What Was There and What Did You Get?
If you attended the 42nd edition of the National Sports Collectors Convention in Atlantic City, then you’re probably still dealing with sore feet.
I found myself soaking those dogs a day after walking the showroom floor for seven straight hours. My feet did hurt for a day – but you couldn’t take the smile off my face for days.
In 2020, my plan had been to attend my first National, scheduled to take place that summer in Atlantic City. COVID-19 upended the planet. The event, like everything else, was canceled.
Two years later, I got my chance to attend the NSCC, albeit for a day (on the Friday) following a three-hour bus ride from New York City. I finally got the chance to take in all the buzz and enthusiasm that comes with such a massive show. Aisle after aisle lined with tables made it disorienting at times. I couldn’t even find the exit at one point!
There was plenty of buzz and enthusiasm. Indeed, from July 27-31, all hobby eyes were fixated on the coastal New Jersey resort famous for its casinos. In a summer where I attended both the Toronto Sport Card Expo and Chicago Sports Spectacular, I was truly in awe of the National’s size (750 exhibitors spread out across 460,000 square feet!) and variety of collectables inside the Atlantic City Convention Center. It also seemed as if nearly every breaker and YouTuber was at the show.
I got to see a SCG 9.5 Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card, a bat used by Babe Ruth and a game-worn autographed Lionel Messi jersey. While the cards, autographs, ticket stubs and pennants for sale at the National was the big draw, it’s also the chance to meet up with friends, talk about the hobby and get away from the realities of everyday life.
In addition to hockey, I collect baseball and soccer cards. In that regard, the show did not disappoint – although hockey typically gets the short end of the stick at the five-day show.
Here’s my recap of this year’s National.
What Was There?
The NSCC was overwhelming. Even large regional shows pale in comparison to the National’s size and number of exhibitors.I had been told there would only be a few booths that sold hockey. There was more hockey, much of it vintage, than I had expected going into the show. The dealers selling hockey generally had crowded aisles – but mostly devoid of the young men swinging Pelican cases trying to sell Prizm basketball cards. Hockey dealers had a good mix, ranging from 1960s Gordie Howe cards to Sidney Crosby’s 2005 Young Guns. Our very own Sal Barry at his “Puck Junk” booth – he always has great stuff! – was busy every time I looked.
Both ends of the showroom floor had a corporate vibe, something I could have done without since I’m not into waiting in line for hours to get free packs. They included Topps, Beckett, Panini, Heritage Auctions and Upper Deck. Fanatics (it was also their first National since purchasing Topps) had a massive space and featured four giant screens, proof of their dominance in the hobby. The Upper Deck booth was also big and highlighted by Connor McDavid and Wayne Gretzky memorabilia. It was fun to gawk at these museum-style exhibits, but few can afford any of it.
There were five hockey legends signing at the TriStar Autograph Pavilion. Jaromir Jagr, who I had seen at the Expo, made his first appearance at the National. There was also Bobby Hull, who makes frequent trips to shows, and past local stars like New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, New York Islanders captain Denis Potvin and goaltender Bernie Parent, who spent a good chunk of his career with the Philadelphia Flyers.
And What Wasn’t?
If you can’t find it at the National, then it doesn’t exist. That’s something you hear people say often. For the most part, it’s true.
Overall, there was more vintage baseball than I had expected, a sign that modern basketball and football have cooled considerably since last year. There was also fewer 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookies (and Jordan cards in general in showcases) or soccer and Formula One that I had typically seen at shows over the last year. Again, it could be a trend that’s waning.When it comes to hockey cards, there was plenty on my wish-list I didn’t see. I expected more McDavid Young Guns and other cards of the Edmonton Oilers star released in his rookie year. For that, and much more related to hockey, I would recommend a trip to Toronto for the Sport Card Expo.
Another thing missing was decent Wi-Fi and cellphone service, making it nearly impossible for vendors to make credit-card transactions and for collectors to search past sales. It also made it impossible to text people you were looking to meet. Lastly, I only saw a few people wearing masks, a sign people are increasingly comfortable being in public settings.
What Did You Get?
Many took advantage of the proximity to attend the National. It allowed for those of us who took the bus home to talk about the show and what we purchased.
I generally don’t by unopened wax at shows, but the prices were low for many recent releases that it was hard to pass up. I bought two 2021-22 Upper Deck Series 2 blaster box for $18 each, which is cheaper than Target. It also gave me something to open while I was grabbing lunch at the show. I pulled a Quinton Byfield Young Guns card to go along with my hot dog and soda. I can’t complain.I also bought three Hall of Famers who are pictured on a Young Guns card. All are from the 1999-00 season: goaltender Roberto Luongo and of the Sedin brothers, Daniel and Henrik, both of them in Sweden uniforms.
I was pleased with my purchases. What did you get?
Clemente Lisi is a lifelong Rangers fan who first started collecting cards in 1986. He collects both vintage and modern with a focus on rookie cards. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.