Fleer Metal cards hold a special place in my heart.
It’s difficult to explain properly to non-collectors why this bizarre set of heavy-foil, industrial-themed basketball cards distributed by Fleer in the ‘90s was so important to me, or why I hoarded them like one day they’d warm my family as we huddled against the unending nuclear winter.
Turns out, Fleer Metal cards were for unstable people and nerd-children like myself who didn't ask questions when presented with Penny Hardaway dunking in the ruins of an ancient alien civilization.
With that said, the following are the 25 most absurd designs put out by Fleer during the Metal collection’s brief and bizarre run. I've also given each card a "Metal-ness Rating" assessing just how metal it is.
Because David Robinson being groped by long-fingered automatons might not make sense, but it is, indeed, metal as hell.
Shawn Kemp 1995-96 "Base Metal"
Once again, Shawn Kemp finds himself dreaming that dream where there’s three seconds left on the clock and everyone’s face is made of custard and Instagram-quality sun dresses.
Metal-ness Rating: Plate tectonics if Earth’s mantle were made of Oreo.
Charles Barkley 1996-97 "Power Tools"
Fleer Metal’s Power Tools scheme struck a unique balance between “industrial grit” and “AClockwork Orange.”
Fleer Metal Jason Kidd subsists on a steady diet of Brahmin and irradiated mole rats.
Metal-ness Rating: TV on the radio.
Gary Payton 1996-96 "Slick Silver"
Fleer Metal's "Slick Silver" series was less of an homage to motion than a naked attempt to cash in on the popularity of the poster artwork for Multiplicity—the movie you walked past most while cruising your local Blockbuster.
Metal-ness Rating: Getting the last copy of Jurassic Park in the new release section.
Grant Hill 1995-96 "Molten Metal"
Another strong Fleer Metal offering that crossed basketball with the non-canonical universe of Ender’s Game.
Metal-ness Rating: Figuring out the whole thing wasn’t a game.
Shaquille O’Neal 1996-97 "NET-RAGEOUS"
The Fleer Metal “NET-RAGEOUS” collection stood out from the rank-and-file card for its outrageousness holographic Fruit Roll-Up aesthetics.
Metal-ness Rating: Fender guitar made entirely of gila monsters.
Rod Strickland 1996-97 "Base Metal"
In the land of the blind, the thousand-eyed Rod Strickland is king.
Metal-ness Rating: Zordon appearing to the Power Rangers solely to freestyle over the “Dead Presidents” beat.
Kevin Garnett 1996-97 "Molten Metal"
Literally thought this was Manute Bol from a distance, but nope.
Metal-ness Rating: That time you almost drowned but were saved by Wendy Peffercorn's knowledge of mouth-to-mouth.
Hakeem Olajuwon 1996-97 "Base Metal"
An homage to Hakeem Olajuwon's footwork and unique ability to negate his opponent’s reach by summoning a wall of splintered sheet metal between himself and the basket.
Metal-ness Rating: Meteorite made of double-decker tacos.
Shareef Abdur-Raheem 1996-96 "Cyber Metal"
In the future, when 90 percent of NBA players have been replaced by floating, clamp-armed automatons, American basketball’s only remaining hope is Shareef Abdur-Raheem and his plucky band of stretch-fours.
Metal-ness Rating: Master Splinter cold-cocking Shredder with cold cuts.
Jerry Stackhouse "Rookie Metal"
This Jerry Stackhouse rookie card is the card I thought would allow me to retire at 40 with enough money to feed my children and my children’s children long after my demise. I planned to buy my first and second island with the profits from this card.
It is now available for $6.00.
Metal-ness Rating: Gust of cold, serrated reality blowing in through the window.
Dan Majerle 1996-97 "Precious Metal"
Fleer’s Metal Men (what I’m assuming the people who designed these cards were called) made a heads-up play by choosing the exact moment Dan Majerle elbowed Alan Henderson in the face for his Precious Metal card.
Metal-ness Rating: Open-hand slap from Mother Teresa herself.
Shaquille O’Neal 1995-96 "Base Metal"
[Jock Jams voice]
Hieroglyphics and runes on my motorcyyyyyyycle Shaqtusssss.
Metal-ness Rating: Monster truck Uber XL.
James Harden "Maximum Metal"
Pre-beard James Harden always played his best during complete solar eclipses.
Metal-ness Rating: Dolph Lundgren wink.
Shawn Kemp 1996-96 "Metal Force"
A reminder that even when the world around you is a maelstrom of shattering glass within a greater cyclone of uncertainty, Shawn Kemp is still gonna flush this thing if he gets within 10 feet of the cup.
Metal-ness Rating: Cranberries music video.
Latrell Sprewell 1996-97 "Molten Metal"
An olive branch extended from Fleer to all the blind cave fish out there who collect cards and can’t stand shiny or readily readable prints.
Metal-ness Rating: Stubbing your toe on a DeLorean in the dark.
Dennis Rodman 1996-97 "Base Metal"
Dennis Rodman instantly regretted each and every compounding decision that led his Coachella experience to its current state.
Metal-ness Rating: Friend who picks you up from the airport.
Gary Payton 1996-97 "Precious Metal"
Gary “The Glove” Payton was known for his lockdown defense and ability to score against even the most smothering apocalyptic loam.