When it comes to the world of sports cards, baseball has enjoyed a long run of dominance. Some of the most sought-after baseball cards — Honus Wagner’s American Tobacco Company card, or Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card — routinely sell for millions of dollars. Historically, cards from other professional sports can’t hold a candle to that kind of value.
These days, however, the popularity of baseball cards seems to be on the wane — at least compared to that of basketball cards. That may seem surprising at first, yet it makes sense when you consider the relative growth of basketball’s fan base in recent years. Here we take a closer look at the corresponding growth of the basketball card industry, as well as some recent expensive sales.
The hottest trend in sports trading cards
When it comes to overall sales within the world of card collecting, baseball always held the number one spot. Football cards came in second, with basketball cards finishing a distant third. Even the cards of the game’s greatest players — think Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson — tended to be worth very little relative to comparable stars in baseball and football.
Yet within the span of a relatively short period of time, basketball cards have ascended to the highest sales position within the world of collectible cards. The craziest part of that trend is that it isn’t just older basketball cards that are spiking in value.
On the contrary, even cards from the last few years have seen their value go up exponentially in a short period of time.
Reasons for the sudden rise in basketball card values
Experts have floated a lot of theories about what has caused the recent rise in basketball card value. As noted above, the corresponding increase in the popularity of basketball as a sport has certainly helped. With the league suddenly flooded with hot young talent — think Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic — fans are exhibiting a new surge interest for the game.
Another prevalent theory from Side Hustle Nation holds that the same entrepreneurs who have made a small fortune sneaker flipping are now turning their sights to the world of card collecting, thus driving up the market value of basketball cards. Others posit that the trend is being driven by 30- to 40-year-olds who are circling back to their childhood hobby out of nostalgia.
The coronavirus pandemic has also likely had an effect on the basketball card market. For many months, fans were unable to attend or even bet on basketball games, leaving them with more disposable cash and a desire to continue engaging with the sport however they could. With so many new fans flooding the card market, demand quickly outpaced supply, driving prices through the roof.
Some recent examples of high-ticket sales
For non-dealers and non-collectors, the explosion in basketball card prices likely flew under the radar for quite a while. All of that changed in July, when a LeBron James card sold at auction for a staggering $1.8 million, according to NBA.com.
That set a new record for a modern-day card sale in any sport. The card was one of 23 examples of a super-rare Patch Autograph Parallel card from James’ rookie season.
That sale clued people in to the huge renaissance that basketball cards are currently undergoing. A lot of the current market stems around hyper-modern cards — in other words, those issued in the last year or two.
For instance, according to a recent Bleacher Report article, the price of a 2018-19 Panini Prizm Shai Gilgeous-Alexander card went from $114.99 to $400.00 between the end of April and the beginning of August. If trends like that continue to hold steady in the coming years, it’s safe to say that a lot more basketball fans are going to start investing in cards.