17 Most Valuable 1970 Topps Basketball Cards
For the second year in a row, collectors were treated to another "tall boy" design when they tore through packs of 1970 Topps basketball cards.
And plenty of airbrushing and pastel colors, too...
There are 175 cards in the set overall printed across two series, with the premier headliner being the iconic Pete Maravich rookie card.
Several other key rookie cards and plenty of Hall of Famers make this set one of the favorites for many vintage basketball hobbyists.
And in this guide, I'll run through the fifteen most valuable.
Let's jump right in!
1970 Topps #123 Pete Marvich Rookie Card
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $18,000
One of the most dynamic and exciting two-guards of any era, future Hall-of Famer Pistol Pete Maravich was a square peg in a round hole during his rookie season in 1970-71.
After selecting him third overall out of LSU in the 1970 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Hawks rewarded the all-time NCAA Division I scorer with a $1.9 million salary.
That was big money for the time.
But, Maravich's contract left a sour taste in the mouths of several of his new Hawks teammates.
And so did his playground-indebted approach to the game.
Regardless, Maravich shined and used his explosive backcourt presence to boost the more traditional games of incumbent scoring guard Lou Hudson and star big man Walt Bellamy.
On the year, Maravich averaged 23.2 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game to earn a spot on the All-Rookie team.
The Hawks were not as impressive, though, as they stumbled to a 36-46 record and fell to the New York Knicks in five games in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Maravich goes down in history as one of the most exciting showmen the game has ever seen, and his rookie card continues to be the face of the set.
1970 Topps #75 Lew Alcindor
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $5,000
Lew Alcindor's historic run to the NBA Rookie of the Year award was the talk of the 1969-70 season, but it was his sophomore campaign in 1970-71 where the Milwaukee Bucks big man took a transcendent leap towards the Hall of Fame.
With the acquisition of All-Star point guard and future Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson, the Bucks pieced together one of the most dominant inside-out duos in NBA history.
With Robertson orchestrating the offense on the perimeter, Alcindor dominated down low, becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to post a 30-15 season with an NBA-best 31.7 points per game and 16 rebounds per contest.
He was also a behemoth on defense down low and earned a selection to the NBA's All-Defensive second team.
Thanks to Alcindor's post dominance and Robertson's explosiveness and veteran savvy, the Bucks finished with the best record in the NBA (66-16) and rattled off a then-NBA record 20 straight wins at one point.
The Bucks were even more lethal in the playoffs, winning 12 of 14 and 11 games by double digits en route to the franchise's first NBA title with a Finals sweep over the Baltimore Bullets.
Just one day after the team's title victory, Alcindor adopted the name by which most recognize him: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
1970 Topps #50 Wilt Chamberlain
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $4,000
After missing 70 regular-season games during the 1969-70 season with a ruptured tendon in his right knee, Wilt Chamberlain returned in time for the playoffs but saw his Lakers championship dreams crushed by Willis Reed in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.
For Chamberlain, then, the 1970-71 season was all about redemption.
With the addition of fellow future Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich in the Lakers' backcourt, Los Angeles finished 48-34 to capture a Pacific Division title and the Western Conference's number two seed behind the juggernaut Milwaukee Bucks.
At 34 years of age and coming off a career-threatening injury, Chamberlain wasn't the scoring machine of yesteryear but he still averaged over 20 points per game (20.7) for the 14th time in fourteen career seasons and a league-high 18.2 rebounds per contest.
After leading L.A. to a thrilling seven-game triumph over the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Semifinals, Chamberlain would face off against the Bucks and their young superstar Lew Alcindor in the next round.
Chamberlain went blow-for-blow with the much younger Alcindor, but the losses of teammates Elgin Baylor and Jerry West to injury weighed heavily on the team, and the Lakers bowed out in five.
1970 Topps #13 Pat Riley Rookie Card
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $3,000
Before becoming one of the greatest coaches in NBA history (and a darn good executive, too), Pat Riley was an athletic swingman who carved out a respectable niche as a journeyman role player over a nine-year career.
Riley's first stop with the San Diego Rockets ended after three years following the 1969-70 season when the team sold his rights to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The former Kentucky Wildcats standout logged the lowest minutes-per-game total of his career in 1970-71, seeing action for just 9.4 minutes per game with the star-laden Lakers.
He averaged just 4.9 points on a modest 41.3% shooting, tacking on per-game averages of 1.3 assists and one rebound.
However, the future Hall-of-Fame head coach played a vital role as a member of Los Angeles' "Pine Brothers," reserves known for their stoic demeanor during games and keeping the team's stars in shape during practices.
Their efforts helped Los Angeles weather the injury bug on the way to an appearance in the Western Conference Finals.
1970 Topps #2 NBA Scoring Average Leaders
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $2,250
During the 1969-70 season, Lew Alcindor led the league in total points scored with an incredible 2,361, Jerry West wasn't far behind with 2,309, and Elvin Hayes finished third with 2,256.
On a per-game basis, West led all three with a 31.2 scoring average, while Alcindor and Hayes turned in averages of 28.8 and 27.5, respectively.
Topps featured all three on the same "1969-70 Scoring Average Leaders" card to commemorate each player's accomplishment, resulting in a superstar card with strong eye appeal.
1970 Topps #100 Oscar Robertson
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $1,800
After spending over a decade in Cincinnati as the face of the Royals franchise, tensions between Oscar Robertson and the Royals' brass were high.
His relationship with head coach Bob Cousy was perhaps the most contentious, with many speculating that Cousy was jealous of Robertson and his superstar status.
It all ended in a bitter split before the 1970-71 campaign when the Royals traded their beloved point guard to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson.
Despite evident hard feelings, the future Hall-of-Famer thrived in Milwaukee as he averaged 19.4 points, 8.2 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Robertson earned the eleventh-straight All-Star selection and made the All-NBA second team for the second season in a row.
And after never reaching an NBA Finals with Cincinnati, he won the whole dang thing in Milwaukee on his first go-around.
1970 Topps #160 Jerry West
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $1,800
On March 3rd, 1971, the L.A. Lakers' injury luck during the 1970-71 NBA season went from bad to worse.
Just over three months prior, the team lost Elgin Baylor.
And during a late-season contest in Buffalo on March 3rd, they lost The Logo.
Jerry West put together another unparalleled season in 1970-71, averaging 26.9 points on 49.4% shooting, 9.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game.
He was the glue that held the Lakers together for most of their run to a Pacific Division title, and he earned his eighth All-NBA first-team nod and second-straight selection to the NBA's All-Defensive team in the process.
It all came to a screeching halt, though, during the second quarter of the Lakers' 131-118 victory over the Buffalo Braves when Buffalo's Emmette Bryant crashed into teammate Bob Kauffman, forcing him to fall on West.
In a manner of cruel happenstance, the Lakers' leader tore a ligament in his right knee during the collision and injured his MCL as well, ruling him out for the remainder of the season.
1970 Topps #10 John Havlicek
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $1,500
While the Boston Celtics' 44-38 record during the 1970-71 season didn't seem special on the surface, it was a significant improvement over their dismal 34-win the year before.
With a talented rookie center (Dave Cowens) and a young backcourt tandem (Don Chaney and JoJo White), the future looked brighter for Boston.
Still, much of the team's success resulted from the ironman efforts of future Hall-of-Fame small forward/swingman John Havlicek.
That season, Havlicek led the NBA with 45.4 minutes per game, the first of consecutive seasons in which he logged over 45 minutes per contest.
As Havlicek's minutes went up, so did his production, leading to career highs in points per game (28.9), assists per game (7.5), rebounds per game (9.0), and free throw attempts per game (8.4).
He was also as tenacious as ever on defense, locking down opposing guards on his way to being selected to the NBA's All-Defensive second team.
And though they finished three games out of a playoff spot, Boston had set the wheels in motion to return the franchise to its former glory.
1970 Topps #80 Len Wilkens
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $1,500
In his third year as a Seattle SuperSonic during the 1970-71 season, Lenny Wilkens made his third-straight All-Star appearance with the team.
Over the season, Wilkens averaged 19.8 points, 9.2 assists, and 4.5 points per game.
However, the team finished a disappointing 38-44, their fourth losing record in as many years as a franchise.
But, the team was steadily on the rise, and it was thanks in large part to not only Wilkens' play but his coaching, too.
After two seasons, the team had named Wilkens their head coach, giving him a chance to learn the ropes as a coach while also playing simultaneously.
That experience helped pave the way for a successful coaching career after his playing days were over.
Eventually, Wilkens would make the Hall of Fame three times: once as a player in 1989, later as a coach in 1998 and finally in 2010 as an assistant coach of the 1992 U.S. Men's Olympic "Dream Team" that easily won gold in Barcelona.
1970 Topps #140 Billy Cunningham
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $1,200
After bringing a couple of NBA Championships to the Sixers, once as a player and once as a coach, Billy Cunningham effectively established himself as a legend in Philadelphia.
As a member of the dominant 1966-67 Sixers team that featured Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Chet Walker, Cunningham averaged 15.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game throughout the 1967 playoffs to help the team capture the title.
Once Chamberlain left for the Lakers a couple of seasons later, Cunningham stepped up as the team leader and earned All-NBA First Team honors three years in a row from 1968 to 1970.
Upon retiring as a player, Cunningham briefly spent time as a broadcaster before returning to coach the Sixers in 1977.
As head coach of the Sixers, Cunningham enjoyed plenty of winning and even made a trip to three NBA Finals, of which he won one in 1983 with the help of Julius Erving and Moses Malone.
1970 Topps #86 Don Nelson
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $1,100
After a successful collegiate career as an Iowa Hawkeye, Don Nelson transitioned to professional basketball after the Chicago Zephyrs (Washington Wizards) drafted him seventeenth overall in the 1962 NBA Draft.
Nelson spent only one season in Chicago before the Lakers picked him up off waivers, where he played two seasons.
Later, he found a permanent home after signing with the Boston Celtics in 1965, with whom he'd spend the final eleven seasons of his playing career.
While in Boston, Nelson served primarily as a role player on some great teams that featured guys like Bill Russell, Sam Jones, KC Jones, and John Havlicek, to name a few, picking up five NBA Championship rings along the way.
However, most will remember Nelson for his days as a head coach, which began when he assumed the head coaching role of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1976 when Larry Costello.
In 31 seasons as a head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks, Nelson won the most regular-season games as a head coach with a 1,335 - 1,063 record.
1970 Topps #97 Norm Van Lier Rookie Card
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $900
Drafted in the third round of the 1969 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, "Stormin' Norman" Van Lier soon found himself unceremoniously traded to the Cincinnati Royals shortly after that.
The Bulls quickly had traders' remorse, especially after the season Van Lier put together in 1970-71.
In his sophomore campaign, Van Lier was electric as a defender, playmaker, and facilitator.
He was remarkable for an unremarkable 33-49 Royals squad, averaging a double-double with 16 points, 7.1 rebounds, and an NBA-best 10.1 assists per game.
Van Lier's tenacity on the boards and ability to guard three or four positions deep also earned him a nod for the NBA's All-Defensive team, the first of eight All-Defensive selections during his career.
Stormin' Norman's leap from year one to year two was a big one, and the franchise that drafted him was paying close attention.
Ten games into the 1971-72 season, the Bulls worked out a deal to reacquire their former draft pick.
He quickly became a fan favorite in the Second City, ending his career as one of the most beloved Bulls of the pre-Michael Jordan era.
1970 Topps #20 Earl Monroe
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $750
Earl "The Pearl" Monroe instantly made his presence felt when he captured the 1967-68 NBA Rookie of the Year Award after averaging 24.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game.
In his fourth and final year with the Baltimore Bullets in the 1970-71 season, Monroe continued to wow fans with his electric style of play and showmanship on his way to earning his second All-Star selection.
However, Monroe grew frustrated in Baltimore and demanded a trade after the season.
The team quickly accommodated him when they traded him to the Knicks just four games into the 1971-72 season.
While in New York, Monroe would pair up with Walt Frazier to form the "Rolls Royce Backcourt," one of the most potent guard combinations in the game's history.
1970 Topps #137 Calvin Murphy Rookie Card
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $700
The shortest player inducted into the Hall of Fame, Calvin Murphy's NBA career began when he was selected 18th by the San Diego Rockets in the second round of the 1970 NBA Draft.
At just five-foot-nine, Murphy had been the subject of doubts throughout his high school career and All-American days at Niagara University.
And, he silenced his naysayers yet again during his rookie campaign.
Murphy wowed the entire basketball world in 1970-71 with his unique combination of speed, lateral quickness, handles, dead-eye shooting skills, and vertical leaping ability.In just 24.6 minutes a game, Murphy averaged 15.8 points, 4.0 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per contest.
Murphy was named to the NBA's All-Rookie first team and cemented himself as a building block for a Rockets franchise on the move.
After finishing their fourth straight losing season at 40-42, the Rockets moved from San Diego to their current home in Houston.
They brought Murphy along with them, and he instantly became a fan favorite in his new home city.
1970 Topps #65 Elgin Baylor
Estimated PSA 9 Mint Value: $675
After missing 28 games due to recurring knee problems in 1969-70, future Hall-of-Fame small forward Elgin Baylor went into 1970-71 with hopes for better health and another All-Star season.
And just like that, it was all taken from him.
In the Los Angeles Lakers' second game of the 1970-71 season in Baltimore, Baylor tore his Achilles tendon,` sidelining him for the rest of the year.
Baylor worked hard during the rehabilitation process following surgery, publicly pronouncing that he was healthy and that he'd be ready to go for his age-37 season in 1971-72.
An eleven-time All-Star who was an All-NBA first-team selection on ten occasions, Baylor underwent extensive surgery on both knees in years prior. One surgery even left him without one-quarter of a knee.
Baylor's explosiveness diminished in his return from his Achilles injury in 1971, and the collective toll of his injuries was finally too much.
After playing just nine games in a reduced role, Baylor called it quits and joined the Lakers' office to work in scouting and public relations.
1970 Topps Basketball Cards In Review
Though the 1969 Topps set may overshadow it, the 1970 Topps set has plenty to offer to vintage basketball collectors.
The Maravich, Riley, Van Lier, and Murphy rookie cards pack plenty of firepower in the rookie card department.
And the long line of Hall of Famers led by Alcindor, Chamberlain, West, and Robertson keep things interesting as well.
Within the 175-card checklist, Topps also introduced subsets in a basketball card set for the first time, including:
- League Leaders (#1 - 6)
- All-Stars (#106 - 115)
- Lakers and Knicks Championship (#168 - 175)
This set isn't massive in scope but it certainly contains many great cards for vintage collectors to enjoy.