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15 of the Most Valuable Modern Sports Rookie Cards

Though you shouldn’t consider this financial advice, there’s little question that the collectibles industry can provide a healthy return on investment. Coins, toys, comics, movie props, and sports cards continue to set sales records, many of which carry several zeroes. in 2021, for example, an ultra-rare LeBron James 2003 rookie card with a jersey swatch sold for $5.2 million, equaling the value of a 1952 Mickey Mantle card. (James himself earned just $4 million in salary in his rookie year.)

While classic sports cards typically hold their value in the millions, more contemporary cards can also go for steep prices. Just bear in mind values for the same card can vary widely depending on its condition, autograph quality, and grade from a third-party authentication company. While prices given here were realized at auction, their worth can fluctuate considerably from year to year owing to market conditions. In other words, just because you have a card like one of these doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take an extended vacation—but it might be worth a closer look.

Los Angeles Laker Davis saw his rookie card (when he was with the New Orleans Hornets, now Pelicans) sell for $1,045,000 in 2021. Told of the price, Davis joked that he “might have to get into that [collecting] space.”

The star of 2021’s Space Jam: A New Legacy is also known for his basketball prowess. His 2003 rookie card for the Cleveland Cavaliers graded 10 by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) snagged $900,000 at auction in 2023. (It’s estimated there are at least 62 different James rookie cards, not including variants, in circulation.)

Brady’s New England Patriots run is among the greatest in sports history, which makes his rookie card a must-have for high-end collectors. A card autographed by Brady and graded 8.5 by Beckett sold for $2,253,000 in 2021, making it at the time the most ever paid for a football card–before Brady broke the record again with a $3.1 million card sale later that year. Brady fever subsequently cooled a bit, however, as another card graded 9 sold for $855,000 in 2023.

Dallas Mavericks standout Dončić had just 10 cards issued in this Prizm Gold edition, making it highly coveted. One graded a perfect 10 by PSA sold for $780,000.

Milwaukee Bucks rookie Antetokounmpo earned two NBA Most Valuable Player honors, making him an MVP in the collectibles world, as well. A 9.5 card earned $510,000 in 2021. Another one sold for $180,000 in 2023.

A standout on the Golden State Warriors, Curry’s rookie card from Topps earned a perfect 10 grade—and $480,000 as a result. One with a lesser grade of 8 netted $170,000 in 2023. The more common Chrome version sold for $8121 on eBay recently.

Dubbed “the holiest of grails” by Sports Collectors Daily, Mike Trout’s draftee status with the Los Angeles Angels got the highly reflective treatment from Bowman in 2009. A PSA 10 autographed card fetched $212,000 on eBay in 2021. Only 50 of the Gold Refractor versions were produced.

Cards don’t necessarily need to age for a decade or more to fetch big money. This signed rookie card of San Diego Padres shortstop Tatis, just one of one, garnered $170,400.

For true sports card rarity—and an elevated price point—cards with authentic player jersey swatches are tough to beat. This Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans autographed rookie card graded 9 by Beckett nabbed $169,200 at auction. Only 99 were made.

Ball, who was named the 2020-2021 NBA Rookie of the Year for his time with the Charlotte Hornets, got a special card featuring a swatch of the NBA logo that was limited to just five cards. It netted $116,400 at auction. with a grade of 9 and a serial number of “01.” A card graded 8 went for a more affordable $18,000 in 2022.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II autographed this rare rookie card, which also comes with a jersey swatch. Graded PSA 9, it sold for $110,000 in 2022. The same card graded 9 sold for $59,100 back in July 2020, making its investment potential considerable—after all, only 15 were produced. The Platinum version, which had a run of just one card, sold for $4.3 million.

Toronto Blue Jays standout Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got a rookie card in 2019 courtesy of Topps, and it’s already tearing through the marketplace. An extremely limited Sapphire Red Refractor version graded PSA 10 fetched $26,000 in 2021. Another perfect 10 scored $45,000 in 2022.

Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson got the rookie card treatment with this Panini card that was extremely limited—just 99 were produced. It features a piece of his jersey, his autograph, a near-perfect PSA 9 grade, and a $12,000 price tag.

Edmonton Oilers hockey standout Connor McDavid autographed this rookie card, which PSA judged to be a perfect 10. It sold for $11,900. Unlike most cards fetching super-premium prices, this one had a print run of 999.

New York Yankee Aaron Judge had a big year in 2022—at least, his cards did. An autographed rookie card limited to 25 copies sold for $7800, while a Chrome Superfractor 1-of-1 card netted $324,000.

A version of this article ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2024.

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