He’s always been highly respected among those who know the game but sometimes it takes players several years to truly be appreciated. Damian Lillard rookie cards may still be flying a little below the radar compared to some of the NBA’s young stars and annual MVP candidates. It’s not a question anymore about whether he’s building a Hall of Fame case. It’s just a matter of what year he’ll eventually be inducted.
Maybe his lack of respect early on was because he wasn’t part of a “blue blood” NCAA basketball program in college. A Bay Area native, Lillard wound up at Weber State, where he was a three-time all Big Sky Conference player and two-time Player of the Year.
Drafted by Portland with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft, Lillard quickly validated the Blazers’ confidence in the mid-major star. He was the NBA’s unanimous Rookie of the Year in 2012-13. Durable and tough, he’s been the hallmark of consistency, averaging over 24 points per game and 6 1/2 assists per game for his career. As he enters his 30s, Lillard is now considered one of pro sports’ best leaders.
“I’ve never played with someone who lifted his team on the court with his play and as a leader. He genuinely cares for his teammates. What he’s been able to do is amazing. He’s the top guy I’ve played with,” says Carmelo Anthony, who has called Allen Iverson, Russell Westbrook and James Harden teammates in the past.
Lillard and Leaf
As a rookie, Lillard caused a bit of a stir in the trading card world when he signed a big money, exclusive autograph contract with Leaf Trading Cards instead of NBA licensee Panini America. Not surprisingly, Leaf utilized those signatures quite a bit in its 2012 releases. Since Leaf didn’t have an NBA or college license, the cards themselves look pretty generic. Today, some of those early Lillard Leaf autos remain fairly inexpensive.
Before the ’12-13 basketball card calendar was over, Panini struck a deal with Leaf to at least put Lillard sticker autos inside some of its late season products including its higher end brands.
Lillard Rookie Cards
As is the case with nearly every current era player, there are plenty of Damian Lillard rookie cards across Panini America products, which price points that vary quite a bit. In Lillard’s case, it reminded us of the 1990s when a player had a lot of cards but not many official autographed rookies.
From Hoops and Prestige, which picture him in his draft day suit, to his appearance in the first edition of Panini’s now exceptionally popular Prizm product, there are plenty to choose from at a variety of price points. Among the brands where you can find him: Brilliance, Elite, Gold Standard (# to 349), Innovation (also numbered to 349 and printed on acetate stock), Panini, Crusdade, Marquee (which comes with five different designs), Select, Totally Certified, National Treasurers (# to 99), Flawless (# to 20 with a diamond embedded in it) and Signatures (ten different photo versions, all numbered to 25).
It’s the Prizm rookie and its colored parallels that have become the hobby’s most sought after regular Lillard cards. In what became a hot market in 2020, PSA 10 and BGS 9.5 examples now bring four-figure prices. Mint 9s can be had for less.
The last three products of the 2011-12 season also included Draft Pick Redemption cards. As the eventual sixth pick in the ’12 draft, Lillard was given that number in Limited, Past & Present and Gold Standard.
Panini’s Lillard Rookie Autographs
The most popular Damian Lillard autographed rookie card to date is the 2012-13 National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph, despite the sticker auto. Numbered to 99, high end, graded examples now typically sell for mid-four figure prices. Prizm, Immaculate and Flawless autographs are among the other popular issues.
Lillard’s first rookie autograph relic card appears in Panini Intrigue.
There are more redemption cards for Lillard autographs that were tied to Momentum, Signatures, Elite, Intrigue, Gold Standard and Innovation through wrappers, UPC codes and customer receipts.
Panini Deal and Beyond
In 2017, Lillard signed an exclusive autograph deal with Panini, which was finally able to get his on-cards signatures into packs.
“Damian is absolutely one of the most popular and exciting players in the NBA today and his star is on the rise,” said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop at the time and there’s no doubt having a popular star like Lillard locked up been a good investment for the company.
Overall though, even a surge in interest during Lillard’s “Bubble MVP” efforts after the NBA’s 2020 restart hasn’t pushed prices of his rookie cards as high as you might think. While some collectors and investors spend much more for rookies and young players who’ve yet to match his track record, it’s hard not to consider Lillard among the smarter investments over the long haul.
You can check out all of his rookie cards on eBay here and see the 100 most watched Lillard card auctions from all years right now via the list below.