Wayne Gretzky is the rare breed of hockey player whose name belongs next to game-changers like Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth. For 20 years, he dominated the NHL and helped propel the sport into the mainstream. Despite retiring more than two decades ago, Gretzky remains a hot ticket. A recent sale of a rookie card shows precisely why.
Wayne Gretzky sets another record
Gretzky’s NHL career began over 40 years ago when the soon-to-be legend hopped from the WHA to the NHL alongside a merger with his Edmonton Oilers. From there, the league was never the same. Hockey was already a popular sport, but they never had a star quite like Gretzky. As such, memorabilia featuring the legend quickly fell off the shelves.
Now, four decades later, as the memorabilia world heads back in a significant way, a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky rookie card recently fetched a hefty seven-figure price tag. At $3.75 million, per Heritage Auctions, Gretzky’s rookie card is the biggest in hockey history. Furthermore, it more than doubles the sale price of a similar card sold in December for $1.29 million.
This sale shows not only how big the market is long after Gretzky skated his final game, but it also shows just where he stands in sports history, as cards of this magnitude are typically saved for all-time greats and prints so rare that barely anyone can find them.
Where does Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card rank?
Dan Imler has a special relationship with the card market. As the vice president of private sales and consignments for Heritage Sports, he’s seen his fair share of high-priced cards. As such, he had no problem comparing the value of the recent Gretzky find to similarly high-priced legends.
“There are just a handful of cards out there to reach such stratospheric heights, and they bear such names as Mickey Mantle, LeBron James, Mike Trout, Honus Wagner, and Michael Jordan,” Imler told ESPN. “It’s only fitting that the greatest hockey player of all time, and one of the most beloved and revered athletes of the 20th century, join their estimable ranks.”
The card is one of only two O-Pee-Chee versions graded as gem mint, the highest honor for a sports card. Nearly flawless, the card sold to an anonymous buyer who looked at it for several years before finally getting their now-prized possession.
“Throughout many years of collecting, this card has always been our ‘white whale,'” the buyer told ESPN. “Our family is thrilled to become the new guardians of this world-class hobby treasure.”
To put it in perspective, Forbes noted how Kobe Bryant”s earliest known rookie jersey recently sold for pennies less, while a Michael Jordan rookie card once sold for $2 million. LeBron James, who is still dominating the NBA 18 years in, had a card sell for nearly a million dollars. However, the Gretzky card is worth just under the $3.8 million that the legendary T206 Honus Wagner card sold for in recent years. In comparison, a Mike Trout card recently sold for even more.
Card collecting may be at an all-time high, and sales like this show exactly why. While many fans like collecting the cards for fun, others see them as an investment no different than stocks. With Gretzky’s card rising to its legendary status, his legacy remains secure. As the car sales rise, perhaps this will be even more expensive as the new buyers hang onto it and watch the market dictate its future.
Gretzky’s incredible hockey career
Gretzky came into the pros as a WHA player. After briefly playing for the Indianapolis Racers, they traded him to the Edmonton Oilers for cash. There, he became a legend overnight after the Oilers entered the NHL. For nearly a decade, Gretzky not only made the Oilers one of the most compelling teams in the NHL. Gretzky led the team to four Stanley Cups before they infamously traded him to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.
While Gretzky failed to win another Cup with the Kings, Rangers, or Blues, his legacy remains secure. He retired with 1,669 points, 894 goals en-route to a Hall of Fame career that remains the best in hockey’s long history. With such an impressive resume, it makes sense that he continues fetching high prices today. However, just how high those prices are may shock even the most ardent Gretzky fan.