One of the top news headlines yesterday was the story of how the US is shutting down the Chinese consulate in Houston. The increasing tension between the US and China makes me nervous, but that’s a topic for a different blog. After reading yesterdays news, and having just started this blog, one of the first things that ran through my head when I heard the words “China” and “Houston” mentioned in the same sentence was Yao Ming (naturally). Yao was a pretty hyped up player back in 2002 and I was eager to add one or two his rookie cards to my collection, so now is as good a time as any to talk Yao.
Back in 2002 I remember Yao making his NBA debut as a skinny 7’6” center with some great fundamentals on the court. For the right team, I felt he was someone who could have a legitimate impact. He also entered the league with a lot of haters, including Charles Barkley, who actually had to kiss a donkey purchased by Kenny Smith as a result of Yao scoring 20 points in a game against the Lakers. To Yao’s credit, he did bulk up bit after his rookie season and had a respectable, albeit short lived career. But unfortunately, like many extremely tall athletes, Yao was hit with the injury bug and had to retire from the NBA back in 2011. By that time, he’d won the respect of a number of his earlier haters. In 2016 he was inducted in the basketball Hall of Fame and in 2017 the Rockets retired Yao’s #11 jersey.
Bringing it back to 2002 though, and more specifically basketball cards from ’02, this post is dedicated to two of Yao’s rookie cards. The first card I want to highlight is Yao’s Topps Chrome Rookie #146. This is the card I was hoping to pull every time I’d buy a few Chrome packs at the local pharmacy. I still don’t own this card but I think it’s a good entry level Yao rookie for the following reasons.
For one, I’ve always appreciated Topps Chrome approach to basketball card design, and their 2002 design was another success. They did a great job maximizing player action shots and minimizing “noise”, which I define as any non-value additive card design components. I also appreciate the clear “Rookie Card” mark in the bottom right corner of the card. The card face rookie label has been the norm for rookie cards from the mid 90’s forward, but still it’s worth noting a rookie label done well. Its also a nice shot of Yao for the most part. It looks like he’s taking a free throw but you can clearly see his number as well as the Rockets logo on the front of his jersey. My only complaint is that the card is a bit dark and doesn’t really photograph well so it’s a bit more difficult to discern card quality on sites like eBay.
There are plenty of copies of this card on eBay, including a number of Chinese copies, but even so this card should be fairly easy to acquire in the $30-$40 range at auction. Its uncertain how this card will be priced in the future and may not be a great card for investing, but it’s a good Yao rookie nonetheless.
The second Yao rookie I want to highlight is the 2002-03 Topps Finest Yao Ming Autographed Rookie Refractor #169 which is serial numbered to 250. To steal from SNL’s Stefon, “this card has everything”, and if I had the cash, this would probably be the Yao rookie I’d want in my collection. However, the one BGS graded 9 card I found on eBay had me priced out at $2K. Even still, it’s a great card to look at in further detail.
There is a lot to like about this card. In my mind, when I look at a modern era card, I consider the following 5 elements: Refractor (or Prizm), Serial Numbered, Autograph, Memorabilia, and Image/design quality. In general, the more elements a card has, the more valuable I expect the card to be and the higher the likelihood it appreciates in value. This Yao refractor rookie has 4 of the 5 elements I’m most interested in, and if I’m completely honest, I think memorabilia is overrated so I’d give this card an “A” grade for design and exclusivity features.
Let me elaborate on each feature to explain my “A” grade. I’m a huge fan of refractors, and lighter colored refractors look particularly nice, so with respect to this card’s refractor element, I’d give it a 100%. Next, this card has a pretty low serial number, so without trying to quantify too much, I’d give this card a 90%. When I evaluate an autograph, its important to me that the autograph is actually on the card and not on a sticker attached to the card, so this cards autograph receives top marks in my book and is an easy 100%. There is no memorabilia element to this card, but for me that is a minor element, so I’ll just deduct a few percentage points at the end.
Finally, when looking at the design element, you’re getting a really crisp action shot of Yao looking pretty agile dribbling the ball, plus a clean shot of his jersey number and the Rockets logo. You also have some cool red hexagons in the back, which pairs well with the motif of the Rockets colors. On top of that, the font used for Yao’s name in the front looks great and there is little to no ‘noise’ with this card. So, my overall score for design would be 100%. And if we average out my scores, plus a minor penalty for no memorabilia, you’d arrive at a score around 94%, thus justifying my “A” grade earlier.
All that being said, Yao rookies aren’t at the top of my wish list, but I like the two rookies listed above. Both cater to collectors in different financial spheres, but both are quality cards. Since I like to not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk, I may soon be making bids on the Chrome rookie if I see one come up for auction at a low price point. It would be nice to finally get that card into my collection. And if anyone out there is feeling generous and has an extra $2K to spare, feel free to buy me the other rookie. Thanks in advance!