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Looking Back at the 1998 NBA Rookie Class: Vinsanity, Germanator, and The Truth

The 1998 NBA Draft was a tour de force, and it was one of those drafts where the players that would ultimately have the biggest impact on the game were not picked up with the first few picks.  The three biggest players to come out of this draft were Vince Carter (picked 5th), Dirk Nowitzki (9th), and one of my favorite players, Paul Pierce (10th).  Of the three, Vince made the biggest impact out of the gate, thanks in part to a monster sophomore season where he played in all 82 games, averaged nearly 26 points per game, shot 40% from 3-point land, and averaged a respectable six rebounds per game to boot.  And then there was the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, which I think of as the “Its Over” dunk contest, where Carter put on an epic dunk clinic.  If you don’t remember that dunk contest or have never seen it, please get off this mediocre (at best) blog and go watch it.  It really is poetry in motion.  Collectors also took notice and his rookie cards were on fire. 

Of the three, Dirk was the slowest out of the gate his rookie season, averaging only 8 points per game and 3 rebounds with the 20 minutes of playing time he was given.  But Dirk started to really show signs of his future greatness in his sophomore year, where he averaged 17.5 points per game, shot 38% from 3-point land, and pulled in 6.5 rebounds per game.  Pierce, having been passed up by nine teams in the draft, had a lot to prove in his rookie and sophomore seasons, but he was stuck playing alongside one of the most over-hyped players in the league, Antoine Walker.  Despite playing second fiddle to Walker, Pierce still put up 16.5 points per game in his rookie year and averaged just shy of 20 points per game in his sophomore year.

By the late 90s the “Junk” card era was mainly over and there were a lot of phenomenal rookie cards out there for the 1998 NBA Draft class.  To keep things simple and to make clean comparisons between these three players and their rookie cards, I’m going to focus on the 1998 Topps Chrome set.  I’m a big fan of Topps Chrome because they always did a great job with a no-frills card design, captured players in action, AND they had refractor parallels which were a big hit with collectors, myself included. 

When looking at the Topps Chrome Vince Carter rookie card (#199), the first thing you’d notice is the awesome photo of him throwing it down in true Vinsanity fashion with a reverse dunk.  I love that shot of him and its an ideal rookie card action shot if there ever was one.  His ungraded chrome rookies are currently selling on eBay in the $65-$75 range, but when you look at his PSA 10s things start to get crazy.  At present, his PSA 10s are selling for around $750-$800.  I know, that isn’t crazy expensive, but when you go back to the summer of 2018, his PSA 10s were only selling for around $100, which means in just two years, his PSA 10s have blown up and have increased in value by over 600%!  That could be bubble territory or it could be the basketball card market is just catching up after years of being dormant. Either way, that is some crazy ROI! 

1998 Topps Chrome Vince Carter rookie card #199

Now let’s take a look at Dirk, the man who gave Dallas Maverick fans a reason to get excited about basketball.  And lucky Dallas for passing the torch to Luka Dončić, the Slovenian stud, who gets to pick up where Dirk left off.  I feel like you never see this with basketball teams but it sometimes happens in football (I’m thinking the 49ers with Young following up Montana or the Packers with Rodgers following Farve).  But I digress, lets focus on Dirk’s Topps Chrome rookie.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say unless your photographing Dennis Rodman going all out to secure a rebound, basketball card photographers should avoid rebound photos and stick to shots of players dunking, shooting, dribbling, posting up in the paint, or playing defense.  Part of my epiphany here is thanks to Dirk’s photo from his Topps Chrome rookie card (#154), showing him possibly coming down with a rebound. If I’m being honest, I think its an awful and awkward photo that probably doesn’t get people jazzed up like that shot of Carter.  Nonetheless, it’s a card that has been retaining its value and like the Carter rookie, its on a nice upward trajectory. 

An ungraded Dirk rookie should be available on eBay for under $80, especially if you’re bidding for this card.  But if you lack patience there are plenty of options to Buy It Now for around $100-$120.  And again, things get really interesting when we check out PSA’s site and look at the high-grade cards over the past two years.  Back in summer of 2018, 9s were selling for right around $30 and 10s were sold in a fairly tight range of $184-$197.  But if we look at what these same cards are going for today, we see that same pop in value, with the 9s consistently hovering around $300 and the most recent 10 that PSA has data for sold on June 23rd for $1,400!  Again, that indicates over 600% appreciation in roughly two years, which is some crazy ROI in such a short amount of time.

1998 Topps Chrome Dirk Nowitzki rookie card #154

On to Pierce, aka “The Truth” (nice job with the nickname Shaq).  As I said earlier, Piece entered the league playing alongside that wiggling black hole Antoine Walker, so his stats in those years suffered a bit as a result.  And DO NOT forget that Pierce was stabbed 11 times after his sophomore season and still somehow managed to bounce back and have a fantastic career.  Unfortunately, his rookie card history is not featured on PSA’s site (come on PSA), so we can only look at what his cards are selling for on eBay. 

First, I just want to say that the image of Pierce on his Topps Chrome rookie card (#135) is absolutely fantastic.  He is up in the air in the middle of a two-handed dunk and it’s a truly awesome shot.  There is also a nice contrast in the white Celtics jersey against the darker background (in fact, there is a nice contrast in all three of these rookie cards).  If you’re in the market for one of Pierce’s ungraded rookie cards, you should be able to find one at auction for under $30.  So relative to Dirk and Carter, Pierce’s ungraded rookie card sells for a bit of a discount.  There were a few PSA 9s selling in a wide range of $200-$450, and there were also two PSA 9 refractors, one selling for $1,500 and the other selling for $2,000.  As of July 25, 2020, there were a few PSA 10s up for sale, one at auction that was bid up to $630 with 4 days left of bidding and the other with a Buy It Now price of $855.  Just looking at those two prices, it seems like the top graded cards for Pierce are in line with both Dirk and Vince so you may be seeing some under priced ungraded cards in the $30 range.

1998 Topps Chrome Paul Pierce rookie card #135

Pulling it all together, it looks like the three rookies from the 1998 Draft who’ve had the greatest impact on the game have all popped in value over the past two years.  These three Topps Chrome rookies are fantastic cards to have in your collection and you really can’t go wrong in the long run with Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Paul Pierce.  I plan to have future posts covering these guys as well, so I’m very excited to see how some of their other rookie cards have performed over the years and I expect we continue to see strong value growth for these guys and many other stars across the league as the basketball industry continues to catch fire.

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