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Ten Years After: LeBron James Rookie Cards Still Offer Opportunity

A decade ago the Cleveland Cavaliers were fortunate to have the top pick in what was unabashedly referred to as “The LeBron James Draft”.   The NBA had been awaiting his arrival since his prodigious talent and size became widely known as a young teen growing up in Ohio.   James lived up to the hype and card collectors who searched for 2003-04 LeBron James cards when they were first released now have an impressive and valuable collection of rookie cards featuring one of the league’s all-time greats.

Exquisite Lebron autoWhile many of his best 2003-04 cards are locked up in card holders, display cases and even bank vaults, there are others that are still hidden in unopened boxes and others that are for sale.  It isn’t too late for a collector to start a quest to find the best.

There is a reason why some people have 2003-04 Exquisite Collection boxes stored in a secret location and unopened, with a price tag of around $8,000.  If there is a LeBron card inside it could be worth more.  A 2003-04 Exquisite Collection Limited Logos #LJ card sold recently on eBay for $12,000.  What many want as the centerpiece of their card collection is his rookie card from that set, 2003-04 Exquisite Collection #78.  Huggins and Scott Auctions sold a BGS 9.5 example in August of this year for $25,000.

The 2003-04 Exquisite Collection Extra Exquisite #LJ1 card isn’t autographed and might be an attainable card for collectors who can’t find or afford his Exquisite Collection rookie.  A recent price on eBay was $325, and while he didn’t sign it the card does come with a huge piece of his uniform.

LeBron Signature ShotsIn between LeBron’s high school career and his first NBA games was the draft, and his very bright and very memorable white draft night suit.  The suit makes an appearance in the picture on the front of his Topps, #221 which sells for around $20 ungraded and around $90 for a Gem Mint graded card.  The 2003-04 Sweet Shot Signature Shots #LJ cards can be found for around $600-800, and while his suit is pictured maybe it is the autographed piece of basketball on the front of the card that is real star.

LeBron Floor RelicJames’ high school games were on ESPN and some of his basketball cards show him playing in the uniform of St. Vincent–St. Mary High School.  His 2003-04 Upper Deck Hardcourt Clear Commemoratives Autographs #LJA card is one of the more expensive available.  One sold on eBay recently with a Buy-It-Now price of just under $800.  Cards #LB1, #LB2 and #LB3 from 2003-04 Upper Deck Hardcourt have pieces of his high school basketball court on them with a picture of him playing for the Fighting Irish and a more affordable price of around $15, while there are other Upper Deck cards that show him in his high school playing days.

Not all players drafted in the first round right out of high school become the success story that LeBron did.  Several cards from 2003-04 pair LeBron with players who didn’t have the career James would have.  Selling on eBay in the $200 to $300 price range is the 2003-04 SP Signature Edition Marquee Marks #MM-JM card shared by James and Darius Miles.  LeBron James also shares a 2003-04 Fleer Mystique Awe Pairs, card #5 which is numbered to 500 as well as a Gold version numbered to 17, and 2003-04 SP Authentic SPGU Authentic Fabrics, #JWJ, cards with DaJuan Wagner.

LeBron-Wade-Bosh If there is one LeBron card from 2003-04 that was ahead of its time and is now a must-have card it is the Topps Matrix card that has three panels featuring a Cav, a Raptor and a rookie from the Miami Heat.  It would have to be Pat Riley’s favorite card from that year too as seeing James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade together would have got his mind working out the future possibilities of the trio being together on the same team.

Card #WJB from 2003-04 Topps Rookie Matrix has sold for $33 and $40 on eBay recently.  As James collectors also have to compete with those who buy the cards of Wade and Bosh, it can cost close to $200 for a graded BGS 9.5 card.  While it isn’t as famous as the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rookie card, that also had Julius Erving on it, the James, Wade and Bosh card could eventually be one of the most expensive rookie cards that features multiple players.

Collectors always need to be watching the prices of cards to find out which parallel card is going to rise in value.  The Topps Chrome refractors cards have always been popular and a Gold version, numbered to 50, of James’ #111 card that was graded BGS 9.5 sold for $6,000.  One group of cards that might one day be considered some of his best cards from 2003-04 are from 2003-04 Upper Deck Triple Dimensions Reflections.  His #10 card has six parallel cards, they are numbered out of 500, 300, 100, 50, 10 and there is also a One of One.  Several Gold cards, numbered out of 50, have sold on eBay for around $900 each.

Just when collectors think they have most of the best James cards from his rookie season they might come across a card that has the same serial number as the jersey number he had then.  There are many collectors who will pay a premium to get that one card from the print run.  His 2003-04 SkyBox LE rookie card sold for $2,401 due to being numbered 23 of 99.  Of course there are also sellers who hope to get a higher price for cards that have the number 6, his current number, but that doesn’t really work when the picture on the card shows him wearing 23.

One of the rarest and most popular insert cards of all time are the Jambalaya cards from various E-X basketball releases.  There is a James card from his rookie season, 2003-04 E-X Jambalaya #1.  Recent prices for sold cards include a PSA 10 for $1,904 and BGS 9 for $1,299.  That is big money although Jambalaya cards for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant from earlier E-X sets sell at higher prices.  Those wanting a LeBron card from 2003-04 that has an unusual shape but also a lower price than Jambalaya can consider his #31 2003-04 Ultra Roundball Discs card.  They can be found for $10, although a perfect, graded PSA 10 sold for $149.

With more than 50 issues that are considered to be James’ rookie cards, collectors can pick those that fit their budget and have the design they like.  There are also many parallel and insert cards to consider from 2003-04.  On the precipice of his 29th birthday, James has done so much in his career that his achievements should keep his card values high for a long time.  It’s possible—perhaps likely–that he could still win a few more NBA titles before his career is over.  Below are some of his best rookie cards that feature a great design, picture, autograph or memorabilia piece, or even all of the above on the one card.

Click here to see LeBron rookies on eBay now.

23 of the Best LeBron James Rookie Cards

2003-04 Exquisite Collection #78 LeBron James

2003-04 SkyBox LE #118 LeBron James

2003-04 Topps #221 LeBron James

2003-04 Topps Rookie Matrix #WJB LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh

2003-04 SPx #151 LeBron James

2003-04 Topps Contemporary Collection #1 LeBron James

2003-04 Black Diamond #184 LeBron James

2003-04 E-X #102 LeBron James

2003-04 Flair #94 LeBron James

2003-04 SP Authentic #148 LeBron James

2003-04 Ultimate Collection #127 LeBron James

2003-04 Fleer Mystique #99 LeBron James

2003-04 UD Glass #100 LeBron James

2003-04 Upper Deck Finite #242 LeBron James

2003-04 Upper Deck Honor Roll #106 LeBron James

2003-04 Topps Chrome #111 LeBron James

2003-04 Upper Deck Hardcourt #132 LeBron James

2003-04 Topps Jersey Edition #LJ LeBron James

2003-04 SP Signature Edition #101 LeBron James

2003-04 Bazooka #223B LeBron James

2003-04 Finest #133 LeBron James

2003-04 Fleer Avant #65 LeBron James

2003-04 Upper Deck #301 LeBron James

This story has a real-time list of the current hottest LeBron James cards on eBay.