The 1990s were a decade of expansion for basketball cards as the number of manufacturers and sets increased to unprecedented levels. High production numbers then can mean very low prices for some 1990s sets now. Card companies also discovered limited print runs and serial numbers which produced rare cards. A collector looking for fun and interesting 1990s basketball cards can find complete sets of cards for a few dollars or pay big bucks at auction for a rare Jordan insert. Below are some of the most memorable or important single basketball cards, sets and insert sets of the 1990s.
Click the title of each to see them for sale and auction on eBay.
In some basketball packs today a jersey card is guaranteed. When Upper Deck first brought game-used jersey cards to NBA collectors, though, there was a jersey in only one of every 2,500 packs. The Jordan card in the set is the one everyone wants. The unsigned#GJ13 card sells for between $2,000 and $3,000. #GJ13S takes the rarity factor up a few more levels, as that is hand-numbered to 23 and carries Jordan’s autograph. Rarely offered for sale, higher grade examples of the card that shows Jordan in an All-Star Game fetch well into five figures.
Reggie Miller’s card also stands out as the larger picture on the front shows him wearing regular clothing and posing for the camera, although the smaller photo on the front shows Miller with his outside shot being launched.
Barkley and Kevin Garnett cards sell for around $250 and a Miller sold earlier this year for around $230. Cards of Allen Iverson and Penny Hardaway can sell for more than that. Ewing, Olajuwon, Drexler and Grant Hill are among the others in the set. Hill and Hardaway have home and away jersey variations.
Those looking for a cheap 1997-98 Upper Deck Game Jerseys card may still need to find $40-50 for it. That is what “Big Dog” Glenn Robinson has been selling for while Antoine Walker and Kerry Kittles cards are a tad lower in price.
While “premium basketball releases” are commonplace now and one pack can sell for hundreds of dollars, back in the early 1990s they did not exist. There were no Refractors in basketball card packs either. When Topps released Finest and introduced Refractors parallel cards it caused quite a stir. Even now there are people looking to complete the base set or find Refractors of their favorite players.
A complete base set can be found for between $20 and $40. It has 220 cards and includes Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaq, and the rookie cards of Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber and others from the 1993 NBA Draft. Collectors wanting a bigger challenge can try opening boxes or buying lots the entire set of Refractors. This is the tricky set for collecting Refractors because unlike later releases there was no letter R or anything else on the back to indicate it was the parallel and not the base card.
In the early 1990s, all of Shaq’s cards were as big as he was. The Beam Team Shaq was really in demand at the time and it’s one that many collectors still want. This was a time when insert cards were not yet produced in huge numbers, and these were found at a rate of one card for every 36 packs. Complete sets can often be found for $100 or less but high-grade versions do attract more attention. A graded BGS 9.5 O’Neal can bring close to $300.
A set of insert cards available in a bunch of Skybox products that season, Autographics brought signed cards to NBA card packs in a way which had never been seen before. A few years before Fleer had a small number of autographs, like Wilkins and Mutombo in 1991-92, and there was the Bird and Magic signed card in 1993-94 Hoops but nothing was ever close to the checklist of 90 players in 1996-97 Skybox Premium Autographics.
The cards are signed with a black pen and there is also a rarer parallel signed in blue. Autographics showed card manufacturers that collectors want signed cards and they soon began to become a staple in many products.
Those looking to step back in time with futuristic basketball cards that are now dirt cheap can go looking for the 1991-92 Skybox set of 659 cards. The card design has an action picture of the player on the front with a background of white and also crazy graphics. $10 to $20 is all that is needed to acquire the complete set which includes cards of Dream Team players as well as fun subsets like The 6th Man and Teamwork. Skybox had made its debut the year before with the gold border set and it seemed like a ‘high end’ brand at the time. Nowadays? Not so much, but still a fun trip down memory lane.
When it was released it was a hard to find parallel card for an obscure Skybox set but over time PMG has become one of the most popular and valuable sets from 1990s basketball cards. Not only do collectors like the design and recall the chase, they also enjoy hunting surviving high-grade examples. Often the special coating that gives the Precious Metal Gems inserts their distinctive look can come off around the edges. The first 10 cards are green in color, the rest of the 100 serial-numbered cards are red. Even a Larry Johnson from the green set sold recently for over $2,200.
They weren’t really that popular upon release or even in the first eight or nine years afterward but as 90s collectors drifted back to the sets of their childhood and basketball cards began to grow in popularity overseas, they began to take off. Even cards of players you’ve probably forgotten sell for a few hundred dollars.
Topps Chrome was huge when it was released for the first time. The Refractors cards were very popular. The 1996 NBA Draft had some exciting players that collectors wanted. When it is all added up together it makes the Chrome Refractors parallel cards a highlight of 1990s basketball cards, and can also make them expensive.
As the championships and scoring titles came, Bryant emerged as the big-money item in Chrome. Recently on eBay a graded BGS 10 Kobe Refractors sold for $17,000 so if a Lakers fan wants to find the best Kobe card that might be the one to save for. A lot of graded Kobes are sold for around $500 and ungraded ones go for around $200.
Such a famous set among basketball card collectors, even though few own the rare cards. The shape, design and player checklist have made it an insert set many now want. You were looking at one in about every 720 packs, and few come up for sale these days. The Jordan and Bryant cards are the most expensive. A graded BGS 9.5 Jordan sold recently for around $5,300, while a card like Damon Stoudamire can be had for under $100.
There are 15 oval-shaped cards in the 1997-98 EX2001 Jambalaya insert set and with players like Hill, Hardaway, Iverson and Garnett it would cost a lot to put together the complete set. Those looking for something at a cheaper price but still with a very different card design could consider 1996-97 EX2000 A Cut Above which also includes a Jordan card.
An insert set for a famous draft class and presented by one of the NBA’s most famous players ever. Also the forerunner of the Grant Hill All-Rookie cards and the present-day Hoops Kobe Bryant All-Rookie cards. The backs included some of Magic’s thoughts on the player.
It’s a ten-card set with Shaq dunking on probably the most memorable card. Alonzo Mourning and Robert Horry are two championship-winning players that fans certainly remember. There was also plenty of hype at the time for Laettner, Ellis, and Gugliotta. The best graded Shaqs sell for between $50 and $75, ungraded ones for around $15.
1998-99 E-X Century had insert and parallel cards that collectors wanted then and still do now. Dunk ‘N Go Nuts has 20 cards, including a Jordan. Essential Credentials Now and Essential Credentials Future are parallel cards with low print runs. Generation E-X is an affordable small insert set of the players who were the young stars of the NBA then, like Duncan and Carter. All of them are great cards but Authen-Kicks was something rare then, and isn’t used a lot now, pieces of game-used shoes.
The cards had a player picture on the left and a piece of shoe in an oval shape placed on the right of the card. Authen-Kicks also stood out with the written numbering on the front of the card. The print runs range from 115 for Larry Hughes to 230 for Michael Dickerson. There was also a signed Keith Van Horn card numbered to 44, with his unsigned card numbered to 125. A complete set of 12 Authen-Kicks cards, not including the KVH autograph, is a relatively affordable option with many single cards under $50.
Similar to what Prizm and Certified are now, Brilliants was one of the ‘brightest’ sets ever made. A parallel version of the Brilliants set that may be overlooked at the moment is 1998-99 Fleer Brilliants Gold. It has everything collectors like with numbering to 99, plenty of stars like Iverson and Bryant and a nice photo selection. There is a cheaper Blue parallel and a hard to find 1998-99 Fleer Brilliants 24KT Gold set with cards numbered to just 24.
While that was a season hit by an NBA work stoppage, it was also when a very talented rookie class arrived. Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Mike Bibby and Jason Williams all had rookie cards in Brilliants.
One of the biggest stars drafted in the 1990s was Tim Duncan, and collectors have many of his rookies to choose from. This is one of his most exclusive cards from his rookie season, numbered to 100. In addition to the base card, there was also a Gold Medallion parallel.
At the time it was the biggest thing ever in basketball cards. Largely forgotten now, the first Upper Deck NBA cards are definitely among the landmark cards of the decade. A hologram and a glossy finish, Upper Deck took basketball cards to a new level. The set is also loaded with many stars as Jordan, Bird, Magic, Stockton and Robinson are all featured.
Sealed factory sets can still be purchased while those who want to do it the old-fashioned way could still buy boxes and open the packs. Complete sets can be found for $10, and while it would still be complete without it the set would be more enhanced by also having the 1991-92 Upper Deck Award Winners hologram insert cards too.
Your own list of the best 1990s basketball cards may differ some but these represent a pretty good starting point for discussion–or at least a fun trip back in time.