I’d probably would have been one of Kobe Bryant’s biggest fans, if it weren’t for the fact that he played for the team that I grew up hating, the LA Lakers. There was a lot to like about Kobe when he stepped on the floor night in and night out. He played his heart out every night, he even threw in 81 points one game, but I passionately rooted against him every time he was on the court.
I like to think we’ve all experienced that feeling about some athlete at some point in our lives. I found a word on Urban dictionary that summed up my feelings for Kobe: “hatespect”. The meaning is pretty self explanatory, but in a nutshell, hatespect means you respect someone for their skill and talent, but hate them because of who they represent. That pretty much captured how I felt about Kobe for my entire life.
That is, up until that tragic day earlier this year when we received the news that he and his daughter had passed away in a helicopter crash. At first, I was just stunned. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. But once I had some time to process the horrible news, I noticed all the feelings of anger, resentment, and ill-will that I’d ever felt for Kobe just evaporated and I was left with a feeling of somber respect. So, while I won’t attempt to wax poetic about how I’d always been a fan (I clearly wasn’t), I do
want to HAVE TO dedicate one of my first 10 posts to the Mamba, in part because he’s had a huge impact on the game, and in part out of respect.
For the basketball card industry, pretty much every parallel in every set during Kobe’s long and successful career features a Kobe card, and I will absolutely be covering tons of those in coming posts, but for now, I just want to focus on two of Kobe’s rookies. The first rookie card I want to highlight is the 1996-97 SkyBox E-X2000 Kobe Bryant Rookie (#30). This is an absolutely phenomenal Kobe rookie with a stunning card design and a great action shot of Kobe. I love the way the yellow jersey contrasts the blue cloud square in the background and the acetate plastic the card is printed on means you get the same view only flipped depending on whether you’re looking at the front or back of the card.
The card isn’t perfect though, and one complaint I have with it is that they could have done something to help the text at the bottom of the card stand out more. The gold print is not a strong enough contrast against the green background. Also, and I don’t know the science behind it (but please comment if you do), but it seems like these acetate cards were more easily dinged up than traditional cardboard cards, so if you are buying an ungraded card on eBay just be careful to watch out for quality.
But the real question is, what are these SkyBox E-X2000 Kobe rookies worth? My research on eBay today didn’t yield much, but in terms of ungraded rookies there was a pretty insane range, with a few ungraded cards selling at auction for around $150 (but with a few days of bidding left) and one joker trying to get someone to pay their $5,000 Buy It Now price. I would expect a high quality near mint ungraded copy of this rookie card could be acquired for under $300. I’ll be sure to come back and make an update if this isn’t the case.
To get a better sense of how this card has performed historically, I attempted to look at the PSA data for the top graded cards. However, the only piece of free data I could find on their site was that a PSA Gem Mint 10 card had sold for $2,649 back in August, 2017. For most of my posts, I try to keep things consistent and just look back roughly two years, but I’ll take any pieces of reliable data I can get. According to PSA, there are only 22 PSA 10’s, so there won’t be much sales data to go on to see a trend for the PSA 10. While the PSA website says $4,000 is what they’d expect a PSA 10 to be worth, I have to image that given there are only 22 PSA 10’s, plus the recent explosion in the basketball card market, it wouldn’t be a far stretch for a PSA 10 to now be worth close to 10-times what that one sold for in 2017 and could probably fetch close to $20,000. That is just pure speculation on my part, but I would not at all be surprised if a recent sale came close to that figure, if I’m reading the tea leaves right.
The second Kobe rookie I want to cover is from the 1996-97 Upper Deck SP set, his rookie is card #134. I actually pulled this card back in the day so it has meaning to me, but it’s also a much more affordable rookie than his SkyBox E-X2000 rookie. What I like about this card is the simple design and the close up of Kobe in uniform leaning on a basketball. The photo shows the Mamba intensity from a young age and I like it a lot more than the photo used for his Upper Deck rookie card where he’s smiling and wearing the Oakley eye jackets.
However, one of the issues I have with this card is how SP wasted some space along the left side of this card with the blue “Premier Prospects” band that doesn’t do much other than takes up space. I also don’t like how SP didn’t include a clear “Rookie” tag on the front of the card. The various card companies got better about doing this later in the 90s but for this set by SP, they a chose to use the language “Premier Prospects” instead of rookie. Its nice alliteration, but the term rookie works just fine.
The other weird design element with this card is the player’s jersey number just randomly plopped down in the bottom right corner. You can at least see the number on Kobe’s rookie, but on Iverson‘s SP rookie card, the number is easy to overlook. I honestly don’t hate that the number is there, but its just a strange placement.
All that being said, Kobe’s ungraded SP rookie currently sells on eBay for around $25-$35. Yes, you will encounter opportunists trying to sell one for over $100 but you shouldn’t be paying those types of prices for this card. However, if it’s a high grade (9 or 10), then the $100+ price point is justified.
The typical prices I was seeing for the PSA 9s were in the range of $118 to $150. PSA’s website says the 9’s sell for $100+ so the $120 spot seems fair to me, while $150 seems a bit high. As for the PSA 10s, there were a few selling on eBay in the $1,200 – $2,000 range and PSA’s website, while not having a history available, did have a note that a PSA 10 sold in 2020 for $1,168. Knowing that, A PSA 10 under $1,200 seems like a pretty great deal. It’s great to see even run-of-the-mill PSA 10 Kobe rookies selling for over $1,000. If you want to get real fancy, there could even be a clever basketball card arbitrage opportunity for someone out there willing to buy up a few of his ungraded cards and send them in to be graded. If you hit a PSA 10 or two it would be easy money.
Although I couldn’t get my hands on any of the sales history for either of these Kobe rookies, I suspect that these two cards, like many of the other cards I’ve spotlighted over the past week, have seen a very strong appreciation in value. Kobe will be dearly missed by basketball fans the world over and I think collectors will be paying his cards more attention in the years to come. If this blog has even a modicum of success, I’ll try to revisit these cards in a year or two for an update. Rest in peace Kobe, basketball isn’t the same without you.