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Parallel Rookie Cards – Helping or Hurting the Hobby?

I want us to look at parallel cards. Even more specifically, parallel rookie cards. Are they helping or hurting the hobby? This type of article is right in the wheelhouse of what this website is all about. We look at the past and present-day status of the rookie card, all in an effort to better understand this hobby icon.

I believe parallel cards are a variant or a copy of the original. Standards set by hobbyists and hobby publications back in the early 1990s declared that parallel rookie cards can not and should not be considered “true” rookie cards. 

Now whether you love parallels or hate them, I want us to lay aside our feelings for just a moment as we look at parallel rookie cards logically. 

The Growing Problem of Parallel Rookie Cards

Let me begin by stating a disclaimer, I am not some old dude who dislikes parallel cards. On the contrary, I’m a young 50, and I don’t look a day older than 35. I enjoy parallels and have plenty of them in my collection.

However, parallel cards are one of the primary genres that cause uncertainty and frustration within the hobby.

Something else that parallels do. I watched a YouTube video a year or so ago where the guy was opening up a blaster box of 2018 Select basketball. He pulls a Luka base rookie card! He’s excited and proceeds to open the other packs.

During his box recap towards the end of the video, he makes a statement that caught my attention. He said, “here’s the Luka Doncic rookie card to bad it doesn’t have any color.”

Now it’s not what he said but how he said it. You see, there was a tone of disappointment in his voice where he wished the Luka would’ve had some color to it.

You see, he wasn’t happy about pulling the main card in the set. He was dissatisfied that it wasn’t a parallel rookie card.

So let’s zoom out and take a closer look at a growing problem with parallel rookie cards.

  • Exhibit A: 1996-97 Kobe Bryant has 16 true rookie cards and 13 parallels.
  • Exhibit B: 2003-04 LeBron James has 63 true rookie cards and 88 parallels.
  • And Exhibit C: 2018-19 Luka Doncic has 28 true rookie cards and 286 parallels!

Did you notice the number of parallels produced over the years? So looking at this logically, I see four things we need to realize about parallel rookie cards.

You can watch the YouTube video I created for this article here: 4 Realities of Parallel Rookie Cards

Reality #1 – Parallel rookie cards have been an issue for many years

Parallels first appeared in baseball during the mid-80s. Factory sets like Topps Tiffany or Fleer Glossy, which by the way, were never given the RC identifier. Why? Because they were parallels.

Then in the early 90s, it was Topps Gold parallels, and by 1993 Upper Deck pushed the envelope with a bronze, silver, and gold version.

So what’s the problem? That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked it. The problem is the hobby decided years ago that parallels are not true rookie cards!

Now I understand the hobby completely has evolved. It’s different now, and that’s a great point. However, here’s another great point, all things within the hobby are allowable, but not all things are beneficial.

Parallel cards remind me of an anglerfish. This is the fish that dangles a bioluminescent lure from its forehead. The tip of this lure lights up and attracts other fish into becoming dinner.

It reminds me of the movie Finding Nemo. In this classic Pixar movie Dory the Adorable Amnesiac and Marlin, the Worrywart are lost in the deep sea and come across an anglerfish.

They are instantly drawn by the bioluminescent light and are captivated by the shine. They’re literally put into this hypnotized state of desire. You see, as collectors, we too are drawn into the shine, the prettiness of it all.

I strongly feel that the card manufacturers capitalized on this parallel movement and have given us all we can eat.

They’ve shoved them down our throats like they did with the jersey cards, which leads to my second point.

Reality #2 – There are too many parallels

Let me ask you this, hypothetically speaking, inside the PSA backlog, which has been assessed at 10 million cards, how many do you think are parallel rookie cards?

Some think that it’s a waste of time and money to send in $5 cards. But some of those can bring significant gains. Many of them are needed for set registries.

But I don’t believe the problem is with cards valued under $5. The hobby has been submitting these cards for decades, and we’ve never had these issues before.

I believe the problem is in the number of parallel cards being submitted.

Let’s utilize some stats and facts, shall we? I’m looking at the parallel cards of 2019-20 Prizm basketball:

  • Silver Prizm
  • Blue Shimmers
  • Blue, Yellow, and Green Prizm
  • Fast Break
  • Green
  • Green Ice
  • Hyper Prizm
  • Orange Ice
  • Pink Ice
  • Purple Wave
  • Red Ice
  • Red, White, and Blue Prizm
  • Ruby Wave
  • Tiger Stripe Choice
  • White Sparkles
  • Red Prizm
  • Blue Prizm

I’m stopping for just a moment here to let you know that I’m showing you this list because I want you to physically see how ridiculous this parallel situation is. Let’s proceed.

  • Blue Fast Break Prizm
  • Purple Ice Prizm
  • Red Fast Break
  • Blue Ice Prizm
  • Red Choice Prizm
  • Purple Fast Break
  • Purple Prizm
  • Pink Fast Break
  • Orange Prizm
  • Pink Pulsar
  • Purple Pulsar
  • Green Pulsar
  • Green Shimmer
  • Mojo Prizm
  • Bronze Fast Break
  • Gold Prizm
  • Gold Shimmer
  • Green Choice
  • Black Gold
  • Neon Green Fast Break
  • Black Prizm 1/1
  • Black Shimmer 1/1
  • Nebula Choice Prizm 1/1

What’s Really Going On Here?

2019-2020 Prizm Basketball – 40 Parallel cards

Its cousin the 2019-2020 Optic Basketball – 36 Parallel cards

2019-2020 Select Basketball – 19 Parallel Cards

This is why in my opinion, grading companies can’t keep up with demand.

There are 95 total parallels in 3 products, staggering numbers. Panini released a total of 39 NBA products in 2019-2020.

Can you imagine the number of parallels? I would guess 300-400 parallels. And my beloved hobby is telling me that these are all rookie cards.

Keep an eye open for how Panini utilizes parallel cards with the new QB Phenom Trevor Laurence entering the league.

Card manufacturers take advantage when there’s a prospect of this caliber, there’s a tendency to release 10x the amount of product, and parallels will be a part of the strategy.

Adding to the fire is trying to ID these things. Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between blue, purple, or red and pink.

I go to card shows and see display case after display case full of Ja and Zion parallels every color you can imagine. It looks like a display of skittles! Lol!

It’s a lot easier for me to embrace the long-standing refractors because these have stood the test of time. We can even include their cousins, the Silvers and Holos, but anything past that, my goodness. REALLY!

I understand the principles of scarcity, but because there are so many, I lose interest. Not only that, it’s manufactured scarcity which Segway’s nicely into my next point.

Reality #3 – Parallels is the vehicle used for higher production runs

I wouldn’t call them mass-produced like in the junk wax era, but logically speaking, I would say that there is this saturation or superabundance of parallel rookie cards.

Let’s look at the ever-popular 2018 Prizm Luka Doncic RC #280. PSA Population report shows:

  • 29,592 base rookies have been graded.
  • 11,340 parallels have been graded too.
  • 40,932 total

How many more are sitting in the 10 million card backlog waiting to get graded?

To bottom line this point, parallels are what allow the print runs to go much higher. It’s a strategy to get more cards printed. 

But I get it they’re just trying to meet demand. This is one logical way of doing that and keeps people interested.

They are trying to create value in every box of cards, so they do it via parallel cards.

A logical solution? We’ll talk about that in just a minute.

The gimmick here is to change the color, maybe a slight design element, stamp it with a serial number, and this saves money.

Buying memorabilia or flying an employee all over the country to supervise signings cost too much money. The profit gained by using more parallels is huge for card manufacturers.

Reality #4 – Parallel rookie cards have diluted the values of base rookie cards

This is perhaps the biggest heartburn in all this for me personally. True base rookie cards are not beloved like they once were because the attention is given to the parallels. They’re mocked by the flip/investors like less than or not worthy.

It’s to the point where they’re just a necessary evil per se because you can’t have a parallel without the base. Currently, the base rookie card is utilized as trade bait or as a bonus baby to close out a big deal. 

But for the true collector, when you have 1 product with 40 parallels, it equates to a watered-down product. It’s cool when you first get them, but in time they quickly lose their appeal.

My Personal View of Parallel Rookie Cards

Resembling the comic book variant covers in a lot of ways. My personal view on the whole parallel thing is they are a variant. They are a copy of the original.

We’ve gone so far in the opposite direction that it’s alarming to me. I understand that everyone loves their parallel rookie cards, especially the serial numbered ones.

Personally, I do not consider them to be true rookie cards. But in an atmosphere of flipping and investing, that’s insanity! Nobody wants to hear that, and perhaps even fewer will agree with that.

But looking at the hobby historically, I still don’t view parallel cards as true rookie cards. In fact, after you read this article check out my other article The History of the Rookie Card.

Now, are they beautiful cards? Absolutely! Are they collectible? Yes, I own many. Are they valuable? The market says yes. 

But as far as them having a true rookie card designation in my collection, it’s not going to happen. 

A Viable Solution to Parallels

Viable solutions? To the new and returning collectors, I would say, do your homework. Understand fully what you’re looking at or getting ready to purchase. 

Some parallel cards are deceiving because they may appear to have value, but the monetary value is not there when you look them up in the secondary market.

To the experienced collector, I would say it’s up to us. We speak loudest with our purchases. Zoom out on this parallel thing and at the very least consider that it has the potential to harm our hobby.

To the manufacturers, I say, CMON MAN! I have a hunch that the higher-ups at these companies are a bit older in age. You know these parallels are not rookie cards.

I say let’s preserve and protect the true rookie card. We do that by calling them what they are instead of what we want them to be. These are Parallel Rookie Cards, and they should be identified and branded that way.

When it comes to parallels, at times, am I uncertain about what I’m looking at? Yes. Do I think it’s an overdone design concept that is muddying the waters of our beloved rookie card? Unfortunately, yes to that too!

This is just some honest hobby talk. Hobby happenings, market caps, bubbles, and top 5 players you can get that anywhere else. Here, once in a while, I just like to keep it real. 

Let’s get to some core issues. Let’s stop looking at monetary values and all the surface issues. Let’s look at the fruit and follow it to the root. Here is where you’ll find what’s really going on.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.