You’ve no doubt heard of cryptocurrency, but what about crypto collectables? NBA Top Shot, an online marketplace where users can exchange highlight clips called “moments,” is all the rage right now. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who detailed the craze in a new episode of the ESPN Daily podcast hosted by Pablo Torre, NBA Top Shot now boasts over 66,000 users with total transactions nearing $80 million ($78.5 million, to be exact).
“When I started doing this story about two and a half weeks ago, that number was closer to $50 million and about 40,000 users,” said Windhorst, noting the platform’s remarkable growth. After living through last month’s unprecedented GameStop short squeeze, nothing in the chaotic world of global economics is ever out of the realm of possibility. But from an outsider’s perspective, you can understand why many would see this phenomenon as strange. Some of the more coveted offerings available on Top Shot, including a Zion Williamson highlight recently purchased by DFS (daily fantasy sports) pioneer Jeremy Levine, can fetch up to $100,000.
“This dunk from Zion, that I would have to pay six figures to get on NBA Top Shot, I can also just watch that on YouTube for free,” said Torre, marveling at the price Levine and others are paying for digital memorabilia. “I could watch it on TV. I could watch it on my phone. I can get it as an animated GIF, all for the grand total of $0.00.”
You could try your luck with a generic trading pack (that will run you $9-14), hoping your set contains a rare Trae Young crossover or the holy grail of Top Shots, Tyler Herro’s iconic snarl after schooling Rajon Rondo on a layup in last year’s Finals. But rather than chancing it with a $10 spin of the roulette wheel, serious collectors tend to gravitate toward the bigger ticket items.
“There may only be 25 or 50 or 200 of a certain thing, and those are very hard to get, much like the market for limited releases of sneakers,” said Windhorst, describing the adrenaline rush of a Top Shot bidding war. “You have to get it at the exact right time and hope your mouse clicks through.”
Fickle as the fluctuating crypto space may be, Windhorst says the NBA—with entrepreneurial Mavericks owner Mark Cuban leading the charge—is embracing it. “The NBA discovered about three years ago that blockchain was an emerging market that they needed to get involved in,” said Windhorst. “Who knows how far this bucket goes. There’s a possibility that someday the NBA itself may have its own currency that you would buy tickets with, popcorn and beer at the arena, wager on the game and maybe buy NBA Top Shots in this currency.”
Before Canadian studio Dapper Labs struck up its current partnership with the NBA, the fledgling company first cut its teeth with CryptoKitties, which were, at one point, in such high demand that it caused Ethereum’s network to crash. Unfortunately, CryptoKitty transactions have slowed considerably in recent years with many dismissing the virtual pet movement as a passing fad similar to Beanie Babies in the 1990s. The decline of CryptoKitties has some fearing Top Shot’s success may be similarly short-lived. “Like Beanie Babies, [CryptoKitties] were a hot fad that died out within a year or so,” said Windhorst. “That is a concern for Top Shot.”
Will Top Shot replace physical trading cards as the new gold standard in sports memorabilia or will it go the way of other, fleeting fads like Chia pets and NSYNC? Time will tell.