #23 each have 4 PSA 10s. With the rest of the set having between 0 and 3 PSA 10 examples. Therefore, a PSA 9 1961 Fleer basketball card (total of 1,418) is like a PSA 10.
1961 Fleer Basketball Set - Box (Front)
1961 Fleer Basketball Set - Box (Front)
1961 Fleer Basketball Set - Box (Back)
1961 Fleer Basketball Science Kits #1 Wrapper
1961 Fleer Basketball Dubble Bubble Wrapper
1961 Fleer Basketball Powered Airplane Wrapper