NBA Top Shot: An explainer for Pinoy NBA fans

Published May 11, 2021, 3:00 PMChuck Araneta

Everything you need to know about the NBA digital collectible craze as explained by members of the NBA Top Shot Philippines community.

On a random Tuesday before the break of dawn, Marvin Li couldn’t sleep. An FX trader by day, he discovered an entirely new world that consumed him and boxed him out from precious hours of sleep. “For 14 days I would stay an extra 10 hours either on the platform or studying it,” Marvin said. “The first two weeks, I probably lost 8-9 pounds because there were days I couldn’t sleep because of research. I would watch the price action and see if I could move the market.”

“We would get calls at 6 AM, from Marvin,” said Bacon Austria, former PBA player and a friend of Marvin. “It would be a missed call so of course I would think they were serious.”

It would turn out that Marvin was okay. Actually, more than okay. Those late and sleepless nights were all part of his introduction to NBA Top Shot. And for many other people, they have similar origin stories. What started out as a neat little companion to NBA games turned out to be a revolution. It’s completely changing the way we look at collectibles.

For those still in the dark about Top Shot, it was created by a group called Dapper Labs that specializes in blockchain technology. A blockchain is essentially a system that stores transactional records ("block") in several databases (“chain”) in a network. The beta was opened to the public in October 2020. It’s a virtual platform where users can buy, trade, gift, or sell real moments from NBA history. Whether it’s a thunderous dunk from LeBron James, a nifty pass from Luka Doncic, or a game-winner from rookie Cole Anthony, most of the best highlights of the season have now been cemented as Moments, which can be acquired in several ways.

The first and simplest way is to buy them on the Marketplace within the NBA Top Shot website. Users can put their Moments up for sale and price them however they want. The other way to acquire Moments is by trying your luck and queuing up to purchase Packs, which drop during preselected times on the platform. Due to the number of users now battling for these precious Packs, the order is randomized, and only those fortunate enough to get a low enough queue number – depending on the number of Packs available – will be able to buy.

NBA Top Shot, in the words of sportswriter and NBA Bad Shot podcast co-host Dijo Songco, is the unique intersection of two seemingly different paths. “It’s like NBA cards and the stock market combined,” he said.

Miggy Azurin, who manages a marketing agency, took it one step further. “Top Shot for me is like NBA cards fused with blockchain technology, fused with the social media generation. If you observe the trends, everything is moving towards digital. It’s rare that from digital, you go to physical changes. It’s mostly going online in the cloud,” he said.

“Imagine Top Shot as a marriage of multiple fascinating traditions: an NBA version of the stock market, the long-standing culture of card collecting (but with a twist), and the advancements of modern technology” says Naveen Ganglani, a sportswriter, host, and passionate Top Shot advocate. “Now add a positive, radiant, and friendly community to that equation, plus a growing loyal media following. Top Shot utilizes the fetishes of different groups – with possibly even more to come – and effectively puts them together in a platform built on the potential of 21st century gadgets, currency, and profits.”

An example of a sold-out NBA Top Shot Pack containing six Moments

This is the first foray of the NBA in blockchain, particularly in Non-Fungible Tokens or more commonly known as NFTs. What that means is that if you are fortunate enough to get one of only 100 Moments made of a LeBron James game-winner, you will never lose that particular distinction. That makes it very appealing to collectors on Top Shot because they know that these NFTs will always be around, even if they are moving from user to user.

NBA Top Shot is now entering the mainstream. An article from Business Insider has put Top Shot’s user base at over 800,000 and with sales up north of 50 Million USD. NBA players sharing their favorites from their collection, and the hashtag #NBATopShotThis is starting to enter the lexicon of basketball nerds on Twitter. But early on, that wasn’t the case. For Jan Jeric Santos, a YouTuber who regularly posts Top Shot content on his Youtube channel, many of the early adopters took on a wait-and-see approach.

“When I signed up, it was only after a week that I had my first purchase,” Jeric shared. “I was just monitoring it to see what would happen. After a week, a Moment I had kept rising.” 

“My girlfriend, who is a non-NBA fan, was the one who told me about Top Shot around mid-January,” Miggy shared. “I took a look and thought it was a fun concept. It only occurred to me around mid-February that Top Shot wouldn’t be able to do that if they didn’t have an exclusive license with the NBA. And true enough, I did my research, it was and that’s what sold me into it. I wasn’t sold so much on the investment. What resonated with me was the ambition to be the currency of NBA fandom.”

“I heard about Top Shot from an old high school friend and came across it on social media when a user talked about making profit on a highlight of a Tyler Herro jumpshot,” Naveen shared. “Intrigued enough, I checked it out and the platform was easy to immediately comprehend because of the website’s tutorial videos. On social media and the web, there are multiple sources of important information about Top Shot that undoubtedly makes it easier to understand it in deep detail.”

Those who get Top Shot, “get it.” But that’s not necessarily the case for old heads, those who can’t understand the appeal of the platform. “The problem with Top Shot that a lot of people ask me is ‘can’t you just see those highlights online or on YouTube?’” Bacon said.  “But knowing that there is an investment side to this, I saw prices rising and that you can sell, I felt it was a good investment. And it was the NBA, so I thought it was easier.”

It’s clear that the partnership with the NBA is at the heart of what has made Top Shot so appealing. Explain the different types of cryptocurrency to someone completely new to that world, and you’ll most likely be met with blank stares. But explain to them that your crypto will be in the form of a Ja Morant poster that you can add to your collection, and suddenly the lines are blurred.

A Jordan Clarkson layup and a Giannis Antetokounmpo block turned into Moments #NBATopShotThis

As Top Shot continues to expand in media attention and in scope, there will definitely be more people eager to enter the space. For those that are not on the platform yet, the biggest question that needs an answer is this: “Is Top Shot for me?” Only you can answer that question. But here are some pieces of advice from those who have been digging deep into the world of TS:

Jeric’s biggest piece of advice is a very basic but crucial one: at the heart of Top Shot is the NBA. So being knowledgeable about the NBA players is absolutely crucial. “You have to be smart with your money. Not all people in Top Shot knows about the NBA, so they keep asking who’s a good player in the NBA. It’s difficult to rely on other people. For me, you have to do your research. At the end of the day, it’s an NBA product.”

“If you join Top Shot, remember that what you’re willing to invest must be resources you’re willing to lose,” Naveen adds. To be a little specific: invest money that you wouldn’t lose sleep at night over. Once you’re in it and if ever in doubt, hold long term. Instead of asking, ‘how much can I make from this in 3 months?’ ask yourself, ‘how much can I make from this in 3 years?’ Play the long game. Be patient. Most importantly, go in with the mindset that you want to have fun by collecting the best Moments of the best basketball league in the world.”

Marvin argues for sensible and rational decision making, particularly because hard-earned money is on the line. “Before putting in money, have a realistic assessment of what your goal is in Top Shot,” he says. “Is it to make money or to collect? Because it’s difficult to mix. And don’t be impulsive. Assess all your decisions. My biggest mistakes were all done out of impulse without researching and analyzing my decisions. Only put in money you can afford not to use or loan. Be responsible and mindful of your decisions.”

Marvin, together with Dijo and Bacon, has done the work in fostering the Top Shot community in the country whether through their podcast or as admin of the NBA Top Shot Philippines page on Facebook. All these were done with the intent of helping grow the hobby in the Philippines. 

“Don’t be hesitant to ask for advice and help from people in the community or from people who were there first on the platform,” Bacon says. 

“And try to have fun,” Dijo adds. “It’s stressful because you’re dealing with money, but at the end of the day, we have to admit it’s a pretty cool platform and we’re having fun. At the end of the day, try not to lose that. That can be your North Star that you’re looking at and making sure that you’re on the right path when it comes to platform or trading style.”