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Since they took the court in earnest in 2009, Panini basketball cards have become a huge part of the hobby landscape.

The truth is, though, the story of how a pair of brothers running a newspaper distribution office in Italy in 1960 eventually built the most prominent player in the hoops card market is a long and winding one, spanning decades — and continents!

And, even if Fanatics’ exclusive deal to make NBA cards brings this particular hardwood tale to a close, Panini’s influence in the industry will be felt for years to come.

Here, then, is a brief timeline of the events that led to the advent of Panini basketball cards and the general explosion of the hoops market in the 2010s … and beyond!

Timeline of Panini Basketball Cards

1960 – Benito and Giuseppe Panini redistribute soccer stickers that were made by a company in Milan, who were unable to find a market on their own. The Paninis, however, sold more than six million stickers.

1961 – Giuseppe founds Panini as a separate company to manufacture and distribute their own stickers.

1970 – Panini publishes their first Illustrated Guide to Italian Football, and also begins making trading cards and sticker albums for the FIFA World Cup, held in Mexico.

1981 – Panini manufacturers (in Italy) stickers and sticker albums featuring Major League Baseball players, to be distributed in the United States by Topps. Thanks to Topps’ licenses, Panini’s stickers feature MLB logos and a full complement of players. That fall, Topps and Panini also teamed up on a set of NFL stickers featuring pro American football players.

1981 – On their own, Panini issued a set of “Sport Superstars,” featuring top athletes from a variety of sports, including tennis, boxing, and international basketball leagues.

1987 – Panini features NBA players (including Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan) in their Spanish sports set.

1988 – After producing baseball and (American) football stickers for Topps for seven years in a row, Panini branches out out on their own, issuing baseball and football stickers under their label for the first time.

1988-89 – Panini makes their first standalone NBA sticker album and set.

January 2009 – Panini wins the exclusive contract to produce NBA basketball cards for the 2009-10 season. They will go on to hold those exclusive rights for nearly two decades.

March 2009 – Panini acquires Donruss Playoff LP, including the card-maker’s NFL and NFLPA licenses. They go on to produce several lines of football cards.

March 2009 – In conjunction with the Donruss acquisition, Panini Group becomes Panini America.

2010 – Panini lands NHL and NHLPA contracts and immediately joins Upper Deck in the hockey card market.

2014 – Panini lands a license with MLBPA to make cards picturing current major league players. They resurrect the Donruss brand of baseball cards, but with no MLB license, Panini is forced to remove all team logos from their images.

2014 – At the conclusion of the 2013-14 NHL season, Panini loses their NHL and NHLPA licenses, leaving Upper Deck as the sole maker of hockey cards.

August 2021 – After 12 years as the exclusive manufacturer of NBA basketball cards, Panini — like Topps in baseball and football — is blindsided by the announcement that Fanatics had gained the exclusive right to produce hoops cards beginning in 2026.

And that brings us to the present.

What happens next is still up in the air …

Will Panini basketball become just a hunk of cardboard on the scrapheap of hobby history?

Or, will Fanatics buy the brand and continue their NBA tradition, just like the upstart has done with Topps and baseball (and, presumably, football).

Time will tell, of course, but one thing’s for sure — Panini basketball cards were the only game in town for more than a decade at a time that saw unprecedented growth in the hobby.

And you just can’t brush that away.