Basketball card

The 7 Most Expensive Basketball Cards from Topps Chrome Debut Set (plus 2 cards to watch)

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).

Below is the list of the most valuable PSA 10 graded base cards from this set, focusing on non-refractors. Each card listed does have a refractor, but data for those cards is very limited, so in order to highlight the 1-year price change for both PSA 10s and PSA 9s, I decided to stick with the base cards.

For those unfamiliar with Topps Chrome refractor cards, they differ from the base cards because they have a beautiful reflective glossy finish as well as an “R” below the card number on the back of the card. The 1996-97 Topps Chrome set is not the first basketball card set to feature refractors (that would be the 1993 Finest set), but they are the first to my knowledge to distinguish refractors from non-refractors on the back of each card.

Typically, top graded refractors from this set will fetch between 5x-8x of the base card value, but depending on the player it could be a little more or a little less.

Topps Chrome #72: Chicago Bulls 70 Win Season

Technically I’m cheating a bit with the Bulls commemorative 70 Win Season card, since the most recent sale price for a PSA 10 was $686 in September, 2020. I’m sure if one of these sold in 2021 it would have easily cleared $700, so I don’t feel bad making a bit of a rounding adjustment.

The 70 win season card features images of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. Its a pretty cool commemorative card featuring the three most dominant players on the Bulls record-setting 1995-96 team. This commemorative card is also one of only two cards on this list to not feature a rookie from the 1996 NBA draft class.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #72: Chicago Bulls 70 Win Season
1996-97 Topps Chrome #72: Chicago Bulls 70 Win Season

As mentioned above, the most recent PSA 10 sale of this card sold for $686. There were only two PSA 10 sales, so its impossible to give a rough estimate for what this card was selling for last year at around this time (late March or early April). The only other PSA 10 sale sold almost exactly two years ago, on April 22, 2019, for $89.

The PSA 9 sales are much easier to track over time since there are many more transactions listed on the PSA site. The most recent PSA 9 sale occurred on March 24, 2021 and sold for $190. Going back to May 24th, 2020 (the closest sale roughly 1 year away), a PSA 9 copy of this card sold for $86, so it has more than doubled in a little under one year.

The Bulls record setting 72 win season in 1995-96 was broken exactly 20 years later when Steph Curry and the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors managed to carve out a 73 win season. Incredibly, the Warriors never lost two games in a row that season and Curry led the NBA in both points per game (30.1) and steals per game (2.1) that season. Jordan and Curry had strikingly similar numbers as they led their teams to 70+ win seasons.

2015-16 Curry1995-96 Jordan
Comparing Curry’s and Jordan’s statistics during their teams record setting seasons. Points, rebounds, assists, and steals are all on a per game basis.
Steph Curry and Michael Jordan
Steph Curry and Michael Jordan

Topps Chrome #217: Ray Allen Rookie

Ray Allen was one of the premiere rookies to debut in the 1996-97 Topps Chrome set. The Hall of Fame shooting guard was selected 5th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Allen never suited up as a Timberwolf because he and Andrew Lang were traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for the rights to 4th pick Stephon Marbury. I can’t help but imagine what a Minnesota team with both Garnett and Allen in their primes would have looked like.

 1996-97 Topps Chrome #217: Ray Allen Rookie card
1996-97 Topps Chrome #217: Ray Allen Rookie

Its been over 6 months since a GEM Mint PSA 10 Ray Allen rookie has sold (at least according to the PSA site), but the sale that occurred back on October 1, 2020 went for $747. A few days prior to the October sale, a PSA 10 Allen rookie sold for just shy of $900. Given the white hot basketball card market and the popularity of the first Topps Chrome set, I am confident this top graded card would clear $1,000 today.

So far in April 2021 there have been two PSA 9 sales of this card, both sold for $200+ ($261 and $208). Going back to roughly this same time last year and this PSA 9 card was selling in the $50-$70 range, so this card has roughly tripled in a year.

Allen will go down as one of the best shooters in NBA history and having a rookie card from the first Topps Chrome set will likely resonate with collectors so I’d imagine this card would be a good long term bet for the more investor-focused collectors out there.

Topps Chrome #177: Stephon Marbury Rookie

With the 4th pick in the 1996 NBA draft the Milwaukee Bucks selected Stephon Marbury, only to quickly trade him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ray Allen. Marbury was a natural top 5 pick after his standout freshman year performance at Georgia Tech, where he averaged 19 points and 4.5 assists per game and earned the ACC Rookie of the Year award.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #177: Stephon Marbury Rookie
1996-97 Topps Chrome #177: Stephon Marbury Rookie

The top graded PSA 10 Topps Chrome Marbury rookie has very recently popped in value, with the most recent sale hitting $750 on March 22, 2021. The most recent sale could certainly be considered an outlier, since the prior highest sale was $370, also in March 2021. Going back to March and April of 2020, the PSA 10 Topps Chrome Marbury rookie was selling in a range of $55-$95.

A little over a week into April, there have been 17 PSA 9 Marbury rookies sold in March and April, with the most recent sale going for $123 on April 2, 2021. The highest sale for this PSA 9 Marbury rookie occurred on March 23rd, when it sold for $230. Remarkably, if we go back to this same time last year, this card was selling for only $10-$20.

While Marbury was two-time NBA All Star, he never won a title and for that reason I don’t anticipate this card rising in value like some of the other cards from this Topps Chrome debut set.

However, Marbury has been very involved in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), both as a player and coach, and saw great success during his time playing in China. Marbury won 3 Championships playing for the Beijing Ducks and was awarded the CBA Finals MVP award in 2015. Marbury is also the present head coach of the Beijing Royal Fighters, formerly the Beikong Fly Dragons.

If sales of the Topps Chrome Stephon Marbury rookie continue a strong upward trend, I’d expect most of the demand being driven by China.

Topps Chrome #171: Allen Iverson Rookie

Hands down the most hyped player to emerge from the 1996 NBA draft was the 76ers first round draft pick, Allen Iverson. Iverson played college ball for the Georgetown Hoyas but entered the draft after his sophomore year. However, in his two years at Georgetown he won the Big East Rookie of the Year and averaged 23 points per game, solidifying himself as the Hoyas’ all-time leader in career scoring average.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #171: Allen Iverson Rookie
1996-97 Topps Chrome #171: Allen Iverson Rookie

The image Topps chose for Iverson is awful and in the photo Iverson is clearly upset about something. Its far from a flattering image and I wish they’d chosen something more in line with the Marbury card. However, the image doesn’t seem to deter collectors who have recently shelled out $4K+ for this top graded card.

The most recent sale of this card landed just under $3K on April 1, 2021, but in March, 2021 there were 6 sales of $4K or higher, and the highest selling price for this PSA 10 rookie card came on February 10, 2021 when someone paid $12,976 for the PSA 10 Topps Chrome Iverson rookie. Going back roughly one year, this top graded Iverson rookie card was selling in the $300-$700 range, so current sale prices are still up significantly compared to where sales were one year ago.

The PSA 9 Iverson rookie cards experienced a similar but less dramatic spike back in February but have since come down from those highs. The most recent PSA 9 sale went for $760 in late March, but back in mid-February a PSA 9 Iverson rookie sold for as much as $2,275. Going back to March and April of 2020, the PSA 9 Iverson rookie was selling in the range of $70-$130, with a noticeable bump in prices coming about a month after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Topps Chrome #182: Steve Nash Rookie

There is no doubt that Steve Nash was one of the best players to emerge from the 1996-97 rookie class, but I was surprised to see his top graded chrome rookie cards are currently selling a bit higher than Iverson’s chrome rookie (but perhaps this is a timing issue more than anything else).

An eight time All Star and two time MVP, Nash is perhaps the best Canadian to ever play in the NBA and was an absolute steal when the Phoenix Suns grabbed him with their 15th pick. Nash never won a championship during his playing career, but he may have that opportunity as the head coach for the Brooklyn Nets. With only about 30 regular season games remaining in the 2020-21 season, the Nets currently hold the best record in the Eastern Conference, winning nearly 70% of their games, with a record of 36 wins and 16 losses.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #182: Steve Nash Rookie

The Topps Chrome Nash rookie card image is solid, showing Nash mid dribble and it looks like he is being defended by Allen Iverson. The last PSA 10 Nash rookie card sold back in February, 2021, in the middle of what could be considered a Topps Chrome (or perhaps a broader) basketball card bubble.

That most recent PSA 10 Nash rookie card sold for $4,150, which also happens to also be the highest price ever for a top graded Nash Topps Chrome rookie card. Going back a year, the PSA 10 Nash rookies were only selling for around $750-$850, so if the $4K price holds, the Nash rookies will look to be up roughly 400% in roughly one year.

If we look at the PSA 9 Nash rookies, we don’t see as much of a price spike as some of the other cards from this set, but the most recent PSA 9 Nash rookie is well below its high. The latest Nash rookie sale took place on April 1, 2021 and sold for $480. However, back in March 2021 a PSA 9 Nash rookie sold for $1,055. When we rewind to March and April of 2020, we see the PSA 9 Nash chrome rookies were selling in the range of $75-$125, so again we are seeing an increase of roughly 400% in a year.

Topps Chrome #139: Michael Jordan

The only other non-rookie card on this Best of Topps Chrome debut list belongs to the GOAT himself, Michael Jordan. The Jordan card from this set features a great shot of Jordan taking the ball to the rim and avoiding the outstretched arm of Alonzo Mourning.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #139: Michael Jordan (avoiding Alonzo Mourning)
1996-97 Topps Chrome #139: Michael Jordan

There haven’t been any PSA 10 Jordan chrome sales since February, so like the Nash rookie, the data for this top graded Jordan card may be outlier data from the bubble. Never the less, the most recent PSA 10 Jordan card sold on February 23, 2021 for $4,823. One day earlier, a different PSA 10 sold for nearly the exact same price ($4,850).

Going back to March of 2020, the PSA 10 Jordan Topps Chrome cards were selling in a fairly tight range of $500-$600. It is important to note also that Jordan card values have risen greatly as a result of the Covid-19 shut down as well as the Netflix miniseries The Last Dance, which aired the first two episodes on April 19, 2020.

The five most recent sales of these PSA 9 Jordan cards have been in the $400-$600 range. The highest price for a PSA 9 Jordan card came in February, when one sold for $815. Going back to Jan-March of 2020, the PSA 9 Jordan chrome cards were only selling for around $40-$60, but as soon as The Last Dance came out, they spiked up to as high as $750 in April, 2020, and have never come below $220 since.

Since Jordan is arguably the greatest ever, and with this set featuring Kobe’s most iconic rookie card, I highly anticipate these cards continue to climb in value. I also think there will be a great buying opportunity in the summer and fall, once the economy opens back up and the basketball season is over, so if you want this card my advice is to be patient, and look for your opportunity in a few months.

Topps Chrome #138: Kobe Bryant Rookie

Without a doubt the most expensive and most sought after card from the 1996-97 Topps Chrome set is the Kobe Bryant rookie card. It is an absolutely fantastic shot of Kobe slashing to the hoop against the Minnesota Timberwolves and it is easily one of the most iconic basketball cards of all time.

Like Nash, Kobe also wasn’t a top 10 pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. In fact, 12 different teams passed up Kobe, until the Charlotte Hornets scooped him up with their 13th overall pick. Kobe never played college ball and was the first guard to ever be drafted right out of high school.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #138: Kobe Bryant Rookie
1996-97 Topps Chrome #138: Kobe Bryant Rookie

This top graded PSA 10 Kobe rookie has exploded in value over the past 15 months or so. The most recent sale of the PSA 10 Kobe chrome rookie sold on April 3, 2021 for a whopping $60K, making it the highest price ever paid for a PSA 10 non-refractor Kobe chrome rookie! That sale may be an outlier though, as just a day earlier a PSA 10 Kobe rookie sold for $33.9K. To help see the incredible price movement for this Kobe rookie, I included a simple dot graph going back to January 1, 2020 of all the PSA 10 sales listed on the PSA website.

Dot graph showing the sales history for 1996-97 Topps Chrome PSA 10 Kobe Bryant Rookie cards (#138) from January 1, 2020 to April 4, 2021
Sales history for the 1996-97 Topps Chrome PSA 10 Kobe Bryant Rookie card (#138) from January 1, 2020 to April 4, 2021

As you can see, back in early January, 2021 the GEM Mint PSA 10 Kobe chrome rookies were selling in the $2K-$3K range. By late July the price of this card crossed the $10K mark and continued to climb for the rest of 2020. By January, 2021 these top graded Kobe rookies were selling for around $20K and by February every sale but one sold for $35K or above. These Kobe rookies looked to have peaked in February, when a sale on February 21, 2020 sold for $56K, but the most recent sale has since shown that demand is still alive and well for this Kobe rookie.

When looking at sales of the PSA 9 Kobe rookies, we see a much more pronounced spike back in February, 2021 that has since come down quite significantly. The two most recent sales of a PSA 9 Kobe chrome rookie took place on April 4, 2021 with one selling for $5K and the other selling for $6.4K.

These recent prices are over $10K off their February peak, when a PSA 9 Kobe chrome rookie sold for $17K on February 11, 2021. Going back to January of 2020, these cards were selling for around $750 and by April of 2020 they were going for $1K-$1.5K, so the current prices are still well above what they were just one year ago.

Two Chrome Cards to Watch

There is a big gap between the seven cards listed above and most of the other base cards in this set. There are however two cards featuring HOF players that also have Michael Jordan in the background, and I think these two cards may be sleepers that could see increased demand from collectors as this set continues to resonate with collectors.

The first card to watch that I currently think is a bargain is card #80 featuring David Robinson. There is very limited data right now on this card, but its an awesome shot of Robinson playing defense on Jordan. This card is also unique because it is the only one in the set featuring Jordan wearing a white home uniform. The only sale on the PSA site now for this card is a PSA 9 that sold for $70 in February, 2021.

The image on the card features both Robinson and Jordan equally, and between these two players you have a combined 8 NBA Championships. I’m quite bullish on this card and will be looking to add an ungraded copy or two to my personal collection.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #80: David Robinson
1996-97 Topps Chrome #80: David Robinson

The second card that I think is worth watching and possibly adding to the collection for a bargain price is card #176 featuring Jordan’s teammate, Dennis Rodman. The Rodman card doesn’t have nearly as clear a shot of Jordan, but he is still easy to spot in the background, with both he and Rodman wearing the classic red away uniform.

1996-97 Topps Chrome #176: Dennis Rodman
1996-97 Topps Chrome #176: Dennis Rodman

There is a fair amount of data available on the PSA site, and the most recent PSA 10 Rodman chrome card sold for $156 in March, 2021. However, this card has seen sale prices as high as $500. There have only been two 2021 sales of a PSA 9 Rodman card, with one in January going for $28 and one in February selling for $94. If you can find a good ungraded copy of this card on eBay for $20 or so, I think its a card worth adding to the collection that could easily climb in value over the next couple years, especially if the hobby continues its hot streak.

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