How to Know What Basketball Cards are Worth

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Collecting stuff is a hobby that is essentially as old as civilization. Mesopotamian royalties from the third millennium BCE were said to have extensive book collections. If you’re a basketball fan today, chances are, you have dabbled into collecting cards at some point or wanting to get into the hobby. If it’s the latter, do you want to know the value of basketball cards or what basketball cards are worth the money? All I can say is, you indeed came to the right place.

But before we go on about the best basketball cards to invest in, let’s learn more about the origin of basketball cards.

First Things First_ What are Basketball Cards

First Things First: What are Basketball Cards?

A basketball card is a type of trading card that features one or more basketball players from leagues all over, particularly the NBA. These cards are typically printed on thick cardboard, silk, or plastic. 

The first basketball cards were produced in 1910 as a cigarette redemption premium. The whole series of cards were actually athletes from 10 sports, and only 30 contain images of college basketball players at the time. The 1910 series was followed up by another one in 1911 and soon disappeared when the promo expired on June 30, 1911. 

It wasn’t until 1932 when basketball cards were again seen as part of a 31-card collectible set from C.A. Briggs Chocolate. Then in 1948, Bowman Gum made the first NBA cards, which featured George Mikan’s rookie card. Soon, other companies such as Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck followed suit, producing some of the best basketball rookie cards to invest in, including those of Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.

Today, only one company, the Italian Panini Group, has the right to produce and sell NBA basketball cards. Panini has been the sole licensee of the NBA and its players since 2009.

What are Basketball Cards Worth

What are Basketball Cards Worth?

Basketball cards can be worth a lot of money depending on the rarity, condition, and other factors. Other factors that may affect a basketball card’s value include the specific player featured, the year it was manufactured, and other relevant points.

Generally, rookie cards in mint condition are prices the highest. An autographed LeBron James Upper Deck Exquisite Collection card sold for a mind-boggling $5.2 million! Of course, you can’t expect every rookie card to be worth that much. Still, cards that feature rising superstars like Zion Williamson or Luka Doncic could be worth a lot down the line.

Overall, basketball decks manufactured in the last decade could sell for at least $500. The older the card gets, the higher the prices go, sometimes for as much as $15,000 a card.

How Do You Collect Basketball Cards

How Do You Collect Basketball Cards?

Those prices sure are tempting, but collecting basketball cards require some sort of strategy, especially if you’re a beginner. It pays to know the complexities of basketball card collection and the benefits you may achieve once you get past the first phase. So, how do you start collecting basketball cards?

1. Know What You’re Getting Into

The first thing that you should know is that right now, there is only one company that produces basketball cards– Panini. Back in the 90s and early 2000s, the card game is a little bit more crowded with Topps, Fleer, and Upper Deck all getting into it.

Second, you should know that there are different types of basketball cards. Each type determines the rarity of the card and thus, has a direct effect on its value. What are the types of basketball cards? These are base cards, rookie cards, inserts, parallels,  patches, autographs, and graded. 

Here are the descriptions of each card:

Regular/Base cards. Base cards are, well, the most basic. Every pack of basketball cards contains base cards, which means cards that feature non-superstar players or players that receive almost no recognition. Base cards are priced very low, most often, in cents. (There are also base cards of famous players, but it is still not as valuable as other cards.)

Rookie cards. Rookie cards are one of the most sought-after and most valuable. A rookie card of Bam Adebayo is worth considerably more than, say, a Kawhi Leonard base card. Rookie cards today have a very unmistakable RC patch on the corner.

Inserts. Inserts are special random cards bunched together with base cards. Trust me, if you find an insert in a pack, you’d know. The designs are different, often a lot more hip, if you will. During the 90s, companies put numbers on insert cards. For instance, if you see a card that says “9 of 30,” that means you got card No. 9 out of 30 of such cards. Modern NBA cards have a name for inserts such as Kaboom, Optic My House, and more.

Parallels. Parallels are basically serial numbered versions of base cards. They often come in the same designs as the base cards but with different color schemes. Parallels look cool, but they do not typically carry the same value as rookie cards.

Patch cards. Patch cards have game-worn jersey patches in them. Because of this, they are usually thicker than the other types and look very different from basic cards.

Autograph Cards. Pretty self-explanatory. Every time you see a player’s John Doe in there, that’s it. Some of these cards have signatures in translucent stickers, while some actually sign the card, driving up its value.

Combination Cards. Oh sure, there really is nothing officially called combination cards, but some extremely rare ones are a mixture of everything. The LeBron rookie card I mentioned earlier is actually a rookie card, a patch card, an autographed card all in one. Sure, we can call it a rookie patch card, but “combination” could also work.

2. Keep You Cards in Mint Condition

No one likes crumpled things, and there’s nothing more true in the case of basketball cards. Any fold or scratch, even the slightest, drags the card’s value. That is why you need to do everything in your power to keep the cards in the best condition. And any good collector knows it requires money to pull that off.

For starters, you may need cases, sleeves, or binders to put the cards into. In any case, you can never be too careful when it comes to your investment.

3. Learn to Know The Value of the Cards

The thing is, you’ll never know what cards you’re going to protect if you don’t really know their value. And sometimes, collecting also involves trading, so if you have no idea how much your card is worth, you’d probably end up getting ripped off. 

You can use several websites as sources of information or have yourself a handy basketball card price guide for starters. Either way, you must know the price of your cards.

What is the Most Expensive Basketball Card

What is the Most Expensive Basketball Card?

We already tipped you off with the most expensive card in basketball card history– the 2003-04 Upper Deck rookie patch autograph card! 

The second most effective sold for a crazy $4.6 million in the open market. It is one of those “combination” cards I talked about earlier, a patch-autograph hybrid that is truly one of a kind.

Rounding out the top 6 are:

2013-14 Giannis Antetokounmpo Logoman Patch Autograph Card ($1,857,300)
1996-97 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Refractors Rookie Card ($1,795,800)
1997 Michael Jordan Upper Deck Signature and Jersey Card ($1.44 million)
2004-05 LeBron James Upper Deck Ultimate Signature Logos ($1,291,500)

How to Find out What Basketball Cards are Worth

How to Find out What Basketball Cards are Worth?

As already mentioned, knowing the value of your cards is half the war, even more. Just like in any market, you have to be knowledgeable about it before you’re thinking of becoming a player. The fundamentals of the basketball card game are just like basic marketing.

Here’s how it works: You have competitors, and you’ll have buyers who would buy the cards as high as you want to sell them. Now, you can only do the latter if you know its actual value. If you see the card is worth $1,000, you can probably sell it in the $600-$800 range.

These are some things to consider to find out the value of basketball cards:

1. Check out price guides

Back in the 90s, you’d have to have a Beckett to learn how much a basketball card is worth. You may still use the updated versions now, but it’s a hassle folding sheets of paper every time you have to look something up. On this day of the Internet, you can find any information online at your fingertips and that includes the value of basketball cards.

The best way to know how competitive the marketplace is is by checking eBay and other selling platforms. That’s pretty much like checking StockX for shoe prices. If you’re really quite serious about card-collecting, you can buy or subscribe to special pricing software like Slabstox or Card Ladder.

2. Know the name and the year of the card

Most cards can easily be identified by the player it features, but you can also check the name and the year of the card. Of course, in doing this, you may need to summon the power of the world wide web once again.

Inserts, for instance, have numbers that say 4/63, which means you got the 4th card out of a complete set of 63. After checking these out, look at the card’s price in retail stores and base your selling price on that.

3. Other things to look out for

When you’re dealing with basketball cards, a combination of age and condition could fetch you a very good price. It doesn’t matter if it’s John Havlicek, Pistol Pete Maravich, or Al Attles; if you have a card from that long ago in perfect condition, chances are, some collector is going for it. Even if you have a semi-rare card and you keep it in tip-top shape, you’d still be able to sell that at a considerable price.

One other thing you can do to drive the price of your cards is to get them authenticated by the manufacturer. In my opinion, this is always a must if you have a limited edition card or other rare ones.

Where to Buy Basketball Cards

Where to Buy Basketball Cards?

Basketball cards are common items in malls and other shops, but you can also check some in online selling platforms like eBay and Amazon. For sure, those are the usual places where to buy basketball cards. Of course, buying straight from a pack guarantees almost nothing, so this option is not the way to go if you’re looking for a specific card.

If you are searching for something specific and not treasure-hunting with new packs, it pays if you surround yourself with friends that share the same interest. Hang out in a few forums and social media groups, and you might find yourself a good deal from different contacts.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Know What Basketball Cards are Worth

Collecting basketball cards is not exactly rocket science, but it’s not for everyone either. Just because you’re a fan of the sport doesn’t mean you will do well in this hobby. Still, if you decide to take it seriously, then the most important thing for you to know is the value of basketball cards. 

The simplest way to up your card game is to know the types of cards. There are basic cards, inserts, patches, autographs, and some really rare ones that are combinations of everything. After that, you need to be proactive yourself, like perhaps subscribing to a card-pricing software, looking up a basketball card price guide, and checking updated prices online. And if you’re looking to score a specific card, it doesn’t hurt to make friends with people who are already in the game before you. Chances are, they could point you in the right direction.

When dabbling with collecting basketball cards, here’s the deal, though: Most of this stuff is cheap and does not carry a monetary lick. You will seldom find something with Michael Jordan basketball cards value or a LeBron rookie card. That’s not how it often works. If you’re looking for basketball cards to invest in or consider making it a permanent source of income, then this is not it. 

Now, let’s say you already know what basketball cards are worth the money, and you already have several under your care; the key is to keep it in mint condition. If you have in your possession a limited edition card or something rare, why not authenticate it with the manufacturer to drive the price up? 

In any case, when you already know the value of basketball cards in your hands, protect them at all costs because you’ll never know what could happen in the future. I’m pretty sure the owner of that LeBron card did not have any idea that it’s going to be worth seven figures down the line. You very well might be the next lucky guy.

Did you like this post? Then check out our other basketball FAQs here.

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Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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