There’s always a ton of hype around #1 picks with collectors in any sport, and basketball card collectors are no different. Zion Williamson, that devilishly good rookie that the Pelicans grabbed with their #1 pick, has collectors clamoring for his rookie cards. But before everyone goes and gets too excited about Zion, I think it’s always good to take a look back at prior #1 picks, in order to see how collectors have fared with a frenzied focus on #1s.
To keep comparisons as equal as possible, I’ll focus on the PSA 10 Topps Chrome rookie card for each player, since Topps Chrome cards are popular and there should be plenty of available data for the PSA 10s. I’ll count a card as a hit for collectors if the value has grown by 50% or more compared to what it was selling for back in Summer, 2018 and a miss if it hasn’t hit that threshold (keep in mind, the S&P 500 is only up about 15% over the past two years). Where historic data isn’t available, I’ll highlight the current prices for the PSA 10 (or PSA 9 if no 10s are available) selling on eBay and go with a judgement call as to whether that player’s rookie card was a hit or a miss for collectors.
2000: Kenyon Martin – Big Miss
Back in 2000, the New Jersey Nets grabbed Kenyon Martin, and it was a great pickup for them. Along side Jason Kidd, the Nets consistently made it deep into the playoffs and even played in back to back finals in 2002 and 2003. But Martin, Kidd, and crew didn’t have enough to topple the Lakers or Spurs when it mattered most.
Martin had decent stats, for his career, he averaged 12 points, 7 boards, 2 assists, and 1 steal per game. He also stuck close to the rim and took high quality shots, giving him a respectable field goal percentage of 48.3%. However, he was not strong from the stripe, hitting only 63% of his free throws.
I’m not going to bother trying to look back on PSA’s website to check how well his card has done over the past two years because his PSA 9 2000 Topps Chrome rookie card (#151), which was short-printed (only 1999 of these cards), is selling now on eBay for $6. Yup. The shipping is almost more than the card itself. So Martin was a big miss for collectors.
2001: Kwame Brown – HUGE Miss
Kwame Brown was drafted out of high school by the Washington Wizards with their #1 pick, but I’m sure they wish they could do that one over. For better or worse, Brown got to play his rookie season with Michael Jordan, and there are rumors abound highlighting the contentious relationship between the two. I’m not touching that though.
Brown never had the stats the Wizard’s (or Jordan) were hoping for from their #1 pick. Over the course of his career, he averaged 6.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block per game. Like Martin, he also stayed close to the rim and had a respectable 49% field goal percentage. But also like Martin, he really struggled from the foul line, and only hit 57% of his attempts.
Again, I don’t need to check PSA for this one, since his PSA 10 2001 Topps Chrome rookie card (#165) is selling now for $15. I think I may have even had this ungraded card at one point but lost it. Oh well…
2002: Yao Ming – HUGE Hit
There was perhaps more global draft hype back in 2002 than any daft prior or since, and for good reason; Yao Ming was up for the taking. The Houston Rockets were able to secure Yao with their #1 pick and he looked like the missing piece to make their team a deep playoff contender.
Despite getting off to a slow start, Yao had a pretty decent rookie year and has respectable career stats. Over the course of his career, he averaged 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.6 assist, and 2 blocks per game. Yao also had a good low post game plus a nice mid-range shot and was able to maintain a fairly steady 52% field goal percentage throughout his career. Yao was also unique for a big man because he was actually pretty great from the foul line, and posted a very respectable 83.3% from the foul line, so teams couldn’t employ the ‘Hack-A-Shaq’ strategy when Yao had the ball.
There are two versions of the Yao Ming Topps Chrome rookie, one in English and one in Chinese, but I’ll be focusing on the English card. Also, Yao’s rookie does justify checking PSA’s site, since I know there will be plenty of data available. Presently, the PSA 10’s of Yao Ming’s Topps Chorme rookie (in English), sell for just shy of $400 (two sold in July, 2020; one fetched $372, the other $395). But back in summer, 2018, these same PSA 10s were selling for a mere $40. That is a HUGE hit for anyone lucky enough to buy a PSA 10 Topps Chrome Ming rookie back in 2018.
2003: Lebron James – HUGE Hit
Lebron James needs no introduction. His games were being televised when he was playing in high school out in Akron, Ohio for St. Vincent – St. Mary and he was an even more hyped up rookie than Yao Ming was from the year earlier. I even remember seeing him and Sebastian Telfair on the cover of a Slam magazine back in 2002. I bought one of the last copies at the airport and it now sits in the same fire proof safe with my card collection. And we all know the Cavs took Lebron with their #1 pick so lets just get onto his Topps Chrome rookie and see how that has performed since summer, 2018.
There are a lot of PSA 10s being sold so data is plentiful. However, his PSA 10 sells in a pretty wide range. On July 24th, eight PSA 10s were sold, and they sold for anywhere from $12.5K on the low end and as much as $17.2K. For simplicity, lets just say his PSA 10 goes for $13K at present.
If we rewind the clock two years, we can see that Lebron cards were a steal back in 2018. Back in July, 2018, it was possible to walk away with a Topps Chrome Lebron rookie with a PSA 10 grade for under $1,200. Which indicates the 10’s have appreciated by over 900%, which is an absolutely ridiculous figure. Perhaps some of the recent spike in price is due the $1.845M rookie sold earlier this month, but still we are seeing insane demand for Lebron rookies, and this demand shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. How about we all jump in the DeLorean, go back to summer of 2018, and buy as many of these PSA 10s as possible.
2004: Dwight Howard – Big Hit
When the Orlando Magic selected Dwight Howard with their #1 pick back in 2004 they were very much in line with the prevailing trend of “Go Big”, since great big men are hard to come by. After all, it was only a dozen years earlier when the Magic grabbed Shaq with the number 1 pick, and had they held onto him and built around him, they may have had a chance or two at a championship. Could Dwight be the new Shaq?
Well, he certainly got off to a strong start, averaging a double double in his rookie season, with 12 point and 10 boards a game. His career, to date, has also been strong. He has averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks per game. He also stays in the paint and only takes high quality shots, which has allowed him to put up a terrific 59% field goal percentage. But, like so many other bigs, he struggles from the free throw line, and has a paltry career average of just 56.5% (rarely do you see someone who has a field goal percentage higher than a free throw percentage).
When we check out Howard’s Topps Chrome Rookie card (#166) with a PSA 10 grade to see where it sells at today, we see it typically gets between $200 – $250. So its an attainable card for most collectors. And when we look back two years to see where it was at in 2018, we see that you could get this card for between $25-$35, which indicates another monster return if you were able to get your hands on a PSA 10 back in 2018. Generally speaking, Dwight has given collectors another incredible return percentage of over 600%.
2005: Andrew Bogut – Miss
Surprise, surprise, another big man selected with the #1 pick. Showing no imagination at all, the Milwaukee Bucks’ decided to take Australia’s own Andrew Bogut with their first round pick. The 7-foot Bogut had a decent rookie season and played in all 82 games, but that would be one of only three seasons where he managed to play in 70 games or more.
When Bogut played for the Bucks, he put up decent numbers, but ever since getting traded back in 2012 he’s been given limited minutes and his stats fell hard as a result. To date, Bogut has averaged 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.5 blocks. Like so many other big men selected with the #1 pick, Bogut has a solid career field goal percentage (54%) and a terrible free-throw percentage (56%).
No need to check PSA for this one. A Bogut Topps Chrome refractor rookie (#210) short printed to 999 was selling on eBay for only $4. To add insult to injury, the image on this rookie card looks like Bogut is about to have the ball swatted into the stands by Ben Wallace. Strangely enough, Wallace was also in Lebron’s rookie. Hopefully no one piled into Bogut rookies back in 2005.
2006: Andrea Bargnani – Miss
For a second year in a row, the #1 pick went to a 7-foot foreign-born Center with initials A.B. Weird. Like Bogut, Bargnani only had 3 seasons where he was able to play in 70+ games. These big guys just have so many health issues. Anyway, the Raptors plucked Andrea Bargnani out of Italy back in 2006 with their #1 pick. And unlike the other big men on this list, Bargnani was less of a traditional down low presence and more of a spread-the-court offensive threat, as his stats show.
Over the course of 10 seasons, Bargnani had decent stats. He averaged 14 points, 5 boards, 1 assist and 1 block over the course of his career. He had range as well, and hit 35% of his 3-pointers. His career field goal percentage was 44% and he could also make his free throws, and shot 82% from the charity stripe.
But the Bargnani rookie cards were another miss for collectors, and there are multiple copies of his Topps Chrome ungraded rookie card (#180) selling on eBay for under $3.
2007: Greg Oden – HUGE Miss
After a pretty weak draft the year before, the 2007 NBA draft was back in full hype mode and all eyes were on two freshman: Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. The Portland Trailblazers had the #1 pick and, as was the prevailing theme of the decade, they decided to go big and drafted Oden. And I’m sure they wish they had that pick to do over.
Oden dominated his freshman year at The Ohio State and looked like he could be a force to be reckoned with in the pros. Steve Kerr even described him as a “once-in-a-decade player” and many teams wanted the 7-foot phenom headlining their rosters. But Oden was also struck with the injury bug and missed the entire 2007 season due to knee surgery. He was never able to get healthy and had a very short NBA career as a result. In fact, Oden only played in 105 games over the course of 3 seasons. In that time, he averaged 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block.
As to be expected, the 2007 Topps Chrome Oden Rookie (#152), has not been a card that collectors have been after. As of July 29th, there was a PSA 10 copy selling on eBay for $12.50. Just for fun, I did look back on the PSA site to see if there was any card history with PSA 10s. There was one data point that said a PSA 10 sold for $2.25 in September, 2017. But with so little data, and given the short lived NBA career, I feel pretty safe classifying Oden’s Topps Chrome rookie a Miss with collectors.
2008: Derrick Rose – Hit
The 2008 draft was another exciting one, with a few key players all looking to be grabbed with Chichago’s #1 selection. Ultimately, it was Derrick Rose, a point guard, who was selected first. Brook Lopez, the 7-foot center out of Stanford, fell all the way to 10th before the New Jersey Nets grabbed him. So nice job Bulls breaking tradition and grabbing D-Rose at the number one spot.
Rose got off to a fantastic start and played great his first three seasons in the Chicago. He was on the fast track to becoming the next big superstar in the NBA. His PPG (points per game) average was also on the steady rise from averaging 17 points in his rookie season, to 21, and up to 25 his third year in the league. However, his third year in the league would prove to be his best year, because the following year he injured his ACL, missed all of the 2012-13 season, only played in 10 games the following season, and since his return he was never quite the same player.
Rose’s year to date stats are still pretty good, despite his injuries. For his career, he averages 19 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 1 steal. His field goal percentage is solid, averaging 45.6% and he’s a threat from distance, knocking down roughly 30% of this 3-pointers. He also nails his free throws, averaging 83% from the line.
His Topps Chrome rookie card (#181) surprised me a bit, as it’s more popular than I would have guessed. There are a few PSA 10s currently selling on eBay in the $250-$350 range. PSA’s website indicates that his PSA 10s have recently been selling in the $200-$300 range, while two years ago they were only selling for about $55, so they have more than tripled. Clearly, collectors see something in the Rose rookie that I fail to see.
2009: Blake Griffin – Miss
The final draft of the decade was a monster affair, and there was a lot of talent to go around. The LA Clippers had the first pick and selected the star Sooner, Blake Griffin. Griffin was a freak athlete with dunking skills I hadn’t seen since Vince Carter (remember when Griffin dunked over the Kia). Griffin was actually sidelined for his anticipated rookie season due to a stress fracture he suffered during his last game of summer league, but in his first NBA season he was the beast the Clippers had been hoping for.
Blake Griffin’s official rookie season was the 2010-11 season, and he put up some awesome numbers. He was the first rookie to have two 40+ point games since Iverson did it back in 96-97. That same year he also put up two triple-doubles. He was the unanimous winner of the Rookie of the Year award (first time that had happened in 30 years) and Sports Illustrated hailed him as one of the “NBA’s 15 Greatest Rookies of All Time”.
Fast forward to today and things haven’t gone as well for him. Griffin’s career stats to date are still quite good, but he too has been plagued by injuries. For his career, he averages 22 points, 9 rebounds. 4.4 assists, and 1 steal per game. He also has a career field goal percentage of 50% and is dangerous from downtown, with a career 3-point field goal percentage of 33%. He does struggle from the free throw line, with a career average of only 68%, but he has improved over the years.
Despite all his rookie accolades and with stats that are stronger than D.Rose, he has not been a hit with collectors. There are not many PSA 10’s floating around for Griffin’s Topps Chrome rookie. However, the data I was able to grab showed that this was actually the only card that I looked up that has decreased in value. Yes, you read that correctly. Blake Griffin’s Topps Chrome rookie card is selling for less now than it was selling for back in 2018.
The most recent PSA 10 sale took place on June 1, 2020 and went for $165. The sale that took place two years ago, on July 14, 2018 sold for $200. So Blake’s PSA 10 rookies have actually come at a cost of around 18% to collectors. Oddly enough, this is the only card on the list that I looked up that is actually worth less now than it was 2 years ago.
Closing Thoughts: 4 Hits, 6 Misses
After that interesting trip down memory lane, it’s interesting to see that for the first decade of the millennium, there were actually more misses than hits with #1 picks. Even when a player starts out killing it, like Blake Griffin, it still doesn’t mean they will secure any rings or resonate with collectors. So keep this in mind before piling every last dime into Zion’s rookie card, because all it take is one injury (or one busted Nike shoe) for the star rookie to end up like Oden. And wow, what a decade for #1 picks.