More than a decade ago the Cleveland Cavaliers were fortunate to have the top pick in what was unabashedly referred to as “The LeBron James Draft”. The NBA had been awaiting his arrival since his prodigious talent and size became widely known as a young teen growing up in Ohio. James lived up to the hype and card collectors who searched for 2003-04 LeBron James cards when they were first released now have an impressive and valuable collection of rookie cards featuring one of the league’s all-time greats.
While many of his best first-year cards are locked up in card holders, display cases and even bank vaults, there are some still hidden in unopened boxes and others that are for sale. It isn’t too late for a collector looking to buy a LeBron James rookie card.
There is a reason why some people have 2003-04 Exquisite Collection boxes stored in a secret location and unopened, with a five-figure price tag. If there is a LeBron card inside it could be worth more than the box. The one many want as the centerpiece of their card collection is his autographed rookie card from that set, 2003-04 Exquisite Collection #78 that’s numbered to 99. Huggins and Scott Auctions sold a BGS 9.5 example in August 2013 for $25,000. There’s another on eBay as of this writing that’ll cost you six figures. A jersey parallel card of James, numbered to just 23, and also graded 9.5, sold privately for $90,000 early this year.
There’s a non-autographed version numbered to 25 that is no slouch, either.
The 2003-04 Exquisite Collection Extra Exquisite #LJ1 card isn’t autographed and might be an attainable card for collectors who can’t find or afford his Exquisite Collection rookie. While he didn’t sign it the card does come with a huge piece of his uniform.
Collectors always need to be watching the prices of cards to find out which parallel card is going to rise in value. The Topps Chrome Refractors of LeBron have always been popular and a Gold version, numbered to 50, of James’ #111 card that was graded BGS 9.5, is one of the most pricey. However, Black versions numbered to 500 and the standard James rookie Refractor are definitely worthy of your attention. You can find them for $750 and up, depending on grade and scarcity.
In between LeBron’s high school career and his first NBA games was the draft, and his very bright and very memorable white draft night suit. The suit makes an appearance in the picture on the front of his 2013-14 Topps #221 which sells for a price that fits in most collectors’ budgets. While a fairly ‘basic’ example of James’ rookie card, the Topps name and the draft night photo of him wearing that famous white suite and holding his first NBA jersey makes it rather iconic.
The 2003-04 Sweet Shot Signature Shots #LJ cards are sharp, and while his suit is pictured on this one, too, maybe it is the autographed piece of basketball on the front of the card that is real star.
If there is one LeBron card from 2003-04 that was ahead of its time and is now a must-have card it is the Topps Matrix card that has three panels featuring a Cav, a Raptor and a rookie from the Miami Heat. It would have to be Pat Riley’s favorite card from that year too as seeing James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade together would have got his mind working out the future possibilities of the trio being together on the same team. You can own one of these conversation pieces for well under $100 in high grade.
Not all players drafted in the first round right out of high school become the success story that LeBron did. Several cards from 2003-04 pair LeBron with players who didn’t have the career James would have. Selling on eBay in the $200 to $300 price range is the 2003-04 SP Signature Edition Marquee Marks #MM-JM card shared by James and Darius Miles. LeBron also shares a 2003-04 Fleer Mystique Awe Pairs, card #5 which is numbered to 500 as well as a Gold version numbered to 17, and 2003-04 SP Authentic SPGU Authentic Fabrics, #JWJ, cards with DaJuan Wagner.
One group of cards that might one day be considered some of his best cards from 2003-04 are from 2003-04 Upper Deck Triple Dimensions Reflections. His #10 card has six parallel cards, they are numbered out of 500, 300, 100, 50, 10 and there is also a One of One. Gold cards, numbered out of 50, surface occasionally.
Just when collectors think they have most of the best James cards from his rookie season they might come across a card that has the same serial number as the jersey number he wears. There are many collectors who will pay a premium to get that one card from the print run.
One of the rarest and most popular insert cards of all time are the Jambalaya cards from various E-X basketball releases. There is a James card from his rookie season, 2003-04 E-X Jambalaya #1. Expect to pay $3,000 and up if you can find one for sale. That is big money although Jambalaya cards for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant from earlier E-X sets sell at higher prices.
James’ high school games were on ESPN and some of his basketball cards show him playing in the uniform of St. Vincent–St. Mary’s.
His 2003-04 Upper Deck Hardcourt Clear Commemoratives Autographs #LJA card is one of the more expensive available and if you don’t mind the high school photo, one of his most attractive cards.
Cards #LB1, #LB2 and #LB3 from 2003-04 Upper Deck Hardcourt have pieces of his high school basketball court on them with a picture of him playing for the Fighting Irish and a more affordable price of around $15, while there are other Upper Deck cards that show him in his high school playing days.
With more than 50 issues that are considered to be James’ rookie cards, collectors can pick those that fit their budget and have the design they like. There are also many parallel and insert cards to consider from 2003-04. Of course, his autographs and other memorabilia is among the most popular in sports, too.
James has done so much in his career that his achievements should keep his card values high for a long time. It’s possible—perhaps likely–that he could still win a few more NBA titles before his career is over.