It’s a highly debatable subject but the list of the best basketball rookie cards to own has at least five or six cards that simply can’t be left off anyone’s list.
In no particular order, here are those that would be on the expanded Mt. Rushmore of great vintage basketball cards. Click the title to see those cards for sale on eBay.
Fewer than 30 cards exist at the ‘8’ or better level on PSA’s Population Report. That alone tells you how difficult it is to own a high grade Mikan rookie. If you’re willing to settle for a lower grade, you’ll have a better shot and not spend quite so much money. The lone PSA 10 sold for $186,000 at a Memory Lane auction in 2009. Mikan helped make pro basketball respectable. He was a huge drawing card who helped put the game on the front page of metropolitan papers.
Bob Cousy was providing assists, and plenty of scoring, for the Celtics and they started to dominate the NBA when Bill Russell arrived. His rebounding and defending were key to the Celtics winning their first 11 NBA titles, and it might have been 12 titles if not for an ankle injury during the finals in his second NBA season.
Russell’s rookie cards go for high prices. In 2012, $2,550 was paid for a BVG 7.5 NEAR MINT+ card. Even cards in poor condition have value, an ungraded card sold for $540, with centering being the biggest noticeable flaw.
Wilt Chamberlain 1961-62 Fleer #8
When people are deciding who the best ever NBA player was, those that nominate Wilt just need to mention scoring 100 points in a single game. The top rookie in season 1959-60, four MVP awards, two NBA titles, 31,419 points, leading the NBA in total assists in 1967-68, Chamberlain had an amazing career.
Wilt has plenty of fans and his rookie cards remain popular. A MINT PSA 9 rookie card can run upwards of $8,000. A number of PSA 7 NM cards have sold at prices around $1,000 to $1,200. He also has an ‘In Action’ card in this set that’s less expensive, but not considered his ‘real’ rookie card.
West has been everything for the Lakers as an All-Star guard, coach, general manager and Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. He scored 27 points per game in the regular season, and lifted his output for the Lakers in the playoffs with 29.1 points per game.
His rookie card is a must-have for Lakers fans, and as he is considered to be the NBA logo it is a card that many other collectors want as well. eBay sales include a PSA 8 NM-MT card going for $2,550.00 while an ungraded West sold at $560.
1961-62 Fleer Oscar Robertson #36
He started his basketball career as the College Player of the Year for three seasons and then won a gold medal. Robertson entered the NBA and won the Rookie of the Year award. For the first nine seasons of his career he was All-NBA First Team. In 1961-62 he averaged a triple-double for the entire season, with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and NBA-leading 11.4 assists per game. The Big O had some big numbers. A trade to the Bucks later in his career enabled him to team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a title.
A recent eBay sale of his rookie card with a grading of BVG NM-MT 8 resulted in a price of $1,300.
Lew Alcindor 1969-70 Topps #25
Collectors will want a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rookie card but his name was Lew Alcindor when the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him after his three college championships with UCLA. Not only did Kareem win NCAA and NBA titles and score more points in the NBA than any player, he was also in a movie with Bruce Lee and was a co-pilot in the funny Airplane! movie.
Investment grade 8.5 (NM/MT+) examples can sell for up to $2,000.00. Lower grades can be had in the hundreds. It’s the key card in the set.
Pete Maravich 1970-71 Topps #123
Pistol Pete could shoot the ball, 80% or higher on free throws every season of his career and during his last NBA season the 3-point line was introduced and he hit 10 of 15 from long range. He averaged 24.2 points in the NBA, and 44.2 in college basketball with Louisiana State.
An icon to kids who grew up in the late 60s through the 70s, Maravich rookie cards graded in the ‘8’ range bring around $400. There are plenty around, but they’re popular.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving 1972-73 Topps #195
The Doctor’s rookie card came out a decade before his only NBA title, and not only is he pictured in a uniform of a different team but he was in a different league then. He was a forward for the ABA’s Virginia Squires, and while the card says forward on the front it actually says his position was center on the back of the card. The back of the card also has a cartoon picture and information that he wore “size 15 sneakers”.
While he is known for his huge dunks, his first card didn’t have a lot of action as he is just holding the ball about to shoot. Ungraded cards have been selling for $40 to around $150. High grade Erving rookies bring several hundred.
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson 1980-81 Topps
After facing each other in the NCAA title game, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were kept together by Topps as they share a rookie card. As this card is from the set that had three card panels on the one card, Bird and Johnson also share the card with the 76er’s Scoring Leader card of Julius Erving.
Bird and Magic are credited with saving the NBA, and collectors will need to save up for the best graded rookie cards. Two PSA 10 cards have sold on eBay recentlyat $16,000 and $14,450. Ungraded NM/MT copies usually bring $150-200.
Michael Jordan 1986-87 Fleer #57
Among basketball card collectors, this is probably the most famous card ever made. When the card was released there wasn’t a big demand for it, but that certainly changed after the six NBA titles, MVP awards, scoring titles, shoe commercials and the boom in card basketball collecting that started in the 1990s.
Recent sales of graded Jordan rookie cards on eBay include a BGS 9.5 GEM MINT for $12,000.00 and a PSA 10 GEM MT selling at $11,800.00. NM/MT copies will sell for $500-800.
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