NBA Rookie Shoot is a slam dunk for card companies

durant.jpgMore than 40 rookies – one of the largest turnouts in the event’s history – turned out for this year’s NBA Rookie Photo Shoot event July 27 in Tarrytown, N.Y.

The event is critical for trading card companies Topps and Upper Deck, who need the players to sign countless numbers of autographs, change into a variety of jerseys and, most important, pose for dozens of photos that will be used on their cards this season. Despite the workload involved, the players seemed to be having a good time and the card companies were happy with what they took away from the event.

“This is a really great crop of rookies,” said Lisa Goldberg, senior director of trading card licensing for the NBA. “They are excited, they are looking forward to their first trading cards and they have great attitudes. It’s really a great event.”

“It’s real loose but there aren’t enough chairs,” joked No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden. “Everybody’s on their feet all day.”

Oden, who has an exclusive autograph deal with Topps, spent plenty of time at the company’s booth and enjoyed working on one project in particular.

“I actually got to sign some Bill Russell cards,” said Oden. “I had to take my time to sign those. Those are really, really nice. They are giving me a special-edition one. There are only three of these made. So me, Mr. Russell and somebody else gets one.”

While it’s unknown who will get that third card, the one thing that is certain that Oden was not only a good businessman, he was also very personable.

The No. 2 pick, Kevin Durant, was also at the event. He has an exclusive autograph deal with Upper Deck and said he appreciated the importance of the event for the company and its customers. “The fans are the ones who make us who we are. They watch us every night on TV. So I have to interact with the fans every chance I get,” Durant said.

Durant and the other rookies who made their way onto the Upper Deck basketball court were given a Santa hat. “We’re having the guys wear their team Santa hats for a special insert,” said Jason Masherah, Upper Deck basketball brand manager.

While that may have been the most unique part of Upper Deck’s activities, Masherah said there was something more newsworthy taking place.

“For the first time we are having Rookie Photo Shoot cards,” he said. “We took the photos yesterday, printed the cards and are having them sign them today. The cards are going to be in the base brand of Upper Deck (ships at the end of September). So we’ll have hand-signed cards (no labels) right away in UD. We have never been able to do that before. The hardest part of the whole thing was the authentication hologram on the back and being able to do that in one day. We had a production facility working on it all night.”

The photo sessions involve more than just stand-and-smile poses. Players are also photographed in action poses that have arena scenes added to the background to give the illusion the photos were taken during a regular game.

Topps put some extra effort into its action photos this year, according to Brandon Eddy, the company’s basketball sports editor. “We hired the team photographer for the Memphis Grizzlies and he had three or four cameras around the rim, backboard and he had two remotes on either side and the one he’s walking around with. We have a good six or seven angles on every shot.”

Topps also had players sign cards that were created at the photo shoot, something that’s been popular with the players for the past several years. “All of the players saw their cards for the first time today, and they’ll go into 2007-08 Topps Basketball in September,” Eddy said.

Each player spent a lot of time signing autographs. For players like Oden and Durant, they’re already used to signing a lot in one period. For others, it’s a new experience.

“This is all new to me,” said Morris Almond, picked 25th overall by the Utah Jazz. “I have to work on my autograph, on my signature, to get something consistent. Coming from a small school … half the people didn’t know we had a team.”

A number of the rookies said they were familiar with the collectibles hobby. For Phoenix’s D.J. Strawberry, it may have something to do with the fact his father – former Mets and Yankees star Darryl Strawberry –graced a few cards in his day.

“I collected Michael Jordan and I was a big Magic (Johnson) fan,” Strawberry said besides collecting his dad’s cards.

“I collected Shaq and Penny Hardaway. I was a big Orlando Magic fan,” added Almond, who grew up in Georgia.

The third overall pick, Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks, said it was neat to see himself on a card. “When I was younger I used to collect baseball cards, so it’s cool to see yourself.”

It wasn’t just card company representatives who got to take in this year’s event. Also on hand was Travis Thompson from Seattle, who received a trip for two to the event as the winner of the consumer sweepstakes portion of the NBA’s Store Makeover contest. Thompson brought his son with him and both were enjoying getting basketballs signed by every rookie at the event.

“My son is a big NBA fan, so I entered the contest and said I would take him if we won,” Thompson said. “I got this trip, this experience, a year’s worth of cards and some signed balls and autographed pictures.”

Not only did the photo shoot go smoothly, but so did an appearance by two of the players at an area hobby shop. Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah signed autographs and met customers the night before the photo shoot at American Legends in Scarsdale, N.Y.

“The players were very friendly to all who came to see them,” said co-owner Donna Rubin. “They signed more than 250 autographs in just one hour. A smile never left Brewer’s face for the entire event, and Noah was great with the kids.”

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