Although he barely recovered from an injury in time to participate in the shortened NBA season, Zion Williamson has been a force in basketball since the age of 16. Not only has the power forward rejuvenated the NCAA and Duke’s NBA reputation, but he has also brought modern attention to a hobby of the past: trading basketball cards.
Zion Williamson and modern basketball card collecting
Trading cards have been synonymous with professional sports since the days of Honus Wagner. But the industry has experienced a renaissance over the past decade. Mike Trout’s signature moved a batch of 2010 cards’ prices into the stratosphere. But Zion appears to be taking prices to a new level. Since the beginning of 2020 alone, Zion cards have reached prices upward of six figures, according to FOX Business.
Limited-edition trading cards are numbered according to the quantity in the set. Particularly rare cards could be numbered 1 of 100 or even 1 of 25. The $100k Zion card purchased in New York? 1-of-1. With no duplicates, it makes sense that the card commands such a premium. And as Zion continues to make waves in the NBA, the price will likely continue to climb.
Trout and Zion’s work restoring the trading card industry hasn’t been without its obstacles. A Dak Prescott fake signature scandal in 2016 attracted the wrong type of new attention to the hobby. But it’s just been a bump in the road as card collecting continued to soar to new heights. There’s no longer a single “Zion Williamson Rookie Card”; there are a number of different print runs and companies that produce them, sometimes with additional features.
What makes each basketball card unique?
Following the success of Trout’s signed cards, more cards feature player signatures, either digitally replicated or via the player’s own hand. These cards can also feature real fabric swatches from a player’s uniform or even multiple pieces from different parts of the uniform. Sites like Cardboard Connection do an excellent job of tracking all of the variations and their approximate values.
The Big 4 sports aren’t the only ones with top-level trading cards, however. The WWE maintains their own card collections that take exclusivity to a new level.
The memorabilia experts at Beckett compiled a list of some of the WWE’s most-wanted cards, and some of them have eye-popping features. With card inserts cut straight from the wrestling mat, hand-signed autographs, and even lipstick kisses from some of wrestling’s top divas, WWE has made their contribution to the world of collectible cards.
The future of sports and sports cards
Although the UFC triumphantly returned on May 9, other major sports are still on hold. Trading cards give fans a connection to pro players that they can hold on to during the hiatus, and collecting is a temporary replacement for watching the games. The longer sports go without returning, the more avenues fans will look at to fill their time.
The current trading card boom started as the world recovered from a recession, and today’s uncertain times are perfect for picking up the hobby. Despite the eye-popping prices on Zion’s $100k rookie card and some other top sellers (Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett, Rui Hachimura), there are still plenty of cards available for budget prices.
Investing in rookie cards is a great way to back up your gut instinct on a player. If you predict that an underrated rookie from today’s class might go down in history as an all-time great, acquiring their rookie card is a great way to make some money in a few years. The 1-of-1 Zion card turned heads when it was valued at $100k today, but if Williamson goes on to a 20-year career of dominance who can predict where it might end up.