Collect your passion

In sixth grade, senior Stephen Chien discovered and opened his first pack of basketball cards. Inside, he found a childlike thrill that rekindled his passion for collecting and a card with one of his all-time favorite NBA players: Kobe Bryant. Perhaps it had been fate choosing that specific pack—in about six years, those five cards grew to a collection of over 5,000.

“At the time, I thought I hit gold because I got my favorite player, considering there were only five cards in the pack, and there’s roughly about 400 players in the NBA,” Chien said. “Turns out today, the card’s probably worth about a buck, but back then, that card was a signal for me to keep going.”

After the initial discovery, made while waiting in the checkout line at Target, Chien began researching different types of cards, following card accounts on YouTube and buying packs of all assortments. He bought regular packs that contain five cards, “rack packs” that contain around 40 and blaster boxes, which contain eight to ten retail packs.

“I started buying hobby and cheap retail boxes and packs online and would save everything I bought to open on Christmas for one big feast. Boxes were so fun to break because I never knew what I was going to pull out of them,” Chien said.

Research brought Chien to Frank and Sons, a collectibles show opened for vendors and avid collectors of anything from action figures to sports and movie memorabilia. There, he met different vendors who taught him how to bargain and identify valuable cards.

For Chien, persistence and long-term investment is required for collecting, but so is a knack for bargaining and knowing his cards.

“I learned the value of memorabilia cards, such as cards that contain game-used apparel like patches, jerseys, logo mans and  autographed cards,” Chien said. “Plus, buying singles from vendors was also fun, and they gave me good deals because most people that were interested in cards were usually older, and I was this little kid.”

Even now, Chien continues to develop new experiences and stories at expositions and on frequent trips to Frank and Sons. From purchasing a high end autographed Sam Perkins card from Ultimate Collection for a ‘steal’—which he later discovered was damaged—to taking a stack of valuable sports cards off a clueless old lady for two dollars, every one of Chien’s 5,000 cards tells a story.

“There is so much I learned from this hobby, like the difference between hobby and retail sellers, communication—mainly negotiation—skills, and determining the value of cards. I like that [with this hobby], there’s always a chance of learning something that you probably wouldn’t have ever learned,” Chien said. “It’s great to look back at my collection and say, ‘Wow, this is what I’ve earned.’”

Currently, he continues to go to hobby stores on most Saturdays in order to find good deals on valuable or rare basketball cards. Looking to the future, Chien has even carved out time after retirement to open a hobby shop in which he will sell all kinds of collectables.

“I was hooked from a young age with collecting stuff. Collecting has been part of my lifestyle for a long time, and I don’t think that’s going to change soon,” Chien said. 

By Angela Zhang, Staff writer
Photo by Sajid Iqbal