Welcome to the World of WNBA Top Shot
At long last, WNBA highlights are available for purchase on NBA Top Shot. Now, what in the world does that mean?
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If you follow sports, there is a good chance you have heard the words Top Shot before. The website took the sports consumption world by storm by allowing users to buy, sell, and trade NBA highlights with friends or even complete strangers, reminding fans of their Topps and Panini-laden youth. Top Shot soared to popularity in the early parts of 2021 as the target audience of NBA fans and cryptocurrency collectors had been reached. For many collectors, especially the younger generation, it was their first venture into the world of digital currency.
The first step in breaking down this exciting new development is understanding how Top Shot even operates. The platform is an online trading site that is officially licensed by the NBA, but each entity is a highlight from a game rather than a physical player card. Users have the ability to purchase packs of these moments that range in value based on their rarity and other factors such as the importance of the highlight or the coolness factor of the play itself. Of course, anyone can look up these same plays for free on YouTube, but similar to tangible trading cards, it is about owning the picture or video rather than just having the ability to look at it.
But how can one video clip be more rare than another? Top shot is a blockchain-based system, meaning simply that there is a digital database that encrypts each transaction made on the site so that they are securely stored. Practically, this means that no highlight moment created by Top Shot can be duplicated or altered in any way.
Similar to real trading cards, each highlight or moment has a serial number that represents when it was digitally created. So, while any given highlight can be owned by hundreds or thousands of people, there is only one of each serial number for that card, making it unique.
This type of distinctive cryptocurrency is referred to as non-fungible tokens or NFT’s. Non-fungible is just a fancy way of saying that each highlight on the site is completely unique. After just a few months, NBA Top Shot is already the largest NFT market ever to exist. This also meant that there were quickly many people, especially those who enjoy more typical consumption methods of art, who were firmly against Top Shot and NFT’s in general. But is there really anything that different between a Sue Bird assist and a painting in some gallery? Art is about the viewer’s emotional response to a creation, and for people who love basketball, Top Shot delivers.
Top Shot was originally created in 2019 by Dapper Labs, but opened to the public in October of 2020. After the massive success of the NBA version, there was speculation for months about when WNBA highlights would become available. As seen through television ratings and social media engagement this year, both for WNBA and college players, there is an untapped market for promoting women’s basketball, and the folks at Dapper Labs wanted a piece of the action. Unfortunately, “WNBA Top Shot” shows up nowhere on the site, so we must deal with NBA Top Shot being the all-encompassing term, since it is too hard apparently to promote the WNBA separately.
On August 25, the collaboration was officially announced, with the first opportunity for members to pick up highlights two days later during a “pack drop.” A pack drop is where anyone who wants to purchase new highlights gets into a randomly ordered line with the other collectors, since it is not a guarantee that there will be enough moments for everyone who wants one if demand exceeds supply. If you think of Top Shot moments as stocks, then the pack drop is the Initial Public Offering. For the launch, there was also a promotion to encourage WNBA fans to join the platform where newly registered accounts would be gifted an A’ja Wilson two-handed block to start their collection.
The first release of cards is part of the “WNBA: Best of 2021” set, which will feature moments from this current season. They are all common cards, the lowest tier of rarity, but there will be future highlights that are designated rare or legendary. The initial common packs cost $9 for three moments, an investment that is already paying dividends as the lowest asking price for any one card on the marketplace is $12 (as of September 9th). There will also be different sets and packs in the future with varying prices for the pack drop and availability that designate certain occurrences, such as playoff or finals specific moments. For example, the 2021 NBA Finals packs cost $799 each and included 10 moments, three of which were rare, and one legendary highlight.
One of the most anticipated releases will be WNBA throwback highlights. With Lisa Leslie as one of the faces of WNBA Top Shot (alongside Wilson), it is expected that former players will eventually get in on the online trading highlight action, similar to Tim Duncan and Steve Nash for the NBA version. There are eight categories that a moment can be a part of: 3-Pointer, Jump Shot, Layup, Dunk, Assist, Handles, Steal, and Block. However, the initial release of WNBA moments did not include any Handles or Steals cards. There are only 26 players with moments so far, including a Brittney Griner dunk and Diana Taurasi’s layup to reach 9,000 career points.
Supply and Demand
As an online marketplace, the value of the highlights is volatile and depends on many factors that I will break down in a later piece. As a general rule, laws of economics still apply. Similar to the stock market, if you think something will be more valuable in the future, it makes sense to invest in it. Rookies have potential due to their upside, while veterans have already proven their worth on the way to Hall of Fame careers. Some highlights have 40,000 copies minted, while others have less than 100. The value depends on the scarcity.
The best part about Top Shot is that it is fun. Yes it is real money, but the initial expenses are not a major barrier to entry, and at its core an NFT is just a collectible that fans can enjoy, especially when it is a flashy highlight of their favorite player. While some people are certainly in it for the profit, there is also a large fandom of people who love the sport of basketball and just want to own a bit of WNBA history.