by Juan Martinez
When I saw what the hit was in my first box of 2006-07 Topps Chrome Basketball, my initial reaction was to put it on eBay as soon possible so that I could recoup my expenses. With one rookie autograph black refractor in every box, even the less desirable players had some value during the first week of release if you were among the first to get them on the bay (hi, Ryan Hollins rookie in my second box that I managed to sell for $40) as soon as possible.
Instead, I held on to this particular card featuring a scrawny point guard from Kentucky who was attempting a layup from an awkward position in a jersey three sizes too big for him not because I thought he was going to be a special player, but because his autograph was different from all of the ones that I saw on eBay.
Instead of the lazy “RR” that this player had decided to use on most of his cards, I had something that closely approximated his actual name. Auction after auction would pass and none of the autographs on the cards would look like the one I had. And with ESPN’s Bill Simmons keeping his name in the limelight because of his love for the Boston Celtics, I just held on to the card in the hopes that he would have one great game and that I would cash in with this rare variant on eBay.
Five years later, after multiple All-Star appearances, an NBA championship and several transcendent games on the biggest stage, I still have my “full signature” Rajon Rondo Topps Chrome Black Refractor rookie autograph card. And it’s still not worth as much as you would think.
The Boston Celtics might have a hall of fame “Big 3” in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but Rondo has moved past all of them to emerge as the true best player on the team and when he is at his best, they are unbeatable. Ask the Miami Heat, who thought that they had finally exercised their Boston demons, but now find themselves stuck in a fight with the “Big 4,” with Rondo as the catalyst. If not for a few bad breaks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Rondo’s magnificent performance (44 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) would have complimented his Game 3 brilliance and the Celtics would have had a 2-1 series lead.
As it stands, Rondo’s cards are in a holding pattern as people wait and see if this is finally the time that Rondo puts it all together. Because of his mercurial nature, Rondo is just as prone to go into a funk (his inconsistent 2010-11 season is rumored to have been triggered by a playful jab by President Barack Obama about his jump shot) as he is to have games like he had this past week.
Non-graded rookie cards that were selling in the $30-$50 range – including his 2006-07 Ultimate Rookie Autograph, 2006-07 Finest Refractor Autograph and 2006-07 Bowman Chrome Rookie Autograph – prior to the series against the Heat did not spike significantly. In fact, he had a 2006-07 Topps Big Game Dual Jersey Autograph that sold for a measly $24.50 Saturday, not exactly befitting of a superstar.
The cards to look out for if Rondo does continue his excellent play and leads the Celtics to a series victory against the Heat are his super premium rookies. Because he was under the radar during his rookie season, his Exquisite Rookie card is numbered to 225 and is very affordable at the moment, with multiple color patches (yes, “multiple” as in “more than green and white,’ since they also used the Celtics green and black alternate jerseys in the cards) going for $170-$240. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who had seven points Saturday in the Thunder’s victory against the San Antonio Spurs, also has an Exquisite rookie numbered to 225 and yet it sells for almost five times that amount. And Rondo has a ring, go figure.
And about that “full signature” Topps Chrome Black Refractor that I own? It turns out that Rondo actually does sign plenty of cards with his full name on it, so much so that it hardly ever carries a premium over his “RR” autograph. In fact, the only time it does matter is with my Black Refractor rookie, as it typically sells for double what the more common “RR” version sells for.
Much like Rondo’s temperament, it is hard to predict what direction Rondo’s cards are going to go even if he does continue play well. The reason for that comes back to the “Big 3” label that he has tried to so hard to turn into a “Big 4.” Save for a potential upswell if the Celtics win the championship, Ray Allen and especially Kevin Garnett are getting older and will possibly be moving on as free agents in the upcoming offseason. Not everybody is sold on the idea of Rondo being able to take a team on his shoulders and transform them into contenders. He does not inspire the confidence that a Chris Paul or a Derrick Rose does, even if he is on par with them when he is properly motivated and his shots are falling. However, a guy who knows something about point guards tweeted this after Rondo delivered his 12th double double of this year’s playoffs on Sunday night: “The true definition of a Point Guard in the Webster Dictionary = Rajon Rondo”, typed former Duke star and ESPN analyst Jay Williams.
Now if you hear a rumor – probably coming from Shaq – in the coming weeks that President Obama “talked” to Rondo, you should buy his cards as soon as possible.
Juan Martinez is a freelance writer and hoops junkie based in California. Follow him on Twitter.