Card collecting booms in pandemic

Alistair Banks shows off two of his autographed Kevin Garnett trading cards. PHOTO: MALIA BANKS
Alistair Banks shows off two of his autographed Kevin Garnett trading cards. PHOTO: MALIA BANKS
By day, he is a mild-mannered, extremely tall primary school teacher, husband and father of four.

But catch him after dark and you are liable to find Alistair Banks with a fierce look on his face, hunched over a computer screen, scouring the internet for obscure cards, preferably another for his Kevin Garnett collection.

Banks, of Central Otago, is a passionate collector of basketball trading cards and an observer of a market he says has gone ‘‘ballistic’’ in recent years.

His particular interest is cards celebrating the career of Garnett, the 15-time NBA All-Star who had a glittering career with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics.

But he doesn’t just want Garnett cards — that would be far too simple.

‘‘It’s probably quite quirky, what I do. I became quite niche.

‘‘Basically the market was flooded with serially numbered cards. There were so many cards coming out, and I couldn’t collect every Kevin Garnett card.

Garnett looks on during one of his final games for the Minnesota Timberwolves. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Garnett looks on during one of his final games for the Minnesota Timberwolves. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
‘‘So I decided to collect cards that were numbered with his jersey number — 21. I chased every card that was No 21 of 100, or No 21 of 21, even.

‘‘It kept me quite organised and on a budget. I’d get 25 cards a year and that was it.

‘‘It was fun chasing them — like a gold mine when one popped up.’’

Banks now has about 380 serially numbered Garnett cards.

‘‘I could have picked a random player. But I ended up with a guy who became a Hall of Famer, who played for 21 years, and who still has a bit of a presence.

‘‘I hit the jackpot, really. But it was never about money — it was for fun — and I don’t sell any of the cards.’’

Banks got into the hobby while studying at teachers’ college in Dunedin in the early 1990s.

He had just developed an interest in the NBA but had not considered collecting the cards until a random visit to a local business.

‘‘I just remember going into a shoe store, of all places. They had a box of Upper Deck basketball cards.

‘‘I bought a couple, and got a Michael Jordan card. It was called ‘Skylights’, and it had a photo of Jordan flying in for a dunk with a Chicago skyline in the background.

‘‘It just looked awesome. And even the other cards in the pack looked pretty cool.

‘‘I got hooked fairly quickly, and I kept going back to the store. Never to buy shoes, always just a couple of packs of cards.’’

Like others getting into the hobby, he became a regular visitor to the former Card Crazy shop in George St.

He started collecting Larry Johnson (Hornets/Knicks) cards, and remembers pulling a first-day card of Seattle Supersonics star Shawn Kemp.

‘‘You could get price guides, and I saw it was worth $US40, and I thought that was unbelievably cool.

‘‘Then the internet started to explode, and it was easy to go on eBay every day, looking for cards I needed.

‘‘They started creating cards that were serially numbered. So instead of buying packs in boxes, I’d go on eBay and buy single cards.’’

Banks got married — his wife ‘‘put up’’ with his hobby, he joked — and went overseas, and put his collecting on hold when children arrived.

When he returned to New Zealand, the hobby had fallen away here but had exploded in the US.

‘‘It was all about high-end cards. Instead of buying a pack for $5, you could buy a box for $1500.

‘‘Autographed cards were flooding the market, and serially numbered cards, so I decided to get back into it.

‘‘I found a guy in America who was basically the world’s biggest Larry Johnson collector. We spent probably two months sorting a big deal — I sent him 15 cards and he sent me a box of cards.

‘‘We became very good friends. He’s come over to New Zealand and we still chat regularly.’’

Banks said card collecting was a good distraction from the pressures of work and life in a pandemic.

It was a chance for him to de-stress, and it had also been good for meeting like-minded souls from around the globe.

‘‘I’ve probably done deals with people from 50 different countries. Guam would be the most exotic. But all over Europe, and it’s a massive hobby in Asia and America now.’’

The card collecting market had boomed during the pandemic, he said, and was also bigger than ever in New Zealand.

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