This post contains affiliate links to include the eBay Partner Network which may earn a commission. We truly appreciate your support.

Sports trading cards have been popular for several decades. They started as fun things for kids to buy and collect, like comic books. However, they have evolved into their mini-stock market. Today, people buy and sell sports trading cards to turn a profit. As one of the most popular sports in the world, it should be no surprise to hear that basketball cards are among the most popular in the United States. Specifically, basketball rookie cards are top-rated.

If you are new to investing in basketball cards, you might not know where to start. You might think there is no method to the madness, and you can try to invest in any card. While you can get lucky with any player blossoming into a superstar, you cannot expect to turn a profit from all cards. Basketball rookie cards are the most valuable and best basketball rookie cards.

Investors or collectors who purchase basketball cards are looking for unique cards. They want a card that is unique in its look or meaning. Rookie cards fit that criterion because they can only come from one year. A Lebron James card from 2010 and 2011 are not very different because they are two random years in his career. However, a rookie card features the player at a unique time in his career.

Today, we do not want to confuse you by showing several rookie cards for the same player. Instead, we want to show 10 of the best basketball rookie cards ever. These cards are not necessarily great investment options because they are already expensive, but they are fun to look at.

Overall ROI Pick: 2023 Victor Wembanyama Prizm RC #136
Best Budget Pick: 1997 Tim Duncan Topps Chrome RC #5

Please note these cards are in no particular order.


Michael Jordan Fleer RC 1986 #57

Michael Jordan Fleer

No basketball player is more famous than Michael Jordan. He is unanimously considered one of the top two players of all time, and a significant portion of the basketball community considers him the greatest player. He dominated the 1990s, winning six championships in eight years. His dominance led to developing his famous shoe brand, Air Jordan.

Watch this kid below rip 3 packs in search of the MJ Fleer RC.

Michael Jordan is known for his greatness on the basketball court, so seeing his best rookie card on this list should be no surprise. It comes from Fleer and is one of the most sought-after cards in the world. Even with a BGS 6.5 rating, it is still listed for $4200 on eBay.

The card features an image surrounded by a red, blue, and white border. In the image of Jordan, you can see him fly through the air as he makes one of his signature dunks. He is so high in the air that the heads of other players are at crotch level. You can see Jordan with his right arm outstretched as he gets ready to slam the ball through the basket.

A small Fleer logo is in the top right corner of the image. Below the image, you can see Jordan’s name, team, and position. If you flip to the back of the card, you can see some of Jordan’s statistics and physical characteristics.


Victor Wembanyama Panini Prizm 2023 #136

wemby prizm 136

Two words.

Future GOAT.

This card is the best alternative investment for the next 5 to 10 years. Check out the value of the 2003 Topps Chrome LeBron James RC PSA 10 in 2021 compared to 2014. The Prizm Wemby value should follow a similar path, if not more significant.

best basketball card values

Exploring the World of Victor Wembanyama Rookie Cards


Luka Doncic Prizm RC 2018 #280

luka prizm

Luka Doncic is one of the best young players in the NBA. He led the Dallas Mavericks to a Conference Finals appearance in 2022 and is a perennial MVP candidate just four years into his career. As a result, investors are eager to scoop up his rookie cards sooner rather than later.

The front of this Luka Doncic rookie card features an image of Luka in his blue Mavericks uniform. You can see Dallas written in black lettering above his number 77. Luka is lifting his right leg off the ground as he takes a shot. The image catches Doncic with the ball in his right hand as he looks at the rim for his shot. You can see part of the forearm tattoo on his left arm.

The rest of the card is not exciting as it features a grey and black background. There are a few logos on the card. In the top left there is an RC logo, a Prizm logo is in the top right, and Doncic’s name and the team is in the bottom right-hand corner of the card.

When you flip over the card, you can see the same image of Luka in the top half of the card. There is then a blue stripe with Luka’s name over it. Below is a blurb describing Luka’s career with Real Madrid before joining the NBA.

If you want this card, you can purchase it on eBay. It is available for $581 and in good condition.


Magic Johnson RC 1980 Topps

Magic Johnson is one of the most likable players in the NBA’s history. Michael Jordan might be better, but no one liked any player in his era more than Magic. However, he does not have a traditional rookie card like other players. He debuted in the early 80s, and trading cards were limited at that time.

With that in mind, Magic Johnson’s rookie card features an image of him and two other players. The card is horizontal, with Magic as the rightmost player. In Magic’s image, you can see him fly through the air with the ball in his right arm. He is wearing a purple Lakers jersey and gold shorts. The background is black, and the image has a red border. The border features cursive writing at the bottom that says Lakers. Below that is his name and position.

The other two images feature Julius Erving and Jan Van Breda Kolff. Erving has an image in the center with a green border. He is wearing a red uniform and is looking to the right. There is a logo in the top right indicating he was the scoring leader that season.

Next, the image of Kolff is on the left side with a red border. He is wearing a blue Nets jersey and taking a free throw.

If you turn to the back of the card, it features stats for each of the three players on the card. You can purchase a copy in PSA 7 condition for $200 on eBay.


2003 Lebron James RC Topps #221

If there is anyone that can challenge Michael Jordan for the title of the greatest basketball player of all time, it’s Lebron James. Lebron has been a sensation since before he entered the league. He was a can’t-miss prospect in high school, and the second he made his debut he was one of the best players in the NBA.

The most famous Lebron James rookie card is different from most trading cards. The image does not feature James in a game. Instead, it is a picture of Lebron at the draft in a flashy white suit. He is holding a red Cleveland jersey on his right side. It almost looks like a school picture with how he is standing.

A white border surrounds the image, and some information is at the bottom. You can see a few labels at the bottom, including his draft position (number one), rookie year, and name.

If you flip the card, you can read about Lebron’s tremendous high school career. This card, in PSA 8 condition, can be bought on eBay for $425.


Ja Morant RC 2019 Prizm #249

Ja Morant might not be on the level of Luka Doncic, but he is one of the best young players in the NBA today. His Memphis Grizzlies burst onto the scene in 2022, getting the second seed in the Western Conference. Ja Morant had a breakout year, establishing himself as one of the best point guards in the league.

The best Ja Morant rookie card is from the Panini Prizm collection. It features an image of Morant dribbling the ball with his right hand. He is slightly hunched over, with his feet waist-length apart. He is wearing his light blue Grizzlies jersey and black leg compressions. His shoes are yellow and pink.

The background is black and grey with a red, white, and blue border. The top right has an RC logo, and the bottom has a Prizm border in the center.

If you flip to the back of the card, you can read a scouting report on Morant from his time in college at Murray State. There is also a list of his college statistics.

If you want this card, you can get it on eBay for $425.


Kevin Durant RC 2007 Topps #2

Kevin Durant has been one of the most dominant players of his era. He might be a step below Lebron James, but he is still a top-15 player of all time. Interestingly, this rookie card is priced low considering his reputation as a player. You can buy it in PSA 8 condition for just $9.50.

Kevin Durant is known for his early career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, leaving them for Golden State, and eventually going to Brooklyn. However, if you are not a hardcore fan, you might not know he started his career with the Seattle Supersonics. Seattle drafted him and played a season there before the team moved to Oklahoma City.

The image on the card features KD in his yellow Supersonics uniform. He is posing for a photo, holding a basketball in front of the logo of his jersey in both hands. There is a black background in the photo.

The rest of the card is very simple as it has a white border with green dots in the top corners and yellow dots in the bottom corners. The Topps logo is at the top of the card along with Seattle’s name. KD’s name is written across the bottom of the card.

If you flip the card over, you can see a blurb describing Durant’s college accomplishments. It has a yellow background.


Stephen Curry RC 2009 Topps #321

Steph Curry has been a dominant player for the Golden State Warriors for a decade. He revolutionized the game of basketball with his three-point shooting and is universally considered the greatest shooter of all time.

His rookie card from Topps is not flashy. It features a picture of curry from his chest up. He is wearing a white warmup Warriors shirt and is smiling. The image has a white border with a rookie card logo in the top right, and a Warriors logo in the bottom right.

You can flip the card to read about Curry’s college career at Davidson. You will also see his physical characteristics there.

Steph Curry is one of the most popular players of all time, so it should not be a surprise to hear his rookie cards are expensive. You can purchase one on eBay for $5000.


Shaquille O’Neal RC 1992 Upper Deck #1

If Steph Curry is the most dominant player of all time, Shaq is the most physically dominant player in the history of the NBA. Shaq was massive, standing at over seven feet tall, and weighing in at over 300 pounds. We will likely never see a player like him again.

Shaq’s rookie card is unique in its design. It features three images of Shaq in different stages of dunking: the first shows him on the ground dribbling the ball, the second shows him flying through the air, and in the third image, he is falling back to the ground.

In all three images, Shaq wears a white jersey with blue stripes for the Orlando Magic. The background is all black, with a #1 Draft Pick label across the top. The bottom of the card features Shaq’s name and an Upper Deck logo.

When you flip to the back of the card, you can read about the early parts of Shaq’s rookie season in the NBA. This card is available on eBay in PSA 8 condition for only $0.99.


Kobe Bryant RC Topps Chrome #138 1996

Kobe Bryant is a controversial player in NBA history. Some people love him, and others hate him. Regardless of your thoughts on him as a player, it was a tragedy when he died in a helicopter accident in early 2020. While his death was sad, they increased the value of his rookie cards. You can purchase this card on eBay in BGS 8.5 condition for $1250.

An image of Kobe takes up the entire card. He is driving to the rim with his right leg on the ground. The ball is firmly in both hands, and you can see his exertion as his mouth is open. Furthermore, Kobe is wearing the gold jersey of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Although the image takes up the entire card, there are a few logo overlays. In the top right is a Topps Chrome logo, a basketball logo is in the bottom right, and Kobe’s name is written in the bottom left.

The back of the card has a short blurb explaining why scouts were so confident that Kobe would transfer his skills to the NBA.


Tim Duncan RC 1997 Topps Chrome #5

The final card we want to look at is for Tim Duncan. Duncan is one of the most intelligent players to ever play in the NBA. His intelligence and dominance with the San Antonio Spurs led them to five championships.

The image of Duncan on his rookie card shows him moving to get a dunk. His arms are unstretched, and the ball is in his left hand. His mouth is wide open as he battles a player on the Golden State Warriors.

Duncan is wearing his white Spurs uniform and white shoes to match. Outside of the image, the card is straightforward. There are no extra logos on the card. Instead, the only other thing of note is a grey stripe near the bottom of the card with Duncan’s name written in red.

If you want this card, you can get it on eBay for $320 in PSA 10 condition.


Bottom Line

The allure of collecting basketball cards extends far beyond the simple act of owning a piece of cardboard with a player’s image. Nostalgia, a bittersweet longing for the past, is pivotal in fueling their extraordinary popularity.

Beyond the sentimental value, basketball cards have increasingly become attractive assets, drawing in a new wave of investors. The possibility of significant financial returns has transformed the hobby into a lucrative market.

Younger generations, accustomed to alternative investments like cryptocurrency and NFTs, are entering the basketball card market. They view cards as tangible assets with a cultural cachet, offering the potential for diversification and exciting returns.

Legendary cards, such as those named in this write-up, are coveted for their historical significance and potential for appreciation. News of record-breaking card sales like the LeBron James rookie card or the Luka Dončić Logoman fuels a sense that any card could be the next significant investment.

About the Author

Cardboard Vice

I'm always buying: 2011 Mike Trout Topps Update, Ty Cobb T206, and 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck Star Rookie. PSA 10 only. I also enjoy no limit poker and horse racing.

View All Articles