What results when video gamers, computer whizzes, and pro ballers mash up? The biggest thing in collectibles since Beanie Babies. NBA Top Shot is transforming the trading card industry with digital versions of collectible cards.
Folks over 45 probably remember the thrill of opening a pack of powdery, stale bubblegum in order to search for a desirable athlete’s trading card. Card-crazy kids opened many packs to find an important one—Mickey Mantle! Chipper Jones!—on a good day.
Canadian tech startup Dapper Labs has worked to re-create the rush of discovery with crypto sports cards, dubbed “moments.” The company’s NBA Top Shot platform allows sports buffs to buy, sell, and trade limited versions of officially licensed video highlights—which exist only as digital video bytes called “non-fungible tokens.” Purchased highlights enter a secure highlight wallet for permanent (until sold) bragging rights.
A collector buys multiple moments in “packs” just like real life. Clicking on each moment in a pack allows the buyer to see which events he or she scored. Most packs cost around $20, but some are below $10. The individual moments in the pack sell for anywhere from $2 each to hundreds or even thousands. The rarer a moment is, the more expensive it’s likely to be. The lower the card number is in a series, the more it could fetch on the market. And if a serial number happens to match the jersey number of the player featured? Ka-ching! Of course, the biggest moments—a LeBron James dunk recently went for $210,000—get the most attention.
Moments appear on screen as spinning, floating digital cubes. Each one features a video highlight of an NBA player—such as a dunk or an assist—shown from multiple camera angles. A sidebar onscreen gives the athlete’s stats and a brief bio.
Despite some early tech hiccups, response to Top Shot from fans has been overwhelming. Collectors bombard the website every time new packs drop. Fans worldwide set their alarms in the middle of the night to purchase. Videos of the flashy pack openings log tens of thousands of views on YouTube.
NBA players are getting in on the action too. “I’m not going to lie, it makes me feel like I’m a kid again,” Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross says. “At lunch, at school trading NBA cards—it’s fun.”
“This takes the traditional collectible into a modern, global era,” says Dapper Labs CEO Roham Gharegozlou. “No longer do you have to wait for a card to be graded [evaluated for quality], or delivered, or fear of forgeries.” And your expensive, rare moments never get dog-eared, water damaged, or tossed during spring cleaning.
After a year of playing games to empty arenas amid the pandemic, the NBA is ecstatic about the frenzy over Top Shot. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says, “I think we’re just scratching the surface on what the potential is for blockchain to completely transform the digital collectibles industry.”
How Does It Work?
Cryptocurrency (see The City That Blockchain Built) technology called blockchain makes the collectible crypto-cards possible. A blockchain is a digital ledger used to record data (often money transactions) in virtual “blocks.” Blockchain makes hacking difficult or even impossible. It also allows for permanent, undeletable, ownership records that cannot be copied.
What Are Non-Fungible Tokens?
Maybe you’ve heard of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Those currencies are all digital. They exist only as bits of data in a blockchain ledger. They can be traded in exchange for goods or services. That makes them “fungible,” or interchangeable.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are bits of data that are stored in a blockchain ledger too. But they cannot be used as currency. The NBA crypto-cards, certain digital pieces of artwork, or other purely digital commodities are being sold through the internet and stored in digital wallets or galleries for the pure enjoyment or status of owning them. Essentially, when one purchases an NFT, one is investing currency into the ownership of a bit of information.
Unlike an actual sports card or a framed painting, you’ll never hold your NFT in your hand or hang it on your wall. This seemingly futuristic way of collecting is rapidly growing in popularity. What do you think is the perceived value? Will the “coolness factor” wear off in time? Will anything ever fully replace the concrete, tangible possessions humanity has crafted and enjoyed for all of history?
Isaiah 55:2 asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” It goes on to offer a full relationship with God as the only thing that will ever satiate human longing.
Would you invest in NFTs? Why or why not? In this digital age, do you see value in information or creations that exist only online or in a blockchain system?