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Million Dollar Basketball Cards

The basketball card narrative goes a little something like this: when Covid-19 struck in early 2020 governments were forced to shut down common luxuries like travel and eating out at restaurants. What followed was a flurry of people with money on the sidelines chose to invest in the stock market, crypto currencies (i.e. bitcoin and dogecoin), and a small but mighty group began pouring money into the sports card industry, with basketball cards as a category reaching record highs.

Demand for basketball cards over the past year or two has been further enhanced by “fractional” purchase options available through apps like Collectable and Rally. These apps create a secondary market where individuals can treat a fraction of a rare collectable like a stock. These apps, coupled with outrageous retail collector demand, has pushed the basketball card market up nearly 400% (according to Action).

As a result of all this cash flowing into the basketball card market, there have been at least SEVEN basketball cards that have sold for over $1M in the past year (as of March 6, 2021). I’m going to cover the $1M+ cards below, and later I’ll outline my estimate for a few cards that could easily hit $1M+ in the months to come, so check back again soon.

Luka Doncic Autographed Logoman Patch Rookie (1 of 1)

I first saw this story break on Twitter on February 28th, 2021 and I instantly thought this was fake basketball card news. I’ve been tracking the high end sports card market for a while now, and seeing an UNGRADED Luka Doncic rookie not only sell for over $1M, but smash the record and fetch $4.6M felt phony to me. I still have trouble believing this is real. Is this real?

But apparently February ended just where February started for the high end basketball card market and smashed records all over the place. The specific Luka card that broke the record is the card seen below, the 2018-19 National Treasures one of one Luka Doncic signed NBA Logoman patch rookie card. The mind blowing thing about this card, as I mentioned earlier but is worth mentioning again, is this card is UNGRADED!

Luka Doncic Signed NBA Logoman Patch Rookie Card

I know Luka Doncic is amazing and all, but people were thinking the same thing about Vince Carter, Derick Rose, James Harden, and a bunch of others who were insanely good, but never won a title (Harden still has time) and titles are probably the most important variable when it comes to justifying player card values. Just look to the Tom Brady rookie card that broke $1M. Big money for big titles.

Luka Doncic could win a bunch of titles. He’s a fantastic all around elite player who can fill up the stat sheet and most recently was compared to Larry Bird (a 3-time NBA champion). In fact, Doncic is one of only two players in NBA history to record 4,000 points and 1,000 assists before turning 22. The only other player to do that was Lebron.

Luka and Lebron

But one blown knee or even a less serious injury that keeps Luka from playing at 100% and this card will plummet in value. We’re also nearly half way through the NBA season and the Mavs are a playoff bubble team, with a record of 18-16, above .500 (.529), and currently seeded in 8th place with the Warriors and Grizzlies only a game behind them.

This may turn out to be a smart purchase, but my spidey senses are telling me this is not money well spent. Before passing harsher judgement, I will watch and see where the basketball card market ends up a few years from now as well as keep tabs on many championships Doncic secures. But if it were my money, I’d be grabbing rookies of Lebron, Jordan, Bird, Magic, and Kobe. But hey, its not my money so you do you Nick Fiorello.

Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Refractor Rookie

February 2021 was the hottest month to date for the high end basketball card market. The most recent card to clear the $1M mark was a very rare 1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Refractor rookie card (#138) with a perfect BGS Pristine Black Label 10 grading. There are only two cards graded with this level of perfection.

1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Refractor rookie card (#138) - perfect BGS 10 grade
1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Refractor rookie card (#138)

This Kobe card sold for just shy of $1.8M. The card was sold through Goldin Auctions and you can check out the auction listing here.

Ken Goldin, the founder of Goldin Auctions, had this to say about the card sale, “The fact that it sold for the final auction price of $1.795 million, the all-time record for any Kobe Bryant card, speaks to just how beloved he was around the world”.

Given the scarcity of this type of Kobe Bryant rookie refractor, it makes sense to me that this card would clear the $1M mark. Kobe is one of the all time greats, winning 5 NBA Championships (one less than Jordan, one more than Lebron) and was the last MVP caliber player to have a Championship three-peat along with Shaq back in 2000-2002.

As long as the total population for this pristine Topps Chrome Kobe refractor rookie stays below 10 or so, I’m confident the value of this card will continue to rise and continue to appreciate over time.

Michael Jordan Autographed Patch (/23)

February started off with a bang in the basketball card market, with a Michael Jordan autographed patch card selling for $1.44M on February 5th through a Heritage Auction. The card that was sold was a 1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey Michael Jordan Autograph card (#GJ13S).

The card is a very rare short print, one of only 23 created. As you can see from the image below, the card that sold was 8 of 23. The card was also given a PSA 7 grade, while the autograph received a PSA 8 grade.

No surprises here with an autographed Jordan selling for over $1M. The prior record for an autographed Jordan card was just shy of $1M so clearing the $1M mark was bound, the only question was when.

The market for the GOAT will always be high, and while $1.44M seems like a ridiculous price to pay for a piece of cardboard, as long as the market continues to fly high through 2021 and beyond, this Jordan card could be a very lucrative investment.

Oh, and in case you were wondering who the lucky new owner is of this rare and wonderful Jordan card, the owner said they wish to remain anonymous. Womp womp.

Anthony Davis Autographed Logoman Patch Rookie (1 of 1)

Another recent card to top $1M was the one of one autographed Anthony Davis rookie card that sold through Goldin Auctions in late January. The card sold for $1.045M and was the card featured below, a 2012-13 National Treasures one of one Anthony Davis Signed NBA Logoman Patch Rookie card (#151). The card was given a BGS Mint 9 grade.

Anthony Davis Signed NBA Logoman Patch Rookie Card (#151)

I was shocked when I heard an Anthony Davis rookie was one of the first cards to break the $1M mark. Davis is an outstanding player and all, but my view is that the smart money is on players with more storied careers than Davis. Unfortunately, Davis’ future may be questionable given the recent news around his calf strain and aggravated tendinosis.

I take the Davis rookie card sale as a sign of froth in the basketball card market, but with sports cards seemingly hitting new highs ever month there is no way to predict when if or when things will cool down any time soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Autographed Logoman Patch Rookie (1 of 1)

Back in September, 2020 a Giannis Antetokounmpo Logoman rookie card sold at a Goldin Auction for $1.812 million. The record-breaking sale of this card pushed the bar for the basketball card market even higher. Will we see any cards hit $2M+ in 2021?

The Giannis rookie was a 2013-14 National Treasures Giannis Antetokounmpo Signed NBA Logoman Patch Rookie card (#130). This card received a BGS Mint 9 grade.

I’m torn on whether this $1.8M card sale makes sense or not. The potential with Giannis is there, but unlike Davis, Giannis has no championships (yet). If he ends his career without a ring, I don’t think there is any way to justify paying such a high price for this one-of-a-kind rookie card.

However, if he is able to secure a Championship for Milwaukee, their second ever and first one in the past 50 years, the case for this rookie card certainly gets stronger. Personally, for $1.8M, I’d rather be a holder of 2 PSA 10 1986 Fleer Jordan rookies, but to each their own.

Lebron James Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph Rookie (/23)

The basketball card story that captured everyone’s attention back in 2020 was the announcement of the Lebron James rookie that topped $1 million. The card sold on Saturday July 18th for $1.8M via a Goldin Auction, and its a day I remember quite vividly because it was the same day I started this blog.

The card itself was a 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph (card #78) serial numbered 14 of 23 and a BGS Gem Mint 9.5 grade. Not only is the card a very limited print serial number, but also the patch is a 3-color patch, and most collectors place a premium value on multi-colored patches. The more colors, the better.

2003-04 Upper Deck Lebron James Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph (card #78)
2003-04 Upper Deck Lebron James Exquisite Rookie Patch Autograph (card #78)

The card pictured above is the card that sold, and as you can see it is a truly beautiful specimen. According to Beckett, this is the most coveted Lebron James rookie card on the market and for good reason. Let me say it again, the card is gorgeous! While $1.8M is a pretty penny to pay for a basketball card, I believe this was a good investment that will continue to appreciate in value.

Anyone that owns one of these super rare rookies, or the slightly less rare cousin serial numbered to 99, is sure to see nothing but upside in the years to come.

One thing I’m watching for is how the same cards featuring Dwayne Wade, a 3-time NBA champion and easily the 2nd best player to emerge from the 2003 NBA rookie class, will be valued as a result of the sky high Lebron James prices. If his ultra rare Exquisite Rookie Patch cards are only serial numbered to 3 (his jersey number), I believe a top graded Wade card could easily be a $250K+ card as well.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Black Mosaic Prizm Rookie (1 of 1)

2020 was a big year for the “Greek Freak” basketball card market, with two Giannis Antetokounmpo rookie cards topping the $1M mark. The 2013-14 Panini Prizm Black Mosaic Giannis Antetokounmpo rookie card (#290) with a BGS Gem Mint 9.5 grade sold for $1.17M at the tail end of 2020 through Goldin Auction’s Holiday Auction. Like the other Giannis rookie, this is a truly one of a kind card indicated by its one of one serial number.

This is a great looking card and I love the prizm/refractor elements which are easily seen in the video Goldin Auctions provided for this card. Like I said earlier, I absolutely see the potential with Giannis and his rookie cards, but if it were my million dollars I’d be spending it on GOATs with multiple championships – Jordan, Lebron, Kobe, Bird/Magic. Can’t go wrong with those rookies.

Honorable Mention: Steph Curry Panini National Treasures Century Autograph Patch Rookie

Although it didn’t hit the $1M mark, a Stephen Curry 2009-2010 Panini National Treasures Century Autograph (3-color) Patch rookie card sold at a Goldin Auction on January 31, 2021 for $984K, just shy of the $1M mark. The card was given a BGS 9.5 grade, with three 9.5 subgrades and one 9 subgrade for the corners.

2009-2010 Stephen Curry Panini National Treasures Century Autograph Patch rookie
2009-2010 Stephen Curry Panini National Treasures Century Autograph Patch rookie

Seeing a Gem Mint autographed Steph Curry rookie card sell just under the $1M mark absolutely makes sense to me. I didn’t see if this card was serial numbered (I’d assume it is, and a very low serial number at that), but Curry will go down as perhaps the greatest shooter of all time.

Its only a matter of time before he passes Ray Allen for most 3-point field goals all time and when he does he will also become the first player to ever hit 3,000 3-pointers in a career. Curry is one of the greats and I expect his cards to continue to appreciate over time.

One reply on “Million Dollar Basketball Cards”

[…] The first year of Topps Chrome Basketball cards just happened to coincide with “the greatest draft class in NBA history” (according to a recent ESPN video). I am, of course, talking about the 1996-97 season and the corresponding set. The 1996-97 Topps Chrome basketball card design is one of the more iconic designs, and the Kobe Bryant rookie card from this set is perhaps one of the ten most recognizable basketball cards ever. In fact, a BGS Pristine Black Label 10 Kobe Bryant rookie refractor from this set sold in February for over $1 million ($1M+ basketball cards). […]

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