The 1980-81 Topps basketball set is known primarily for just one card, the dual Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rookie card. Three small cards joined together to form one standard card, Bird is on the left with the Johnson rookie card on the right, and in the middle was Julius Erving’s 76ers Scoring Leader card.
Topps opted for a new design in 1980, creating ‘mini’ cards that could be torn off at the perforation. Many nice Bird-Magic rookies met an unfortunate fate back in the day when youngsters gave little thought to future value.
1980-81 Topps Set Marks Bird-Magic Debut
Larry Bird was unique when it came to having every basketball skill. He is the only player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists over his career. Bird often led the NBA in free throw percentage and was a rare 50-90 player with several seasons of 50% shooting from the field and 90% from the free throw line. He was also very accurate from long range, and won the first three 3-point shooting contests at the All-Star game. Bird won three NBA titles with the Boston Celtics and three MVP awards, and after he retired as a player was successful as a coach and team executive with the Indiana Pacers.
The point guard was the smallest player on the floor, until Magic Johnson came along. Johnson was as tall as many NBA centers, but with elite point guard skills. He averaged 8.4 assists in college, winning the NCAA championship in 1979 with Michigan State, and averaged 11.2 assists in the NBA for regular season games and 12.3 assists in the playoffs. Johnson even had 22 assists in an All-Star game, in 1984. He led the NBA in assists for a season four times, and led the LA Lakers to five NBA titles.
Today, the Larry-Magic rookie card is one of the most sought after cards in the hobby with prices ranging greatly based on condition. Expect to pay several hundred dollars and up for a nice copy. Be alert for counterfeits. Buying a graded example is the way to go.
Bird and Johnson also have an additional rookie card in the set, each picturing them with a different group of players. Those are decidedly less expensive but to have a truly complete set, you’ll need all three cards.
The 1980-81 Topps cards may be small but they are packed with information. The Magic card says he majored in communications in college, and the Bird card mentions he is the first NBA player from Indiana State. Both players were usually listed at 6-9 in height, but on the rookie card they have Magic at 6-8 and Bird at 6-10.
Stars and Rookies
Basketball card collectors will find other rookie cards, at low prices. There is Maurice Cheeks, the Sixers’ point guard who would battle Bird and the Celtics for the Atlantic Division title. Sidney Moncrief was a star for the Bucks, and he was a big part of a sweep of Bird’s Celtics in the 1983 NBA playoffs. Michael Ray Richardson could score, and was often seen in the Boston Garden against Bird as Richardson was a Knick and also a Net. Another rookie card to consider is that of Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson’s teammate at the Lakers and the defensive stopper they would assign to Bird. Bill Cartwright’s rookie is here, too. He would fill the paint for the Bulls late in his career and helped the Bulls win the title against Magic and the Lakers.
The good news is that while the Bird-Johnson rookie isn’t cheap, the rest of the 1980-81 Topps Basketball set won’t cost much.
While not all players got a card in this set, collectors can get an insert for each team that does show most of the players who were in the NBA at that time. The 1980-81 Topps basketball Team Posters were folded and inserted in the packs and have the team picture with players and coaches.