OHS, UK, pro hoops star Hagan appeared in two major basketball card sets | Sports & Recreation
It’s been more than 55 years since Cliff Hagan’s rookie card came out of the first-ever Topps basketball card set. It’s still one of those cards collectors clamor for—even those who didn’t grow up watching or hearing about his exploits at Owensboro High or the University of Kentucky.
Hagan was a great 6'4" collegiate and professional basketball forward who earned acclaim for his long career thanks in part to what’s still regarded as one of the best hook shots of all time.
Hagan first appeared on a card in the 1957-58 Topps basketball set, which was the first bubble gum set featuring hoop stars since Bowman Gum put out a set that had George Mikan in it during the late 1940’s.
For those sports memorabilia collectors who understand the significance of basketball to the state of Kentucky, the name of Cliff Hagan is legendary. After a stellar career at OHS where he led the Red Devils to a state championship in 1949 with a 41-point performance in the title game, he slid seamlessly into Adolph Rupp’s rotation.
As a collegiate player he became an NCAA Champion with the 1951 UK team and over the course of his career earned recognition as an NCAA All-American First Team player in both 1952 and 1954. In his final season he established the school single game scoring record of 51 points. This record stood until 1970. During Hagan’s time at UK, the ‘Cats finished with 86 wins and just five losses.
However, Hagan’s collegiate accomplishments were just a prelude to an exceptional professional career. He was drafted in 1953 by the Boston Celtics but he never played for them. He served n the military for two years and then was traded to the St. Louis Hawks along with Ed MacCauley for the rights to another eventual Hall of Famer, Bill Russell.
When the Topps cards hit the streets in 1957-58, the Hawks were having their finest season. The Hawks led by Hagan and Bob Pettit won the 1958 NBA Championship, beating Boston 4 games to 2.
From 1958 to 1962 Hagan became one of the great basketball players in the NBA and was selected to five successive NBA All Star Games.
The 1961-62 Fleer basketball cards represent the last time he played in an NBA All Star game.
He would finish his NBA career in 1967 having played 745 games and scoring 13,447 points for an average of 18.0 points per game. A new league, the ABA, emerged, however, and he was hired by the Dallas Chaparrals as their player-coach.
Hagan played in the very first ABA All-Star Game that season and became the first player to play in NBA and ABA All-Star contests. He would play 94 games in the ABA, score 1423 points and finish with an average 15.1 points per game. He would retire from professional basketball in the middle of the 1969 season. He finished his career with 14,870 points in 13 seasons.
Cliff Hagan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. He was the first University of Kentucky player to be inducted.
In the world of collegiate basketball, the state of Kentucky is still considered one of the great meccas of basketball. Having possession of the vintage basketball cards of Cliff Hagan, one of the greatest players in the history of the University of Kentucky basketball program and the NBA, represents a fun trip back in time—and possibly a nice little investment for the future.
Currently living in Florida, Cliff’s legacy continues in Owensboro with the Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club.