Most Valuable Basketball Rookie Cards
The sports card memorabilia market has really taken off in the last three years. While collecting reached a fever pitch in 2021 and took a slight dip in 2022, things have evened out, with cards retaining their value over time better than anticipated.
The big surprise within the market has been the resiliency and popularity of basketball cards — not a traditional collector's item over the years. It seems that the trick has been a combination of both a surge in the popularity of the NBA overall and the popularity of a certain elite group of modern players who have established themselves as all-time greats.
Here's a look at the most valuable basketball rookie cards of all time with the caveat that, while the same player can appear on the list multiple times, we made sure that each card that appears is its own, unique version.
15. 1961 Fleer Wilt Chamberlain
Bottom line: Like a lot of players from the older eras — let's say the 1970s and before — the Wilt Chamberlain rookie card isn't actually from his rookie year of 1959-60 but from the following season. Wilt the Stilt's rookie card is one of the true vintage gems that exist in the basketball card-collecting world, and the PSA 9 or 10 grades are the ones that are going to fetch six figures.
Plus, there are over 1,000 of these cards that have been graded, so they're not entirely inaccessible for the seasoned collector.
Note: All card values are estimates as of April 2023 or from the date the last known sale took place; they also coincide with the highest-level PSA grades assigned to each card.
14. 1948 Bowman George Mikan
Bottom line: Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan was the signature superstar of the first era of the NBA in the 1940s and 1950s, and his 1948 rookie card — he actually began playing pro basketball in 1946 — is considered one of the rarest finds in sports card collectibles history. It's rare because Bowman didn't produce many cards in the 1940s to the point that only 300 have been graded, with a PSA 9 being sold for over $400,000 in 2021.
You can probably get one of the lesser-graded versions of the card for under $5,000 if you can get your hands on it.
13. 1984-85 Star Michael Jordan
Bottom line: Star Company Basketball Cards were the only NBA-licensed basketball cards produced in the mid-1980s, and the 1984-85 set actually includes three variations of the Michael Jordan rookie card — the high-value one we have listed here, a card featuring Jordan playing for the U.S. Olympic Team and another for him winning Rookie of the Year.
The Jordan card widely credited for being his rookie card — the 1986 Fleer — was issued two years after he began playing, but in this case, there was already an actual rookie card out there. So, that's confusing.
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12. 2018 Panini Prizm Luka Doncic
Bottom line: One of two Luka Doncic rookie cards to make the list, this one looks like the more classical of the two, with Doncic shooting a runner off one foot. Doncic's rookie season was memorable, as he was not only a unanimous All-Rookie Team selection but was also named NBA Rookie of the Year.
Doncic wasn't actually drafted by the Dallas Mavericks — he was picked by the Atlanta Hawks who swapped him straight up for Trae Young, who was picked by the Mavericks.
11. 1957 Topps Bill Russell
Bottom line: Well, will you look at that … an actual rookie card! Boston Celtics center Bill Russell's 1957 Topps rookie card was part of the first set of basketball cards ever created by Topps. While there have been over 1,000 Russell rookie cards graded by PSA, only three have attained the near-mint PSA 9 rating — those are the ones that will fetch you close to $1 million if you put them on the market.
The reason those cards are so rare stems from the source, as Topps notably made most of the Russell rookies with defects in the printing process.
10. 1980-81 Topps Scoring Leaders Larry Bird/Julius Erving/Magic Johnson
Bottom line: This Topps "Scoring Leaders" card is actually considered the de facto rookie card for both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson and just luckily also features another Hall of Famer in Dr. J. This series was notable for several bad cuts, meaning they came out off-center from the Topps printing machines. While there are thousands of these available, the PSA 10 versions have each gone for over $700,000 in the last two years.
This card definitely reminds us of the 1973 Mike Schmidt baseball rookie card that features two other players on it and once sold for close to $400,000. There are several examples of rookie cards in baseball that feature multiple players but not really in hoops.
9. 2012-13 Panini National Treasures NBA Logoman Anthony Davis
Value: $1.02 million
Bottom line: Hey, we're surprised to see Anthony Davis on this list as much as you are. While he's a surefire Hall of Famer, you just don't get the cache of having a Davis rookie card like you would any of the other players on the list.
Maybe it's because he's hurt all the time? Maybe it's because we don't think he's very charismatic. This seems like a bad investment and a grossly overpriced card.
8. 2009-10 Panini National Treasures Century Platinum Stephen Curry
Value: $1.08 million
Bottom line: Getting your hands on any sort of Curry card from the first year of his playing career seems like a steal at this point, but this is one of two that make our list.
Curry was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft out of Davidson. He was the first player from the Golden State Warriors to make an NBA All-Rookie Team in almost a decade and didn't win the first of four NBA championships until his sixth season in 2015.
7. 2013-14 Panini Prizm Prizms Black Mosaic Giannis Antetokounmpo
Value: $1.14 million
Bottom line: Here's one of two cards from Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo to make our list, and both are similar in that each is a 1-of-1 card and each sold for over $1 million. Giannis was just 18 years old and one of the youngest players in NBA history when he made his debut with the Bucks in 2013 after they selected him No. 15 overall.
He reportedly grew another 4 inches after the Bucks picked him, even though his rookie year was decidedly underwhelming, as he averaged 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds.
6. 2003 Topps Chrome Refractors LeBron James
Value: $1.2 million
Bottom line: One of two LeBron James rookie cards to make the list, the Topps Chrome Refractors rookie card is a much more classic(normal) look for a rookie card and is actually one you might be able to get your hands on because there are multiple in existence.
While some players see their card values fluctuate pretty drastically over their careers, LeBron's rookie cards have seen an upward trajectory over the last 20 years that almost resembles a Ponzi scheme chart — no matter what, his cards just keep making you money.
5. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors Kobe Bryant
Value: $1.795 million
Bottom line: Another card you can count on to only continue to rise in value, the Topps Chrome Refractor Kobe Bryant rookie card shows the late, great superstar in all of his teenage glory for the Los Angeles Lakers. And he's wearing the No. 8 jersey he donned for the first decade of his 20-year career.
Only 295 of these cards exist, and just two have been gifted with the BSG 10 Black Label — those are the ones that will fetch you close to $2 million.
4. 2013-14 Panini National Treasures Logoman Patch Giannis Antetokounmpo
Value: $1.857 million
Bottom line: This Giannis Antetokounmpo rookie card is a 1-of-1 — a truly unique basketball card with an autograph from the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and 2021 NBA Finals MVP makes it one of the most valuable basketball cards of all time.
At the time of its last sale in September 2020, this was the most expensive basketball card sale of all time at just a shade under $2 million.
3. 2018 Panini National Treasures Logoman Luka Doncic
Value: $4.6 million
Bottom line: This card … just looks expensive. The horizontal framing of the nearly $5 million Luka Doncic rookie card from Panini National Treasures comes replete with an autograph from the Dallas Mavericks superstar. It probably goes without being said, but yeah, this is a 1-of-1 card that was unboxed by Layton Sports Card and sold in February 2021 for an astronomical sum that briefly made it the most valuable sports card sale of all time.
To underline the significance of the sale of the card, all grades were wiped off the books following the record purchase. We're not even sure what that means, but it seems like a pretty baller move.
2. 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Rookie Patch LeBron James
Value: $5.2 million
Bottom line: This particular version of the LeBron James rookie card is probably the most valuable card overall because the 23 in existence make up about a half-dozen spots on other lists of the most valuable basketball cards ever sold. But the one in best condition sold in April 2021 for $5.2 million.
James has likely passed Michael Jordan as the basketball player with the most valuable collection of cards in history.
1. 2009-10 Panini National Treasures Logoman Stephen Curry
Value: $5.9 million
Bottom line: This isn't just the most expensive basketball card ever sold or the most expensive basketball rookie card in history, but it's also one of the most expensive collectible cards ever made, regardless of sport or Pokemon or whatever you're into.
Sold for just a shade under $6 million in 2021, this is the only one in existence, which is why it truly is the cream of the crop.
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