Elton Brand returns to NBA to mentor Jahlil Okafor — and perhaps spark some new Duke cardboard

Elton-Brand-Duke-AutoWay back in 1999, Elton Brand was a star center for the Duke Blue Devils — a center from tiny Peekskill, N.Y., who was about to make a big impression as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Fast-forward to today and the former Chicago Bull is coming out of retirement to join the NBA’s worst team — the Philadelphia 76ers, owners of a 3-33 record — to help mentor another former Blue Devils star and first-round pick, Jahlil Okafor. Okafor, of course, has had issues off the court this season while also picking up the NBA game quickly. It’s a match made in Blue Devils collecting heaven.

“He’s not unlike most 20-year-olds you probably know, and he’s definitely not at all different than most of his fellow players,” Brand wrote in a piece for Sports Illustrated’s website. “… if camera phones were around when Brad Miller, Ron Artest and I were Jahlil’s age, we might’ve been banned from the league altogether, never mind suspended for a few games.”

So, what about Brand on cardboard?

Okafor201516ContendersBrand’s presence was big in his early days but you’d probably not even remember him on cardboard in recent years though he did play last season. While he appears on more than 3,200 different cards, less than 200 of those are certified autographs — a number that seems pretty low for a high-profile guy who played in the 2000s. By comparison, Okafor already has more than 40 different certified autos and the season is really just getting going on cardboard.

Like most past rookies from around his timeframe, Brand made his autograph debut on Press Pass cards. He had more than a dozen autos from Press Pass in his first year, but hasn’t had a certified signature since 2010-11 when Panini America worked Brand into three brands — Absolute Memorabilia, National Treasures and Totally Certified.

Since there were a few companies making NBA cards back in 1999, Brand actually appears on 39 Rookie Cards — 16 from Upper Deck, 14 from Fleer and nine from Topps. Which one’s the best? Well, they’re all relatively forgotten, but his Topps Chrome, Topps Finest, Bowman’s Best and Topps cards seem to be highlights when professionally graded.

Will Panini create a combo card or two for the new teammates with college ties? It seems likely — but perhaps only because the interest in unique Okafor cards would be leading the way. Then again, perhaps the bargain prices to be had on a former star coming back to the league — and his interesting story about the reasons why — might spark some extra interest, too.

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