If Steve Jobs, the late cofounder of Apple, designed a basketball card, I think it would look a lot like the 1996-97 Flair Showcase Class of Ninety-six rookie cards (although he probably would have chosen a simpler font). Jobs preferred simplicity and minimalism to complexity, and the look of these rookie cards are beautifully simplistic, which I find refreshing compared to many modern sets. I currently don’t own any of these cards, but they are high on my watch list, especially the Steve Nash, Kobe, and Ray Allen rookie cards (I’ve never been a big fan of AI).
There were a ton of big names in this rookie class, and many would say it was the strongest rookie card class of all time. Looking at the top 15 picks from the 1996 NBA Draft, it is very hard to argue that point.
At the time of writing this post (June, 2021), basketball card sales are well off there all time highs seen around February of this year, but the comparisons I’m going to make will be comparing graded prices of the top 5 cards from this set to what they were selling for a year ago. Lets check out these rookie cards.
Class of Ninety-Six Allen Iverson (#10)
With the first pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Allen Iverson, the sophomore phenom from Georgetown University. Despite being the shortest player drafted in the 1996 NBA draft at just 6 feet tall, Iverson was the total package and was a prolific scorer.
The Flair Showcase Class of Ninety-six Iverson rookie card captures a near full-body shot of AI gripping the basketball in both hands with nothing else on the card other than the gold lettering. A super clean and simplistic look compared to many of the modern Panini cards that feature intricate border designs and sometimes too much sizzle going on in the background.
The back of the Iverson Class of Ninety-Six card reads: “One thing can certainly be said about Allen Iverson: he lived up to the hype. And then some. The number one choice in last year’s draft placed among the top ten in scoring and steals in the season’s first half, and earned NBA rookie of the month honors in November.”
Ungraded copies of this Iverson rookie card tend to sell in the $50-$75 range, but high grade copies of this card naturally go for much more. According to the PSA website, there are nearly 175 graded copies of this card, with 100 receiving a PSA 9 grade and 28 getting a perfect GEM Mint 10 grade.
The most recent PSA 9 graded copy of this Iverson rookie sold for $150 on May 13, 2021. Last year in May a PSA 9 sold for only $12.53, so the PSA 9s are up over 1000%.
The most recent PSA 10 graded copy of this card sold in April 2021 for $740. Going back to May of 2020 (the earliest 2020 sale), a PSA 10 Iverson sold for $134.50, so the PSA 10s are up roughly 450% in about a year.
Class of Ninety-Six Stephon Marbury (#14)
With the fourth pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Stephon Marbury, the freshman from Georgia Tech. The Bucks ended up trading Marbury to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Ray Allen.
The Flair Showcase Class of Ninety-six Marbury rookie card captures a full-body shot of Marbury dribbling the basketball with his right hand and none of the text flows onto the image. A stunning yet very simple rookie card design that works so well. The one issue with these cards is that they are difficult to photograph, and many images (especially of cards up for sale on eBay) look awful and don’t do these cards justice.
The back of this card reads: “Stephon Marbury, worth two no. 1 choices to Minnesota (no. 1 choice Ray Allen and a future no. 1 pick), looks more and more like the Wolves’ franchise cornerstone. Marbury led all rookies in assists (11th, NBA), and was third among rookies at the All-Star break.”
Ungraded copies of this Marbury rookie card tend to sell in the $5-$10 range, but I wasn’t able to find many copies on eBay when I looked. According to the PSA website, there are only 13 graded copies of this card, with 8 receiving a PSA 9 grade and 3 getting a perfect GEM Mint 10 grade.
Unfortunately, there was no sales price history for any graded copies of this card available on PSA’s website, which surprised me. There were also no graded copies selling on eBay when I looked, so your guess is as good as mine for what high graded copies of this card would sell for.
Class of Ninety-Six Ray Allen (#2)
Walter Ray Allen was the 5th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves but then traded to the Bucks for Stephon Marbury. Allen tore it up for three years at the University of Connecticut, averaging over 20 points per game in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and entered the draft after his junior year.
The Flair Showcase Class of Ninety-six Ray Allen rookie card captures a full-body shot of Allen dribbling the ball with his left hand with only the slightest bit of text obscuring Allen’s right hand. The vibrant purple and green of the mid-90s Bucks jersey really pops on this simple design.
The back of this card reads: “It looks like the Bucks can take down the ‘Help Wanted’ sign for a ‘2’ guard. Ray Allen, a consensus first team All-American in ’95-96, is providing the deadly three-point range and scoring punch that Milwaukee needs to open up the inside.”
The sales for ungraded copies of this card can be as low as $10 or as high as $50. I’ve been attempting to get this card for under $20 but so far have been unsuccessful.
According to the PSA website, there are 74 graded copies of this card, including 35 PSA 9s and 22 GEM Mint PSA 10s. The two most recent sales for a PSA 9 have both sold for $58 (on April 7th and March 18th). Last April there were 3 PSA 9 sales, with the lowest sale going for $19 and the highest selling for $50, so depending on how you look at it this card is either up more than double in a year or up slightly.
The PSA 10 sales paint a different picture. From the only two sales transactions PSA has listed on their site for this card, we see the sales trend is up nicely (over 400%). The most recent sale for a PSA 10 copy of this card sold on April 19, 2021 for $510. The other sale they have listed is from November, 2020 when a PSA 10 sold for $88.
Class of Ninety-Six Kobe Bryant (#4)
Kobe Bryant was the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and was not selected by the Lakers, but rather was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and then traded to LA for Vlade Divac. Kobe was a high school stand out at Lower Marion High School and was drafted straight out of high school. Kobe was clearly a legend in his high school for not only his on court accomplishments, but he also took R&B singer Brandy (and cousin of Snoop Dogg) to prom.
The Flair Showcase Class of Ninety-six Kobe Bryant rookie card captures a near full-body shot of Kobe slashing with the basketball in his outstretched right hand. Its feels like a very fast paced action shot of Kobe and it is a great shot of the front of his rookie season Lakers jersey with his jersey number in plain sight.
The back of this Kobe rookie card reads: “Kobe Bryant, the 13th overall pick in the ’96 Draft, has certainly not been overshadowed in the hype surrounding Shaq. This is, after all, L.A. In fact, Bryant’s surge in January was a factor in L.A.’s duel with Seattle for top honors in their division.”
Sales for ungraded copies of this card are easily the most expensive on the list, with recent sales on eBay selling in the $350-$500 range.
According to the PSA website, there are just over 760 graded copies of this card. A total of 424 have received a grade of PSA 9, while only 76 have received a GEM Mint PSA 10 grade.
The three most recent sales for a PSA 9, all cards sold in June 2021, have sold for $617 on the low end, and $695 on the high end. Going back to June of 2020, the PSA 9s were selling for roughly $200-$300, so these Kobe rookies have more than doubled value over the past year.
The GEM Mint PSA 10 copies of this card have sold for as much as $18.5K back in March, 2021. However, the most recent sale of a PSA 10 sold in late May for $5.5K. There weren’t any May, 2020 sales, but on April 30, 2020 a PSA 10 sold for $700, so this Kobe rookie (like many Kobe rookies), is up big in the past year.
Class of Ninety-Six Steve Nash (#15)
Arguably the last significant pick in the 1996 NBA Draft was when the Phoenix Suns selected Steve Nash with the 15th overall pick. Nash was only the third player in the first 15 picks of the ’96 draft to have played all four years at college (Santa Clara). The other two college seniors selected in the 1996 NBA Draft were Kerry Kittles (NJ Nets 8th pick) and Todd Fuller (Golden State Warriors 11th pick).
The Flair Showcase Class of Ninety-six Steve Nash rookie card shows Nash from the knees up as he looks to be finishing a layup with his left hand. slashing with the basketball in his outstretched right hand. Overall it is a pretty decent shot of Nash, but I wish they’d zoomed in a bit more. One other minor feature about this Nash card that I like is that the card number (#15) and his selection in the draft (15th) just happen to match.
The back of the Steve Nash Class of Ninety-Six rookie card reads: “Steve, who grew up in and played basketball as a high schooler in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), enjoyed a ‘dream’ homecoming of sorts in ’96-9. The Suns first rounder hit for 17 points, 12 assists, and 7 boards in Vancouver (B.C.) against the Grizzlies.”
The blurb on the back of the card captures one strong game of many more to come for the two-time NBA MVP. Ungraded copies of this Nash rookie typically sell for around $10 on eBay, and while writing this post I found a high quality copy selling for exactly $10 and jumped on it.
When checking the PSA website, the data looks a bit off because Nash is actually listed twice. So I’m not sure if there are 34 graded copies of this card or if there are 41 graded copies. If we assume the more conservative number and go with 34, we see among those 34 are 15 PSA 9s and also 15 GEM Mint PSA 10 graded cards.
There isn’t much sales data available for the Nash rookie. The most recent sale of a PSA 9 card sold back on March 18, 2021 for $128. This is up quite significantly (over 500%) compared to the sale of a PSA 9 from roughly a year prior, when a PSA 9 sold on April 17, 2020 for $21.
There is even less data available for the GEM Mint PSA 10 copies of this card. The only 2021 sale for a PSA 10 came in February, when a copy sold for $310. The most recent sale prior to that one was way back in March, 2018 when a PSA 10 sold for just $7, an unthinkably low price given the skyrocketing prices seen in the basketball market over the past year or two.
Closing Thoughts on the Class of Ninety-Six
As a life long Boston Celtics fan, it always KILLS me to revisit this unbelievable draft class. With the 6th pick in the draft, the Celtics selected my least favorite Celtic of all time, Antoine Walker. What would the late 90’s Celtics rebuild have looked like centered around a player like Kobe or Nash… or heck, even Jermaine O’Neal (selected 17th by the Blazers).
Just for fun, I also looked up the PSA prices for the Class of Ninety-Six Walker card, and the demand for this rookie card is low. The most recent PSA 10 copy of the Walker card sold in May, 2021 for $34, roughly $34 more than I would have paid for it.
One final fun fact about this draft class was how Ben Wallace was missed by literally every NBA team. The one time champion with Detroit, four time All-Star, and four time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, was completely overlooked until the Washington Bullets plucked the undrafted Center out of Virginia Union (go Panthers!) from obscurity.
Ben Wallace is often considered the greatest undrafted player in NBA history, and also just so happens to have been a member of this insane draft class. Wallace will also be enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame in September, 2021.
In closing, all I can say is what a draft class and what a great rookie card set! I love the look of these cards and will be laser focused on finding quality ungraded copies of Kobe and Allen in the near future. Personally, I expect the market for basketball cards to cool even further once the playoffs come to a close, so I’ll be looking to make some strong pickups in a few weeks.
Please let me know what you think of these cards and this draft class by leaving a comment or messaging me directly. And I’m always interested in the next great guest post, collector interview, or set to review so I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!