Over the weekend a Lebron James rookie card sold at auction for $1.8M. To be more specific, it was a 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James Rookie Patch Autograph card featuring a 3-color patch. This card was graded 9.5 by BGS and was a limited numbered short print, in this case it was card #14/23. No surprises here, but I do not have that card in my collection. However, it’s great to see the excitement surrounding this one sale. It’s a phenomenal sign for the industry in general and for all Lebron rookies as well. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight the only Lebron rookie card that I pulled from a pack way back in 2004, the 2003-04 Upper Deck Black Diamond LeBron James Rookie #184.
Of course, when I first pulled this card, I was incredibly excited. However, my first impression was how ridiculous the areal top-down shot of Lebron looked and I’ve never warmed up to the photo, it just looks terrible. Sure, it’s different and I’m happy Upper Deck tried a different approach than the traditional shots, but I just don’t think it was wise to experiment with a prime time player like Lebron. Simply put, it’s probably the worst photograph of all his rookie cards and may be the most awkward photo of Lebron that made it to print. Dwayne Wade’s rookie card from the same set features Wade in a normal shot going up for a dunk or lay-up and it looks great. But that image they chose for Lebron… Woof!
Having said that, there are some things to like about the card. For one, I like the overall design and the color motif works well. The Black Diamond cards also included a strange diamond section at the bottom of the card next to the player’s name and each section of the diamond was filled in or not filled in according to player caliber and talent, as far as I can tell. This is seen clearly with all 4 sections filled in for Lebron’s rookie, but only 3 sections filled in for Wade.
I couldn’t find any ungraded Lebron Black Diamond rookies selling on Ebay (plenty of the promo cards featuring him passing the ball, but not the actual rookie), but there were two BGS 9.5’s selling for around $2,800 and one BGS 9 with a Buy It Now price of $1,299 so I think an ungraded card could be worth in the $400-$500 range. It will be interesting to see if price noticeably ticks up once more people hear about the latest Lebron rookie sale and if the sports card industry sees a revival that many of us are hoping for.