Five Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards and Investment Lookout

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Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant is undoubtedly one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Bryant spent his whole career in LA with the Lakers, and with them the self-nicknamed ‘Black Mamba’ is a 5-time NBA champion, 2-time NBA Finals MVP and 2008 NBA MVP. The LA Lakers legend was also selected for a stunning 18 NBA all-star games.

Bryant was a first-round pick straight out of high school way back in 1996 and primarily played Shooting Guard for the Lakers. He became the first Shooting Guard and just the second player overall to be drafted straight out of high school.

It was announced that Bryant would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in April 2020 just after his tragic death. Bryant sadly lost his life alongside his daughter in a helicopter crash at the start of 2020.

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Rookie Cards

Kobe’s first season as a regular starter came during the 1998-99 season, but his rookie season was actually as an 18-year-old 2 seasons prior in 1996-97. During this rookie season, as is to be expected from a player straight out of high school, Bryant primarily played off of the bench. During the season ‘Black Mamba’ became the youngest ever NBA player and later the youngest ever NBA starter, averaging 15 minutes a game.

Rather unusually none of Bryant’s most sought-after rookie cards feature an autograph or game worn patch. If you are looking to get your hands on a Bryant autograph, or a piece of a game worn jersey, a trading card from slightly later in his career might be a better option for you.

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan

1996 Topps Chrome Refractor #138

This card is by far the most desirable Kobe Bryant Rookie card on the market, and one of the most sought-after rookie cards in the whole hobby. The card features Bryant in full swing holding the ball in both hands and pushing off his right foot and at first glance can look completely unremarkable. However, do not be seduced by the card’s simple looks.

This was the first year that Topps produced their Chrome Basketball series and were initially just a retail set, with packs being found in stores up and down the country. There were 220 different cards in the initial set, and the chrome refractor parallels were inserted in a ratio of just 1:12. This works out at just 1 in 2640 cards being a Kobe Bryant Chrome Refractor, resulting in a card that was very rare from the outset.

Perhaps due to the nature of these being retail cards found in packs, they now very rarely show up and the ones that do are usually quite far from being considered mint condition. A sensible valuation for a mint 10 condition card would be around the $20000 mark, however they can easily fetch more than this. The last BGS 10 cards sold at auction was in 2017 where it sold for a staggering $33,500.

Only the truly lucky few can own a copy of this card, and for the rest of us it might be a case of looking at the base version to get out hands on it. This card is a lot more common but will still set you back around $2000 to $3000 if you wanted it in mint condition.

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1996 Skybox E-X2000 Credentials #30

This card is a prime example of the value a card can hold if it has a slightly different design and also looks incredible (having an extremely cool name like ‘E-X2000’ cannot hurt either). It features Bryant holding the ball in 2 hands, possibly just about to pass, on a background of crisp white clouds in a blue sky. The border in the Credentials version is an off-white very light blue colour which is very aesthetically pleasing.

There were just 499 of the Credentials versions made making the card rare. In addition to this it has become increasingly rare to find the card in mint condition and as such holds a stellar value of somewhere between $10000 and $15000.

The base version is easy to spot as it has a green border instead of the light blue one and may be an option for collectors who do not just have $15000 lying about. These can be purchased for around $300-$500 on eBay.

Kobe Bryant l.a. lakers

1996 Flair Showcase Legacy Collection #31

Another card to feature Bryant in his iconic Lakers uniform in full swing mid game. Where this particular card is unique is that there is another close-up picture of Bryant faded into the background.

The flair set had 3 parallels, row 0, row 1 and row 2. Row 0 is also called the legacy set and is by far the rarest of the lot, with each card being serial numbered up to 150. This card is valued at around $5000 in mint 10 condition and consistently achieves this valuation at auction.

The 2 more common parallels have values way below this so they might be a good alternative for collectors on a budget. However, a word of caution is needed here as the lesser parallels look very similar to the legacy set. The difference is in the foil text and some images on the reverse of the card, so be sure to know which one you are buying before completing the purchase!

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1996 Finest Heirs Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #74

This card features Bryant full swing in Lakers uniform, about to perform a reverse slam. The silvery background makes Bryant really stand out on the card and gives him a real ‘holy-like’ look. The word ‘Heirs’ is written across the top in big lettering and boy did this turn out to be accurate, with Bryant taking up the crown of so many that came before him.

There are 3 parallels of this card, bronze, silver, and gold. The gold is by far the rarest and therefore most sought-after card which translates into by far the highest value. They are valued at around $4000 but have been known to go for almost double that on the rare occasion they are found in mint 10 condition.

If you’re budget is slightly lower there is also a Finest ‘Apprentice’ set which would set you back around £2000 in mint 10 condition.

kobe bryant pau gasol

1996 Ultra Platinum Medallion Rookie Card #52

This card features a great photo of a young Bryant in his iconic gold and purple Lakers uniform in front of what looks to be a packed NBA arena setting the ball up. Bryant’s name is written across the bottom of the card in a typical late 90s style font that gives this card a proper throwback feel to it. The platinum version features a silvery blue ‘platinum’ coloured font colour which is unfortunately quite hard on the eyes, and possibly brings the card to a level below where it truly belongs to be.

It has become increasingly hard to find the platinum parallel of this card in mint condition, which is pushing the price up. In PSA 10 mint condition the card can currently be expected to sell for about $3500-4000, however they have been known to sell for nearly $6000 in the past.

If you want to get your hands on this card, but are not looking to spend that kind of money there are two more common parallels, the base card and the gold card which can both be distinguished from the colour of the writing being in white or gold respectively.

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Investment Outlook

Investment Rating: 9.5/10

Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Card: 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor

Ownership Disclosure: None

There are a few things that can give immediate boosts to rookie card values whilst a player is still playing. They include, breaking records, being named MVP or winning championships. After playing days are over, the retirement itself, an induction into the Hall of Fame or the players death can also boost value.

Bryant has already gone through all of these events with his Hall of Fame induction coming posthumously back in April 2020 and the ceremony set for spring next year. Considering this it could be easy to look at the rookie card situation from the outside and say the Bryant’s value has probably peaked.

However, Kobe Bryant was no ordinary man, and his legacy will carry over to card value for years to come. The 28th of August has been declared Black Mamba day in honour of Bryant and that will be celebrated within the basketball world for years to come. The NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP was also renamed in his honour.

To summarise, Bryant’s is a true legend of the game and his name is going nowhere. His legend will continue to grow for decades and this will translate well to his Rookie Card value.

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