I was recently sitting around on yet another boring weekend induced by the coronavirus pandemic. My friend had recently texted me about a new type of digital blockchain-based NBA trading card that people were buying and selling and making money on. The idea, which is made possible through a platform called NBA Top Shot, sounded completely ridiculous at the time.
But it’s hard to completely write off anything in the cryptocurrency space these days. I’m no NBA fan and can’t tell you the last time I watched a game, but after going through several YouTube videos explaining the new platform, I gave NBA Top Shot a try. My first purchase — a highlight of the Golden State Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins going up for an alley-oop dunk — got me started, and I bought three other digital cards after that. Here’s what I learned.
What is NBA Top Shot?
Each card (or “moment”) in Top Shot is an actual video highlight of a certain player — it could be Lebron James dunking or Steph Curry draining a three-pointer. You can get these moments by purchasing packs or buying them on the marketplace. Each moment is part of a series and is assigned a serial number. These things can make a big difference in a card’s value — some have already sold for six figures, and Top Shot has surpassed $200 million in total sales. More on all that shortly.
Moments are like trading cards in the form of a blockchain-based item known as a non-fungible token (NFT). Blockchain is the encrypted, decentralized technology that makes cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (CRYPTO:BTC) possible. Blockchain’s advocates like to promote its value as a secure digital ledger, and unique collectibles like NFTs show how the technology can be used in ways that don’t depend directly on cryptocurrencies.
Top Shot is the brainchild of the NBA, which licenses the video highlights, and a company called Dapper Labs that uses blockchain technology to create digital experiences. Top Shot, which is currently in beta mode, is just one of several experiences Dapper Labs has helped launch — including CryptoKitties, another NFT collectible — and The Block recently reported that the company has raised $250 million in funding for a valuation of $2 billion.
Getting a pack
The market is still pretty new, and who knows if it’s something that can stick around, or if cards will continue to hold as much value. But here are some basic tips for beginners.
Packs are the cheapest way of getting new moments, but right now — likely because the platform is still in beta mode — they aren’t widely available. Once you find out about a pack drop, you go to the site at the time of the drop and elect to “get in line.” You’ll be assigned a random line number, and then, if you’re lucky enough to get a pack, the site will redirect to a new page and you’ll have five minutes to complete your purchase.
At first, I only found out about pack drops through word of mouth. Demand was intense, because packs can cost as little as $9 and yield cards valued much higher. The site has been doing a lot of drops where they will release 5,000 or 10,000 of one pack — I participated twice and my line number was over 60,000 both times.
But lately, pack drops have been picking up. You can sign up for an email list that will alert you when they’re available. Recently, the platform did a drop that allowed everyone who signed up in a certain time slot to pre-order a pack — and I finally got one!
Top Shot also holds challenges, laying out 10 different cards or highlights for a user to collect — collect all 10 in a set time period and you’ll get special bonus card. This kind of reminds me of Bitcoin mining, where people solve certain puzzles or equations as quickly as they can to earn a coin.
The surefire way to get cards is through the marketplace (the platform charges fees on transactions to sellers), which is what I did for all four of my current…