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SB Nation NBA Reacts Part 3 of 3: Most fans think NBA Top Shot is 2021’s version of Dutch “Tulip Mania”

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The digital highlights are not catching on with the common-day fan who most likely thinks it will crash eventually. It’s not unlike another speculative bubble in history, even after some myths around it were debunked in recent years.

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Dutch National Tulip Day Kicks Off Tulip Season 2017 In Amsterdam
Most NBA fans think Top Shot will suffer a fate like some flowers in the Netherlands did nearly 400 years ago.
Photo by Patrick Van Katwijk/Getty images

Good morning, and welcome to the third and final part of our analysis of SB Nation NBA Reacts’ survey earlier this week. Today, we will go over the national questions regarding NBA Top Shot.

If you missed our posts on questions regarding the Washington Wizards specifically, please see the links below.


National Question: Most fans haven’t bought anything from NBA Top Shot. They think it’s a fad instead of a long term investment.

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I wrote an article on NBA Top Shot earlier this week because there were some questions directly addressing the crypto-collectible, where some licensed highlights were being sold for well over $100,000. The highest selling highlight was a LeBron James one that went for $208,000.

Just so you know, the average household income in the United States was just $61,307 and the American gross domestic product per capita was about $63,051. For a point of reference, Luxembourg, a small European country surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany has the highest GDP per capita with $109,602 according to the IMF.

So either way you look at it, the average person, even in the richest countries based on nominal GDP per capita (including microstates like Monaco and Liechtenstein where this figure got close to $200,000 in 2019) can’t afford the most expensive NBA Top Shot highlights in the last few weeks.

Of course, the average NBA Top Shot highlight isn’t selling for six figures. But plenty are still selling for over $10,000 nevertheless. I get that these highlights are the new “basketball trading cards” but they are our 2021 version of “Tulpenmanie” (Dutch for “Tulip Mania”) in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, a predecessor state to the modern day Netherlands that we know today though it’s a monarchy now.

I don’t want to make this a flawed economic or European history lesson, but given that most fans think NBA Top Shot is a bubble, well ... I’ve come this far.

The parallels between NBA Top Shot and Dutch Tulip Mania

Tulip In Bloom In Netherlands
NBA Top Shot is reminding me of an economic history lesson I learned as a kid.
Photo by Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

There is a book by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay called the Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds from the 19th Century. In his book, Tulip Mania was one of the topics Mackay focused on regarding speculative bubbles, where Dutch people would offer high amounts of gulden (or Dutch guilders, the currency they used before the modern day Euro) for a few tulip bulbs. The speculation was most rampant in the 1630s before it crashed.

It sounds far-fetched to believe that traders in Amsterdam back in the 1630s would give up all of the Holstein cattle, beer and Gouda cheese they had for one lousy tulip bulb or that this was widespread in the Dutch Republic. That’s because, it probably is.

Later research in the 20th Century and the 2000s by then-King’s College professor and Western European history expert Anne Goldgar indicated that much of the narrative around Tulip Mania is an exaggeration in a 2017 article by Smithsonian Magazine. Today, Goldgar is the Garrett and Anne Van Hunnick Chair in European History at the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

In Goldgar’s research, it was true that some 17th Century Dutch traders, many of whom were part of a “nouveau riche” class soon after they declared independence from and fought a long war against the Spanish-controlled Habsburg Netherlands (that’s more-or-less today’s Belgium and Luxembourg), spent a lot of money for tulip bulbs.

And it’s true that the tulip market crashed in 1637. But that crash (and craze before it) only seemed to affect the merchants involved as opposed to Dutch society at large, contrary to what I was taught in high school.

I think that additional perspective makes Dutch Tulip Mania an even better parallel to NBA Top Shot than I originally thought. So hear me out on this one.

Most NBA fans like you and me may talk about NBA Top Shot all day long in the comments or on Twitter. But the vast majority of us haven’t bought a Top Shot highlight. So if we were in Amsterdam back in 1635 or 1636, we, the common day NBA fans would be like the 17th Century Dutch peasants and other commoners.

The Dutch peasants and commoners then may have dreamt of a blooming tulip in their garden one day. But they also know they can’t afford to spend their life savings on one lousy bulb that blooms for a few days. Likewise, we, the common day NBA fans can dream of owning a highlight of a LeBron James or a Bradley Beal game-winning shot all we want. But that highlight is just a few seconds long and we also know it’s unaffordable. Besides, these highlights are on YouTube anyway! Whether it’s 1635-37 or 2021, this is all just talk around the water cooler for most of us.

On the other hand, the people who are actually buying and selling NBA Top Shot highlights today are like the Dutch merchants who were speculating the tulip market back in the 1630s.

We haven’t seen an epic crash yet with NBA Top Shot, but most of us just don’t see this being sustainable in the long run.

Don’t believe me? NUMBERS DON’T LIE!

SB Nation

Only four percent of respondents across all 30 SB Nation NBA team sites bought such a highlight. After all, it’s hard to get a starter pack for nine bucks for crying out loud!

Though most NBA fans (77 percent) think that Top Shot is a bubble that will soon burst, that doesn’t mean that fans who want one shouldn’t buy a highlight at all. They just need to look at these licensed highlights for what they are: memorabilia.

SB Nation

From this perspective, one can never put a true price on memorabilia. That value is simply up to the purchaser and seller.

So what’s the moral of the story with NBA Top Shot?

Right now, NBA Top Shot happens to be the new craze among basketball fans, sports memorabilia collectors and investors looking for something to cherish or make money on. Given that there are only a limited amount of highlights for each player available, some of them are going to cost more money than others.

For example, it makes sense that a licensed copy of a hypothetical Russell Westbrook game winning dunk over Giannis Antetokoumpo in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this May between the Wizards and Bucks will cost more than a Moritz Wagner screen assist in a regular season game.

But will there be a large number of people paying over $200,000 each for that Westbrook dunk over the Greek Freak? Probably not, just like the market was for overpriced tulip bulbs back in the 1630s.

In closing, I encourage everyone to use their money wisely. Don’t be emotional when making a decision to bid on a Top Shot highlight that costs a significant amount of money. After all, even though Tulip Mania wasn’t as big as you may have been taught in school, some traders in Amsterdam were still willing to spend a fortune on some tulip bulbs nearly 400 years ago before those bulbs became a commodity like they are today, whether in the Netherlands or here in the USA.


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