Upper Deck gambled big when they introduced the first set of Exquisite Basketball cards in 2003-04. Slick graphics and photos, autographs, game-used jersey cards, and an incredibly limited supply helped to make 2003/04 Exquisite Basketball the cards collectors simply had to have.
If they could afford them.
The time was right both for some rookies to change the face of basketball and for Upper Deck to change the way people looked at modern sports cards. Not only were basketball stars born--LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony to name a few--but their rookie cards dominated the first Exquisite Basketball set which originally sold for $500 per five-card pack.
The most expensive first issue in card history was met with skepticism by many card shops but those who didn’t order boxes because of the high cost now wish they had. Some cards in the set, such as James autographed rookie, often sell for over $5000. If you had kept an unopened case of three boxes (15 cards), you would most likely be able to sell them today for somewhere between $6,000 and $12,000.
So, what was it that made the Exquisite sets the highlight of the basketball card year right up until the last one in 2009-2010?
First of all, there is a certain beauty in high end cards. From the minute you see the box, you know that this is going to be a high end superior product. Card sets like Exquisite are not made for kids. They are made to appeal to adults who have much more money to spend and who are looking for packs with guaranteed autographs and jersey patches or both that are limited in number.
There is a certain feeling that is like no other when you know that you have the chance to pull a card of a star player that is 1 of 1 in a particular box. High end cards that are produced right are dazzling. Vintage collectors and those with limited budgets may scoff, but to many hard core modern collectors they are works of art. From the box they are packaged in to the quality of the card stock, the cards are unlike any other.
Take a look at what buyers received in the first 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Basketball product. You got an autographed rookie card with a player-worn patch which was numbered to 99 or to 225, a game-worn jersey card, an autograph/patch insert card, a veteran player card numbered to 225, and either another autographed patch card or a parallel card with a low number.
Autograph patch cards of James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were the stars and Upper Deck secured autographed cards featuring the likes of Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant.
The final Exquisite basketball card set came out last season with a five-card pack price increasing from $500 to $650 at its initial offering. One of the biggest selling points of these high end cards was their limited numbers. Collectors are still blogging about them today and despite Upper Deck no longer owning an NBA license, they still have a strong following.
High end cards like Exquisite Basketball are among those that will likely continue to increase in value. There simply aren't that many available boxes on the open market and the market price limits the audience.
While not every year's issue drew rave reviews, Exquisite was around long enough to establish itself as the most desired brand among high-end rookie card collectors during the arrival of some of the current game's biggest stars.
Derrick Rose, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are three other hot rookie cards from the early years of Exquisite, with the autographed cards numbered to 99, bringing hundreds or more at auction. Just last month, several auto patch cards featuring the red-hot Rose sold for thousands each via eBay. An autographed Wade rookie patch card brought $7500.
In addition to basketball, Upper Deck has offered football and hockey Exquisite sets and Baseball Rookie Autographs. However, none has ever achieved the popularity of Exquisite Basketball.