Kobe Bryant memorabilia has always been popular. From the time he entered the league as a high-flying 18-year-old, to when he retired as the all-time scoring leader in Los Angeles Lakers history, fans have wanted to own anything related to the Black Mamba.
The love for Bryant extends into the trading card world. In 2021, one rookie card went for more money than any other Kobe card ever has. So much money, in fact, that a young Kobe would be jealous given where the total was compared to his salary.
A Kobe Bryant rookie card sold for a record amount
In March 2021, a Kobe Bryant rookie card was sold on Goldin Auctions, an online auction house and repository for sports memorabilia. It was a 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card – BGS Pristine/Black Label 10, showcasing the #8 Bryant going up for a shot against a Minnesota Timberwolves player.
While the buyer is unknown, the cost of the card was a whopping $1.795 million, making it the most expensive Bryant card ever sold. The $1.8 million card netted perfect 10s in categories like centering, corners, edges, and surface, qualifying it for rare “Black Label” recognition.
“Kobe Bryant was one of the fiercest competitors of all time and a truly larger-than-life figure,” said Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions. “His rookie card is one of the rarest in existence and one of only two on earth in black label pristine condition, which is the highest possible obtainable grade. The fact that it sold for the final auction price of $1.795 million, the all-time record for any Kobe Bryant card, speaks to just how beloved he was around the world.”
It’s a total that would’ve made a young Kobe green with envy. When Bryant entered the league in 1996, his rookie contract paid him around $3.5 million over three years, an average of $1.17 million per season.
Kobe Bryant cards skyrocketed in value after his death
After Bryant died in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, the demand for all of his merchandise shot up. Stores like Macy’s, Foot Locker, and Champ’s saw Kobe merchandise fly out of the store. Others like Nike and Mitchell & Ness also faced highly increased demand. The best example to see how the Hall of Famer’s death impacted demand — and supply — is to follow the timeline on eBay.
On the morning of January 26, the name “Kobe Bryant” yielded around 30,000 results on eBay. 24 hours later, once the news of his passing got around to nearly everyone, it grew to around 57,000. By February 1, there were approximately 82,500 Kobe-related listings on eBay.
Everything from autographs, to game-worn jerseys, and yes, trading cards, were up for sale like never before. Based on eBay sales data, the value of Bryant’s cards went up by 600% just two weeks following his death.
“It’s not something I want to capitalize on,” said Rick Probstein, a top seller of sports cards and memorabilia on eBay. “But I’m a broker for people who want [me] to sell.”
Kobe’s rare rookie card isn’t the most expensive basketball card ever sold
Kobe’s pristine rookie card set a record for his own cards, but it wasn’t close to being the most expensive card we’ve seen in NBA history. That honor belongs to Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry.
In July 2021, a one-of-one 2009 Steph Curry rookie “Logoman” card sold for a whopping $5.9 million. It beat the record previously set in April 2021, when a rare LeBron James autographed rookie card was purchased privately for $5.2 million. It’s at least the third time the record has been set this year alone, as a one-of-one Luka Doncic autographed card sold two months before James’ for $4.6 million.
“The enthusiasm for trading cards and memorabilia has never been higher,” Goldin said after the Bryant card sold. “And as even more people recognize the incredible investment opportunity these assets offer, we anticipate that interest will only continue to grow.”
Bryant’s rookie card is one of the most expensive in basketball history, even if it’s a few million shy of LeBron and Luka. But based on the way trading cards are trending, expect another Kobe card to go for a couple million or more in the not-so-distant future.
All contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.