NBA's O'Neal is exclusively on Classic until Jan.1


It seems that just when the NBA playoffs finally end, another season begins.

The Chicago Bulls were recrowned as champions in June. Then there was the draft.

Now it's time for the cards. (On the other hand, training camps open the first week in October, and the regular season begins Nov. 6.)

The big catch in the draft was Shaquille O'Neal, taken first overall by the Orlando Magic. He's a big catch for Classic Games, too. Classic signed O'Neal to an exclusive contract, so you won't find him in the Star Pics set. You won't find him on any other cards until Jan. 1, 1993.

Classic's contract was for exclusive rights to him on trading cards for calendar year 1992. But when O'Neal signed with Orlando last month, he came under the NBA's standard player contract. That obligates him to participate in all the NBA's card licensing agreements, and he signed early enough that all the card companies would be able to include him in their first series.

Classic objected -- its investment in O'Neal is rumored to be worth between $1 million and $2 million -- and a compromise was reached. Fleer, SkyBox International, Topps and Upper Deck agreed not to distribute O'Neal cards until Jan. 1.

"We believe an honest mistake was made," said Bill James, a vice president of NBA Properties, in a statement, "and through the cooperative efforts of our licensees . . . and Classic Games a difficult situation has been constructively resolved."

In the meantime, there are prospect cards to collect.

Classic scored a coup with all 54 draft picks in its 100-card set, including the only prospect cards of O'Neal, No. 2 pick Alonzo Mourning and No. 4 Jimmy Jackson. There are two subsets -- the top-10 draftees and a set featuring last year's top NBA rookies. The cards are fairly straightforward -- action shots on the front, stats, a scouting report and a vertical action shot (not as well as executed as Upper Deck's).

Star Pics counters with a 90-card set with 47 of the draftees and a chance to win lunch with an NBA rookie. For subsets, StarStats compare the stats of eight first-round picks with those of top NBA players, Kid Cards are childhood photos, Coach Cards feature Indiana's Bob Knight in his first national set and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and flashbacks is an all-star team. The set includes undrafted players. Card fronts have bright, tightly cropped action shots, while backs list players' college accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses and stats.

Upcoming events

Sept. 11-13, baseball card show, Towson Marketplace, Sept. 11-12, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sept. 13, noon to 5 p.m. (expected signers are Mike Devereaux and Jeff Tackett), (410) 837-0870 or (410) 837-7632.

Sept. 12, baseball card show to benefit Pasadena Chargers youth football team, Earleigh Heights Fire Hall (Ritchie Highway, Severna Park), 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (expected signer is Mike Devereaux), (410) 544-2077.

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