The NBA’s first superstar averaged 23.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in an era when teams rarely scored in triple figures. His name was on the marquee of every basketball arena that had one. Basketball historians who are collectors often start with George Mikan basketball cards, an exercise that will take you back to the league’s early days and the first NBA collectibles ever issued. Considering his place in history, Mikan cards may be undervalued. You’ll find him on regional and food issues that are desirable but not always expensive. And while there are some amazing Mikan cards among modern card releases, those rare gems from his playing days that are his best ones.
The 1948 Bowman George Mikan rookie is one of the hobby’s iconic cards but there are others to collect from that era too.
The ’48 Bowman #69 is without a doubt one of the most sought after basketball cards of all time, and when the condition of the card approaches what it had when fresh out of the pack the price jumps to a record-setting level. An amazing PSA Gem Mint 10 Mikan card sold for $218,550 several years ago. Recent eBay sales for Mikan’s Bowman rookie card include a PSA 2 for $850 and PSA 7 for $5,766.
Six decades ago there were people all across the U.S.A. eating cereal, bread, potato chips and desserts and throwing the packaging into the trash or ignoring the small cards that came with the food. The 1948 Kellogg’s Pep #BK1 George Mikan stamp was a prize inside Kellogg’s Pep cereal boxes. The stamp featured a picture of Mikan wearing his trademark glasses on the front and player information on the back. These aren’t scarce, but they’re not easy to find in higher grades because of their fragile nature. A poorly centered copy sold recently for $10.49 but for someone on a budget trying to grab a piece of history and a unique rookie card, it was a good buy. The price is usually around $100 for ungraded cards, with few visible flaws. $500 was paid for a PSA 7 Mikan Pep card on eBay recently. Higher grade Pep Mikans sell for $1,000-1,500. You can see recent selling prices here.
One old Mikan card didn’t come inside a product, or as part of the package was the 1948-49 Exhibit Sports Champions #BK4 that was available in arcade machines back in the day. Recent eBay sales for Mikan’s Exhibits Sports Champions card include a graded SGC 4 for $177.50, SGC 1 at $59.99, and an ungraded card for $39.56. In 2010 Goodwin & Co. sold a graded SGC 4 card for $380.70.
Mikan also appears on bread labels. The cost of bread in 1951 was around 16 cents and salting away a few Mikans at the time would have been a great move. The law of supply and demand would seem to indicate that few people saved the bread labels. The 1950-51 Bread for Health #21 is very bright, with Mikan wearing yellow shorts and with a yellow box to the right of the bread label that contains player information, and says that “Mikan is considered the world’s greatest player”. The card is square in shape, with the corners cut out. SCP Auctions sold a Mikan graded SGC FAIR 20 for $1,172 in 2011 and a Mile High Card Company auction brought in a final price of $1,279.25 in 2012 for a card with the same grade.
Even rarer than his Bread for Health card is Mikan’s 1951 Bread for Energy #27. The front of the bread label has a black and white photograph of Mikan with a basketball in his right hand, and behind that is a card design that looks like it should be on an early Skybox card as there are bright red and yellow designs that make it look like Mikan is coming out of the card. In 2012 a Bread for Energy Mikan with a grade of SGC POOR 1 sold for $2,390 at Legendary Auctions.
If a collector wants to experience the combination of George Mikan and a bread label type of basketball card at a much lower price, then Panini’s 2011-12 Past and Present is the set to look for with its reprint of the old Bread for Life issues #25 selling for a few dollars.
Scott’s Potato Chips of Minneapolis issued Lakers cards when the team was there in the early 1950′s. The front of the card is a drawing of Mikan, in the pose he had on his 1948 Bowman card where he is running and leaning a bit to the right as he dribbles the basketball. The black and white drawing has a blue background. The back of the card has this informational nugget about Mikan: “the key to his success is sleep. He gets 12 hours a night.”
One reason why these cards seem to be more scarce than some of Mikan’s other rare cards could be the special offers that were available to Lakers fans at the time. Cards could be traded in for tickets to games, and by handing in cards of two guards, two forwards and a center and paying 25 cents tax a kid could get a ticket to see the Lakers play Fort Wayne, New York, Boston or Tri-Cities. If someone had sent in all the cards in the set to the Potato Products Corporation they would have received an autographed team photo. It’s an early example of a basketball redemption card but not one true collectors would embrace! SCP Auctions sold a low grade 1950-51 Lakers Scott’s #9 George Mikan card for $2,646, in their August 2013 auction. Legendary Auctions offered a graded SGC 60 Mikan card to collectors who bid the price up to $7,170.
1951 and 1952 were great years to eat Wheaties, as a George Mikan card could be found on some of the boxes. They’re not fancy but they are reasonably priced. The 1951 Wheaties #3 calls him “Mr. Basketball”. The 1952 Wheaties #BK2A George Mikan card features a game action drawing while the #BK2B variation has the same closeup drawing that the 1951 card had. The 1952 cards have a red background behind the drawings. There were three basketball players, with two cards each, available on Wheaties boxes that year. A set of six cards of George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Bob Davies sold on eBay recently for $33. An auction on eBay of the two Mikan cards ended at $24.
As the Wheaties cards were cut out from the box, there are often examples of cards that are not in the best condition, as kids back in the days would try to cut out the card with its rounded corner design. One way around this for a card investor would be to buy a complete box, and in 2011 the final price for a box that had a Mikan card on it that was auctioned off by Legendary Auctions was $359. As well as Mikan, there were cards on the box of Pollard and Davies as well as stars of football, baseball and other sports (see Mikan Wheaties cards on eBay here.
The best of both worlds, delicious treats and sports cards, was available in 1952 when consumers purchased boxes of Royal Desserts. Inside were puddings, gelatin desserts and custards while the back of the box was a card of a famous athlete or movie star. There were eight different basketball players to collect, and the 1952 Royal Desserts #6 George Mikan is now the most expensive basketball card from the set by a wide margin. Mile High Card Company auctioned off a Mikan card graded FAIR 1.5 in 2012 that finished with the price of $2,271.71. Legendary Auctions had an auction lot with seven of the eight basketball cards from the set, including the Mikan, that sold for $3,555.
The 1952 Royal Desserts #6 George Mikan has a picture of Mikan on the left side with information about him on the right. It mentions how he was chosen as the “Basketball Player of the Half-Century”. The other basketball players in the set are Fred Schaus, Dick McGuire, Jack Nichols, Frank Brian, Joe Fulks, Jim Pollard and Buddy Jeanette. There were also baseball cards, Stan Musial and Warren Spahn were two of the star players who had cards, and hockey cards, with card #8 Gordie Howe being the highlight, on Royal Desserts boxes.
It is not only the scarcity of his cards that makes Mikan a player that old and young collectors want, as he was also a superstar who was literally a game-changer. He changed the game of basketball, and changed it for the better. The goal tending rule was introduced because Mikan could just reach up and stop shots going into the basket. The court was altered too. The lane was made wider to stop Mikan having an easy time in the low post. One change that was caused by teams trying to stop Mikan, and the excitement of a high-scoring basketball game, was the introduction of the shot clock. To stop Mikan scoring, teams decided to implement the stall. Without that rule change, today there could be 19-18 final scores for basketball games like there was in 1950.
Mikan also had an impact on pro hoops after his playing days, from selecting the colors for the ABA’s basketball to helping the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves arrive in the NBA.