His talent was once a little hard for fans and collectors to judge. Kyrie Irving’s rookie cards would have been a bit of a mystery had they been distributed in a traditional fashion five seasons ago. A labor dispute put his cardboard arrival on hold but those who jumped in quickly once they finally arrived have been rewarded.
Duke and Done
Irving was born in Melbourne, Australia, a city that has produced Andrew Bogut and Ben Simmons. Unlike them, he moved to the USA early in his life and became one of the nation’s top recruits. A toe injury caused him to miss the middle of his first and only season at Duke but the limited work didn’t hurt his draft stock much and after returning for the NCAA Tournament, Irving declared for the 2011 draft.
To save money, the Clippers sent Baron Davis and their first-round draft choice to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Holding picks 1 and 4, the Cavs started a rebuild with Irving and forward/center Tristan Thompson. Cleveland actually had tough choices to make in the draft. At the time many thought forward Derrick Williams was the player to select ahead of Irving. The Cavs made the right choice as Williams was a tweener forward who struggled to find the right NBA team and role and Irving became a superstar. It was a big draft for guards, with Irving going first, Isaiah Thomas going last and in the middle of the first round, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard were chosen.
Business Before Rookie Cards
Irving’s impact was immediate. He averaged 18.5 points per game and earned the 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year award. Collectors had been ready to buy his cards the moment he entered the NBA and his impressive start had primed the market. However, the early season NBA lockout put trading card production on hold.
Panini decided to put the rookie cards of Irving and others from the 2011 NBA Draft class into packs the following season, creating a “double rookie class.” That meant Irving’s official rookie cards were in the same packs as rookie cards of Anthony Davis, who was making his pro debut that year.
The 2011-12 Issues
Irving isn’t without cards in 2011-12, however. Panini Limited and Gold Standard each had autograph redemption cards that were shipped after the season. Somewhat surprisingly, those first cards are relatively inexpensive. Despite not being “true” rookie cards, they are among a very small number of Irving cards that are branded in his rookie season. He’s also in a 2011 Panini VIP set that was handed out during the National Sports Collectors Convention just a month after the draft and Panini also created a Donruss card distributed during a basketball camp early in his rookie year. Both of those cards picture him in his draft day suit instead of a basketball uniform.
“Official” Kyrie Irving Rookie Cards
Irving was an All-Star in his second NBA season, averaging 22.5 points and 5.9 assists. Hoops was the first NBA trading card product in 2012-13, and fans on a budget can easily acquire what was essentially Irving’s first true rookie card.
Collectors willing to put their money behind high-end autographed rookies have several options. National Treasures (#101, numbered to 199) and Immaculate autographed patch cards are among the top sellers. The NT cards generally sell for around $1,500 with a BGS 9.5 Immaculate # to 25 selling recently for around $1,000.
The colorful parallel cards of Irving’s 2012-13 Panini Crusade #25 are a different kind of option as is his signed 2012-13 Panini Innovation Rookie Innovative Ink #44.
Many of Irving’s standard autographed rookie cards can still be found for less than $100 and even the higher end examples would seem to be a fairly sold long-term play. Over time, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 2011-12 cards gain momentum.
Still a young player, Irving can already count himself as an NBA champion, Olympic and FIBA World Cup champion, All-Star Three-Point Shootout champion and All-Star Game MVP. If the Cavs can stay together, more championships are possible and Irving will certainly continue to put up impressive numbers. In a market often full of questions, he’s among a small number of players buyers should be able to feel good about for a long time.
You can see Irving’s most watched rookie cards at auction via the list below.