Why NBA Top Shot is worse than hats

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19: LeBron James
OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19: LeBron James /

Everything is digital these days, especially computers. It makes sense that trading cards, or something similar like Top Shot, would wind up here. But when you think about it, aren’t hats better?

Look, I understand. Stuff is cool. I have some of it, and I appreciate the bit I have. That’s why certain hobbies exist. People find a certain subset of stuff they really appreciate, they collect it, and then they share it so they can say “See? I have these, and I think that’s neat” This can be postage stamps, underpriced kitchen appliances from ALDI, or, now, NBA Top Shot Moments.

What are NBA Top Shot Moments? Good question. I went to their website to find out.


Their website was mean to me, so I left.

That’s for the best really because before I get into the specifics, I would like to talk about hats. Specifically, I would like to talk about the importance of hats in a video game called Team Fortress 2.

Team Fortress 2 is a team-based first-person-shooter game released by Valve in 2007. Hats are things you wear on your head for utility and/or fashion. Why were hats such a big deal in Team Fortress 2? Yeah, I don’t know really. But they were.

The simplest way to look at it is that Team Fortress 2 was very popular. However with the number of people playing it was difficult to distinguish your character from others and say “This Spy is mine. There are none others like it.” Different hats were added to the game so that people could differentiate or display their commitment to playing or their collection on their characters. Sure you could have a Medic too, but mine will have a red hat with fire on it.

It was all cute and good. However, at a certain point hats became more than just a fun outfit thing that people had fun with for fun. Hats became an economy. Some looked cooler. Through artificial scarcity, certain hats would just be rarer. It became a status symbol as much as anything else for people who devoted much of their free time and income to some pixels.

And uh, they don’t do anything. They’re cosmetic. They are pixels on a screen. However, certain items have been sold and will continue to be sold for thousands of dollars. The value they have is largely there because through some unseen force people have agreed that ‘x’ costs ‘y’ and that exchange is fair. It’s been about a decade now. It’s still happening.

So what are NBA Top Shot Moments, anyway?

So that brings us to NBA Top Shot Moments. They don’t really do anything either. They’re artificially scarce highlights that, in a good scenario, will still be something that will be moved for prices around $71,000.

That will only be seen over time. They do have drawbacks that Team Fortress hats do not have, however.

While some people are okay with prized possessions being purely commodified, there is something to be said from sharing a thing. Showing someone a Pokemon Card collection in a big plastic binder is kind of enthralling. That’s not quite the same with Top Shot. At least with Team Fortress, you can display your ownership on your digital representation.

These highlights can also be accessed for free on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, or any number of online services. Being the only person to ever see LeBron’s block in the finals again would put a certain amount of value on something. You being that person would also make you a jerk, but whatever. The exclusivity is only within a small bit of the online world.

Team Fortress also had means of collecting an in-game “currency” through which you could acquire new digital goods like hats. You got this by playing, by taking part in a communal experience. To this point, I’m unaware of Top Shot giving credits for watching basketball, or talking about basketball, or enjoying basketball with your friends. It’s a thing that costs money that you can get for free elsewhere.

So for Top Shot to be on the same level as some hats, then there are more than a few things in its way. Also, some hats in real life can keep you safer if a brick falls on your head from a construction site.

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