Basketball cards were once so lightly regarded that the only company that made them decided to take a pass, even when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were young, Michael Jordan was an explosive rookie and Dr. J was still flying high and winning titles.
That pendulum swung back in the 1990s, though, and now the sport with worldwide appeal is building a pretty impressive sales record. The list of the most expensive basketball cards ever sold at auction now includes several that have brought over $100,000. At least a couple of private sales would likely crack this list, but for now, we’ll keep it to those sold through major auction companies and eBay.
$501,900 – 1969-70 Lew Alcindor Rookie Card PSA 10
One of only two given the Gem Mint rating by PSA, this card was the centerpiece of the set created when the NBA finally corraled Topps after a 12-year hiatus. Their last set had been in 1957-58 and produced Bill Russell’s rookie card, among others.
Dating to a time before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Alcindor rookie sold during Heritage Auctions event in late summer 2016.
$403,664 – 1948 Bowman George Mikan Rookie Card PSA 10
Speaking of one-and-done sets, Bowman popped in with their issue at a time when pro hoops was an afterthought for most of the country and barely a ripple in other parts of the world. The lone PSA 10 example of the only bubble gum card featuring the game’s first superstar isn’t likely to be matched. This one sold in December 2015.
$350,100 – 1996-97 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Michael Jordan (Green) PSA Authentic
This card is now the third highest priced basketball card ever sold. While the whereabouts of most of the others remains a bit of mystery, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another hit the market soon considering the life-changing type money this one sold for, especially considering the ‘Authentic’ designation. The PMG Jordan Red will also likely see a spike.
There are many other Jordan cards numbered to 10 or less but the PMGs have taken on a life of their own over the past ten years and hoop collectors love the 90s.
$312,000 – 2003-04 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection LeBron James Ultimate Logos
This card is more of a manufactured rarity since only one was created, but such is the nature of the most expensive 21st century trading cards. LeBron has a zillion rookie cards but it’s those autographed, low serial numbered ones that sell for the big bucks if you’re lucky enough to snare one from a pack.
This one was sold by Goldin Auctions in 2016. It was the highest price ever paid for an autographed sports trading card. The NBA logo was taken from a jersey James wore as a teenager, posing at the NBA Rookie Photo Shoot.
$240,000 – 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor Rookie Card PSA 10
The second PSA 10 Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar rookie to sell for a six-figure price, this out turned out to be a bit of a “bargain” compared to the first one. Sold by Heritage Auctions in the fall of 2016, it might well fetch a bigger price now.
The oversized nature of the card and the fact that it’s old enough to quality for AARP membership now makes it unlikely too many more will emerge that have a shot at nailing a 10 grade.
$130,054 – 1970-71 Topps Pete Maravich Rookie PSA 10
Looking back, that December 2015 SCP Auctions sale was a doozy. The Mikan result turned the final price for Pistol Pete into kind of a footnote but this one sold for about $112,000 more than the last time it had been on the auction block eight years earlier. At the time it was the only PSA 10. Now, there are two.
$125,200 -1980-81 Topps Magic Johnson-Larry Bird Rookie PSA 10
Unlike some of the above cards, this one is a little more plentiful with over 20 rated 10 by PSA alone but when you consider the two icons who share the same rookie card, the interest isn’t that surprising. Sold by PWCC in September 2018, this card was part of an auction that also included a record price for a Wilt Chamberlain rookie graded PSA 9.
Other copies of the Johnson-Bird rookie had sold for between $75,000 to a little over $96,000 in 2016 and 2017.
$115,242 – 1961-62 Fleer Jerry West Rookie Card PSA 10
One of the cards sold during a break of a high-grade set, the West rookie sold by Grey Flannel Auctions in June 2018 was one of three PSA 10s that have been graded to date.