Basketball card

’96 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractors

Who doesn’t love a nice refractor? Before Panini took over as the be all end all for basketball cards, Bowman had a great thing going with basketball card collectors and included regular refractors as well as atomic refractors in various sets throughout the 90s.

If you don’t know what an atomic refractor is, it can be a little tricky to describe the look of an atomic refractor compared to a less rare normal refractor. However, if we use Wikipedia’s definition of refractor, as a card “that has a reflective coating and displays a rainbow when held at a specific angle”, then an atomic refractor would be a refractor on steroids, reflecting light in all directions. You can easily distinguish a Bowman’s Best atomic refractors not just by the crazy reflections of light, but also by the text on the back of the card at the top right, which clearly identifies atomic refractors.

The year 1996 was also a very strong year for basketball rookies, with players like Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash all making their NBA debut. The Bowman’s Best atomic refractors are some of the most coveted rookies for each of the aforementioned players, but the set also includes a beautiful Michael Jordan card that is another knock out with collectors. So in today’s post, I’ll highlight the look and value of some key rookies plus save a spot at the end to highlight the MJ atomic refractor. Why not?

Oh, and if you are only here for the Kobe rookie card, just scroll to the bottom and be prepared for some crazy price appreciation, because that card has exploded in value. For those of you interested in a few other cards, allow me walk you through my poorly written but factually accurate analysis.

Allen Iverson (R1)

The first rookie in the set, and the first one I’m covering, is the Allen Iverson rookie (R1). It is a great shot of Iverson driving to the basket in a mostly white 76ers uniform and it looks like he might be wearing some Reeboks.

1996 Bowmans Best Rookie Allen Iverson Atomic Refractor (R1)

When I checked eBay, I didn’t see any of the R1 Iverson atomic refractor rookies for sale. However, there is a decent bit of data on the PSA website for the PSA 9 graded cards.

Back in May, 2018, one PSA 9 Iverson atomic refractor rookie sold for $140. The most recent sale of a PSA 9 Iverson atomic refractor rookie sold for $800 on August 7th, 2020. That bump from $140 to $800 represents over a 400% bump in value, very similar to many elite player rookies over the past two years.

Stephon Marbury (R2)

The second card in the Bowman’s Best rookie set belongs to Stephon Marbury. Typically, I don’t cover Stephon Marbury, but I felt the need to mix it up a little bit. Plus, I have long been a fan of Marbury’s entrepreneurial move to make the Starbury shoe, an affordable basketball shoe that still continues to sell for under $30.

1996 Bowmans Best Rookie Stephon Marbury Atomic Refractor (R2)

The Marbury rookie looks pretty nice, and features a shot of Marbury dribbling past a Washington Bullets defender. Marbury is wearing the rich blue Minnesota Timberwolves uniform and the 96 season was the first season to feature the snarling wolf and the tree-like trim around the neck and waist of the uniform.

Although Marbury was a great player, his cards are not nearly as in demand as many others from this rookie class. There have been no PSA 10 sales this year, but there are three PSA 9 sales recorded on the PSA website. In February, one PSA 9 sold for $34 and then in April, two PSA 9s sold and both went for $50. The only other PSA 9 sales on the website was back in March, 2019 and it sold for $22. While not a huge pop in value, the Marbury atomic refractor rookie is still up over 100% in value in a little over a year, so a decent appreciate in value.

Ray Allen (R5)

I’m a huge Ray Allen fan, and I love the look of the atomic refractor rookie cards, but I’m just not wild about the image on this card so its not a top Ray rookie for me. Like the other rookies in this set, it has that awesome micro-check refractor design, but the image of Ray directing teammates on the court just doesn’t spark much joy for me. Having said that, if I found a copy of this card in an old junk card pile, I would be excited, but I wouldn’t go out and actively bid on or pay for this card.

1996 Bowmans Best Rookie Ray Allen Atomic Refractor (R5)

But everyone has their thing, and maybe collectors are much more willing to shell out for this card, so lets see what the price action is right now on eBay and PSA.

I only found one non-graded card selling on eBay, and it was listed for a Buy It Now price of $300. I also came across two PSA 9s on eBay, and those were going for a bit higher, each had a Buy It Now asking price of $425. The only difference was one had $15 shipping and the other buyer was asking for $25 for shipping. Not sure about other buyers, but why shipping needs to be over $10 is beyond me.

The PSA website was pretty sparse with data, especially for 2020, however I did see a few key prices. The only sale in 2020 was a PSA 8, which sold in July for $72. For PSA 10s, there was one sale in October, 2019 where the card went for $321. 2018 saw two PSA 10 sales, one in March for $330 and the other in April for $200.

I estimate that a PSA 10 in the current card environment would probably be in the $600-$750 range, and that a PSA 9 would come in around $150-$200. If that is the case, then I’d say all the Buy It Now cards listed on eBay are much too pricey and if you like this card, I’d wait for one to appear on a normal auction.

Steve Nash (N18)

I’m stunned that this is the first time I get to talk about a Steve Nash card, as I really liked his game growing up but never got too into collecting his cards. And how did he, Dirk, and Finley never win when those guys were playing together in Dallas? That team was stacked!

1996 Bowmans Best Rookie Steve Nash Atomic Refractor (R18)

Anyway, the Nash atomic rookie has a great shot of Nash cutting to the basket in the deep purple 1996 Phoenix Suns jersey. Its a bad ass action shot of Nash and as an added bonus, you get Allen Iverson looking on at the bottom left of the card.

Personally, I’m more of a Ray Allen fan than a Nash fan, but the prices for the Nash cards came at a bit of a surprise, because it seems like the collecting world values Nash over Allen. When I checked eBay, I only saww one ungraded Nash rookie, and the Buy It Now asking price was $395, nearly $100 higher than the Ray rookie. There were also a handful of graded PSA 10s and BGS 9.5s, and they were selling for way more than I would have guessed. The range for the four super high end graded cards was $3,500 to $7,500. The $7,500 being the PSA 10, of course.

In typical eBay seller fashion, these cards looked to be way overpriced relative to the price history on the PSA website. The most recent PSA 10 sold on April 28, 2020 and went for just shy of $500. A PSA 9 also recently sold (on July 28, 2020) and went for $310.

Looking back two years to 2018 and we see the PSA 10s were selling in a pretty tight range of $199 to $225. So the Nash rookies look to have roughly doubled in two years, which is a strong move to the upside. Not enough of a pop to justify any of the crazy prices on eBay at the moment, but if you can find a top grade Nash card in the $600-$900 range, you may want to seriously consider jumping on it at those levels.

Kobe Bryant (N23)

Of course the true gem of this set is the Kobe Bryant atomic rookie, but good luck finding one! The picture of Kobe on this card isn’t anything worth writing home about, its a pretty simple shot of Kobe holding the ball in his left hand and it looks like he’s directing the offense. But even with a lackluster photo of Kobe, collectors crave this card.

1996 Bowmans Best Rookie Kobe Bryant Atomic Refractor (R23)

The truly amazing thing with this card is just how quickly it has picked up in value. In the past three months alone, the top tier PSA 10 graded cards have more than doubled! Assuming this quick pop is indicative of the overall trend and not an outlier (maybe not the safest assumption), then any lucky individual that got their hands on a PSA 10 last year and still hasn’t sold is sitting on a very impressive return on investment.

In order to show the price appreciation for this card, rather than tell, I decided to put the prices going back to November, 2019 into the chart below. As you can see, last year around Thanksgiving you could have purchased this card for under $4K. But the most recent sale is up over $25K, which represents an incredible 630% price appreciation in about nine months.

In case you were curious about the PSA 9s, those too have performed extremely well over the past year. Like the PSA 10s, the 9s saw a massive uptick in August, with the most recent sale coming on August 20th, for $12,824. Prior to that, the next highest PSA 9 sale came on February 5th, for $3,425. Also worth calling out is that prior to August, 2019, there is no single sale for a PSA 9 over $1,000, so both the PSA 9s and 10s are on fire at the moment.

Personally, I’m interested to see if the recent crazy spike in the Kobe atomic refractor rookies trickles down to impact other atomic refractor rookies. I could certainly see many other players rookie cards also popping a bit as a result of these frothy Kobe rookie card sales.

Michael Jordan (#80)

The only non-rookie I’m covering from the 1996 Bowman’s Best set is the really nice looking Michael Jordan base card, #80. Personally, I absolutely love this card and wish it were a piece of my collection.

1996 Bowman’s Best Michael Jordan Atomic Refractor (#80)

For some reason, they gave Scottie Pippen card #1 in this set and they gave Rik Smits card #23, so Jordan falls down to #80 for whatever reason. I have a thing for card makers who give Jordan either the first or 23rd card in the set, but I guess I can live with 80…

Anyway, this is a fantastic photo of Jordan dunking the ball in the white Bulls uniform. You get a clean shot of Jordan’s #23 jersey number and the look on Jordan’s face shows his throw-it-down intensity.

The prices for the Jordan are not on the same scale as the Kobe rookies, but they are still pretty hefty. These cards don’t come up for auction all that frequently, but right now there is one card at auction with four days to go until the auction expires and the price at the moment is $560, but you can count on it selling for at least three times that.

PSA has a decent amount of data for the Jordan atomic refractors. If we focus only on the 10s, we notice that in 2020, these cards sell for around $5,500-$6,000. There have only been two sales in 2020, and both sales were in that range. Perhaps with the recent Kobe rookie sales shooting up, it will also push the Jordan atomic base card up in value, but that is yet to be seen.

Going back two years, these cards were selling in the $1,000 – $1,500 range, so the two-year price appreciation is about 300%. An extremely strong increase in value, but nothing compared to the Kobe rookie.

Given how appealing the atomic rookies are from this set, I expect these to be great long term investment cards for collectors. The cards are not only beautiful, but have demonstrated in the past few years that collectors really love a few of the key rookies and the Jordan base card from this set. Like so many cards in 2020, now may not be the best time to try and buy since the market is crazy hot, but if you like this set and see a card available at a discount, it would certainly be a great card to add to your collection.

And as always, if you have a few extras you want to donate, I’m happy to send you my mailing info.  🤣

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