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NBA Top Shot Explained in Simple Terms

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The NBA’s venture into blockchain basketball cards isn’t complicated, but you need to know a few things before diving in.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Top Shot is taking over the universe. As fans and collectors go crazy over images and imprints, much of the world looks on, scratching heads and asking, “What are these Top Shot things and what’s the big deal?”

They’re digital basketball cards.

...there. That could be the article. Simple, right?

If you don’t already know, there’s more to the story than that.

Background

I introduced my 38-year-old brother to NBA Top Shot the other day, and his reaction was a lot like mine a few weeks ago. We were both kids of the 90’s, and our basketball card collections were massive. Three-ring binders full of cards. Wooden boxes full of commons. Hard cover top-loaders with our most valuable cards in those plastic sleeves to keep the edges crisp.

When I pulled a Dikembe Mutombo rookie card from a pack in the parking lot of a hardware store, my dad and I were yelling “DIKEMBE MUTOMBO! DIKEMBE MUTUMBO!” and rocking back and forth so much the car was shaking. I was sure I was gonna be rich one day off that card alone.

Fast forward 30 years, and in my brother’s words, NBA Top Shot “is what Skybox wished they were.” And he’s right.

Futuristic, weird, quirky, and kinda cool, NBA Top Shot are digital “moments” of NBA games. They’re videos, wrapped in spatial 3-D design, of blocks, of passes, of shots, and each one is unique using blockchain and serial numbers so you know your 97/10000 Devin Booker is the NINETY-SEVENTH of those TEN THOUSAND Devin Bookers made.

Digital basketball cards. Simple.

How it Works

First, you have to get an account. Seems simple; but since Top Shot is still in Beta, there have been hours and days when signing up has been restricted.

Right now, you can sign up if you have a Google account, but if not, you’re out of luck... and signups have been disabled for the majority of days over the last week and a half or so.

Once you have an account, you can start collecting these digital basketball cards, called “moments.”

Damian Lillard Top Shop Moment
Damian Lillard Top Shop Moment

The hardest part about getting into Top Shot is getting a pack. They don’t drop on a schedule, and often the 20k or 60k packs available have hundreds of thousands of people waiting to buy them.

When Top Shot announces a pack drop, they also announce a time - say, 12pm Pacific - and a few minutes before that time, you can can get in line. Everyone in line by that 12pm deadline will be put in a randomized queue. That means that while most people don’t end up getting a pack, it’s fair to everyone who made it in line on time. There’s also an option once you got your assigned spot to get an email when it’s your turn to buy. If you’re the 66,000th person in line for 65,000 packs, it’s worth waiting. If you’re more like 165,000th of 65,000 you’re probably safe to leave and try again next time.

Packs can range from $9 for common packs, to a few hundred for “rare” packs, to $999 for “legendary” packs. Before you scoff at the price, know that “rare” and “legendary” moments are scarce. Using blockchain, the same technology used to track Bitcoin, these moments are limited to a few thousand, a few hundred, or even a few dozen.

A Damian Lillard “legendary” moment (only 25 available) of him dunking on Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. sold for $54,000 last month, and the lowest listing today is $75,000.

Collecting Moments and the Marketplace

So what if you didn’t get lucky with a pack? No worries: you can purchase moments from Top Shot’s marketplace.

NBA Top Shot Packs
NBA Top Shot Packs

You can search your your favorite player, or your favorite team, and see what the lowest priced moments are. For the Blazers, the cheapest moment right now is a CJ McCollum spinning between-the-legs crossover jumpshot for just over $10. The most expensive was that 75 grand Dame moment I mentioned earlier.

Moments can be cool ways to remember a certain shot or block or pass, but they can also make you money.

Once you own a moment, you can put it up for sale. You decide the price, and while you can see what others are selling their moments for, the decision is yours. If you want to undercut everyone else, you can. If you want to set a higher price and hope it sells later as the market changes, you can do that too.

Pricing

The prices for moments aren’t static: they change over time.

For example, that CJ moment I mentioned earlier was selling for $6 a few days ago. When news broke of his return from injury, the price bubbled to over $20 before coming back down.

The most volatile prices come from Rookies. Based on potential, the market may overvalue or undervalue a player until they prove they deserve a higher or lower price. For example, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards had a Series 2 common moment you could buy for $30 a week ago, but a run of hot games pushed that price to closer to $100.

Serial numbers also matter. A lot. The lower the serial number, the higher the price. That CJ McCollum moment with a common serial number out of 35,000 may sell for about $14; but if you wanted serial number 4 or 5 or 8, be prepared to dish out over $1,000.

CJ McCollum NBA Top Shot moment pricing
CJ McCollum NBA Top Shot moment pricing

Having the serial number with the player’s jersey will fetch an even higher premium; and having the last serial number of a given moment, say 15,000 of 15,000, will also be worth more to buyers.

And, of course, how rare a moment is affects the price more than anything. If there are fewer moments made, each one is worth more. That’s why the “legendary” Dame moment with only 25 serial numbers might cost $75,000, but a “common” Dame with over 35,000 serials can be had for under $50.

Challenges

Top Shot also puts on “Challenges” from time to time: a set of moments that, if you’re holding ALL of them when the clock runs out, you get a bonus moment.

For example, there are “Seeing Stars” moments of players from the 2021 All-Star Game. Collect everyone from Team Kevin Durant, and if you still have them all by the end of the challenge, you get a Kevin Durant “Seeing Stars” moment.

The calculus on this can be tricky: is it worth paying over $2,000 for moments to get a Kevin Durant moment in return? How much will the Durant moment be worth? How many people will complete the challenge, because fewer completions means a lower mint and therefore a more expensive moment? And for the moments needed to get it, how much will their value drop after the challenge is done and people don’t need them anymore?

All of this makes using the marketplace to buy and sell moments more exciting: if you know people need a “Seeing Stars” moment to complete a challenge, maybe you’ll buy a few in the hopes their prices go up when the clock is about to run out. Maybe you complete it yourself, and then maybe you sell everything off right away after the challenge ends... or maybe you hold them.

Strategy

The truth is that a lot of this is about luck. If you get in line to get a pack and you’re lucky enough to get a good spot in line, you’re certain to make your money back and then some. That won’t always be true; but right now, there’s so much demand and so little supply that getting the chance to buy a pack is very much worth your while.

If you don’t get a pack, you can use tools like evaluate.market to look at certain moments, spot trends about their price over time, and try to buy and sell when you think it makes sense. You can also know that moments needed for challenges will go up in price before the challenge ends, then crash after it’s over.

Evaluate.market Top Shot pricing tracker
Evaluate.market Top Shot pricing tracker

If you have faith in younger players who haven’t popped yet, you might want to make a long-term investment in the hopes their value will go up.

If you know someone is returning from injury cough NURKIC cough, you could buy low in the hopes that their play will warrant a value bump.

You can also join the Top Shot Discord channel to talk with other people who, like you, probably had no idea what any of this was a few weeks ago, but might have some gems of information that will help makes sense of it all.

Bottom Line

Basketball cards were cool. I liked them. I liked the way they smelled when you opened a pack: 92-93 Topps Stadium Club had a tangier, sharper note than 91-92 Fleer (if you know, you know). I liked the feeling that when I pulled a card, it could be worth something. I liked having 10 Clyde Drexlers knowing I’d never sell any of them. I liked showing cards to my friends.

A lot of that is true for Top Shot.

While there’s no olfactory benefit, there’s still something cool about the hope, about the chase, about the collection. And you’re able to ACTUALLY sell your stuff, for the price YOU want, in a way that I never could with my local card shop dealer in the 90s.

So if you get into, do it mostly for fun. Don’t expect to get rich. Learn about it a little, and talk to other people about it. As Top Shot Discord user howlshot put it: “I love Top Shot because it is the perfect combination of technology, basketball, and collectibles.” You might find an online community of like-minded people who are pretty chill and enjoy it, too.

And last, and most important: don’t panic. Bumps and valleys happen. And know that even if you’re 187,353 in line for 80,000 packs, there will always be another drop... even if you don’t know when it’ll happen.