It was certainly seen as a “high end” release when it arrived during the 2003-04 NBA trading card release calendar. Autographed cards of young phenom LeBron James was among the players who could be inside, after all.
No one, though, could have predicted what some of the cards that came out of ’03-04 Upper Deck Exquisite basketball would eventually sell for. $900,000? $1.8 million? Those may be outliers, but it’s clear that those who forked over the $500 for a box 16 years ago and sat on it, made a pretty shrewd investment.
Now, one of a limited number of surviving unopened boxes of the landmark product is up for sale. Heritage Auctions has one in its current basketball-only catalog. Containing one five-card pack with a guaranteed autograph numbered to 100 or less, it’s expected to sell for $40,000 or more.
A decade after Upper Deck’s exit as an NBA trading card partner, Exquisite remains one of the most popular basketball card products ever created, despite what was at the time an unheard of price for a single box. $100 per card seemed steep, even with a rookie checklist that included autographed cards of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, not to mention stars of the era like Kobe Bryant and a newly-retired Michael Jordan. Each box contains one autographed patch card numbered to 100 or less, one signed rookie patch numbered to 200 or less and three other cards numbered to 225 or less.
2003-04 Exquisite is the home to the highest of the high-end James cards, with Rookie Patch Autographs selling for staggering sums. In all, there have been more than 20 auction sales of ’03-04 Exquisite cards for more than $100,000, most featuring James, Jordan or Bryant.
The gradual rise in popularity for basketball cards, energized further by a multitude of factors this year, has turned Exquisite boxes from that era into hoops’ holy grails of unopened. While there’s no guarantee of a high-dollar autograph from the box, the mystery is enough to have already pushed bidding to $24,000 with more than a week left in the bidding.
Heritage is also offering a group of three unopened 2006-07 Exquisite boxes in the same auction.