While many collectors and investors prefer the safety and stability seen with vintage sports cards, there are a number of viable modern-day options that could be worth your time and money.
Signed cards are always popular, offering a little extra compared to the average RC or shiny chrome parallel.
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With that in mind, here are ten of the best modern-day autographed sports cards, featuring some of the biggest stars from the late ‘90s to now! A mix of retirees and current stars make up our list, while we’ve identified specific versions to keep an eye on for many sets.
Modern-Day Top 10 Autograph-Sports Cards
There are hundreds of great picks to choose from if you’re looking at newer cards. The last 30 years have seen numerous advances in almost every sport imaginable, and this is reflected in the numbers and records that are consistently being broken each year.
Everything from improved diets, to better training and equipment, has helped to push limits even further, while even the cards themselves are rarer, and often come with a signature or a player patch attached.
We’ve listed the cards below in no particular order, with everything from golf, basketball, football, and baseball covered along the way.
2018 Luka Doncic Panini Opulence RPA Gold /10 #145 (buy on eBay)
Luka Doncic is a talented youngster who has transformed into one of the NBA’s brightest stars since he was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 2018. He could potentially contend with Mike Trout, and maybe even Michael Jordan in the card collecting world if he continues at his current level.
Of the many RCs featuring Luka Doncic, his Panini Opulence Rookie Patch Auto is one of the most valuable and coveted overall. Base copies are limited to just 79 copies, while Gold parallels are numbered to 25.
It features an action shot of Doncic nailing one of his classic 3 point jump shots on the left, while the on-card auto is found on a gold segment underneath a massive player patch. If you’re looking for the most valuable modern autos of the last few years, don’t sleep on the Slovenian.
2000 Michael Jordan Ultimate Collection Gold AUTO #MJ-G /25 (buy on eBay)
The market for Michael Jordan cards is still riding high after peaking during 2020, although his RC is generally seen as the best option overall from an investment perspective. ‘His Airness’ was one of the biggest stars of his respective era, helping to kickstart the collecting hobby once more in the late 1980’s.
In terms of signed options, The 2000 Ultimate Collection features a great on-card auto, found on the bottom tab. It has a red and white design with an image of Jordan in the middle, while the Gold parallel is numbered to just 25 copies. (It comes with gold trim, and there’s a serial number found in the middle of the card.) The “Ultimate Signature” is located in a white section near the base, and is the main cause of the significant interest and value.
2017 Patrick Mahomes II Panini Flawless RPA RC #RP-PM /25 (buy on eBay)
Patrick Mahomes II has been a great choice ever since he led the Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV, their first appearance in 50 years, where they defeated the San Francisco 49ers for their first victory since 1970.
His 2017 Panini Flawless RC is under the microscope here, and it goes for an understated design that focuses on the player, as well as his patch and the auto.
The on-card signature is found at the bottom, filled in blue ink against a white background. With only 25 copies produced, it’s easy to see how it quickly became one of the most popular Mahomes cards in existence.
2003 LeBron James Exquisite Collection Limited Logos RPA /75 RC #LL-LJ (buy on eBay)
It’s tough to find enough superlatives to describe LeBron James (read MJ vs LeBron Basketball Cards). He was expected to take over from MJ, and there’s a legitimate argument if you’d like to contend that the younger man is a better overall basketball player.
This isn’t the most aesthetically appealing LeBron rookie card, but you’ll have to shell out a hefty sum bordering on the six-digit range if you want to add it to your collection. Unlike many RCs, they’ve opted for a tiny image of LeBron, which is no bigger than the tip of your thumb. The majority of the card is devoted to a large player patch, while the signature is filled in blue ink beneath.
The Limited Logos card is just that, with only 75 copies produced. There’s a silver chrome serial number on the front, in case you’re ever in doubt. The asking price is sure to keep many would-be buyers at bay, but that won’t stop it from earning a place on this list.
2001 Tiger Woods SP Authentic Auto #45 (buy on eBay)
Tiger Woods was the face of golf for decades until a cheating scandal and injuries derailed his career for almost a decade. He holds a ridiculous amount of records, such as being the number one player in the world for the most consecutive weeks and for the greatest total number of weeks of any golfer in history. He has been named as the PGA Player of the Year a record 11 times, while he fought back to win his first tournament in five years at the Tour Championship in September 2018 and his first major in 11 years at the 2019 Masters.
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Set to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2021, Woods’ 2001 SP Authentic is another great pick if you’re aiming to diversify your portfolio. The base version is limited to 900 copies, while there’s a Gold parallel which has a print run of just 100. As you might expect, Woods is pictured in a signature pose, watching the ball after a trademark swing. His HoF inclusion will provide a bump in prices, and there’s no denying his impact on the sport.
1996 Kobe Bryant Scoreboard Auto /390 RC #15 (buy on eBay)
Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest NBA players of all time and won 5 NBA championships during his career, as well as being named the NBA Finals MVP twice and the 2008 NBA MVP. Bryant’s untimely death in 2020 shocked the world and caused the price of his signed collectibles to shoot up accordingly. As one of the biggest stars from his era, he was always going to make the list.
The ‘96 Score Board is one of the better unofficial RCs you’ll find, despite the lack of NBA branding for a player who had just been chosen as the first overall pick in the draft. The auto is found on the left, presented vertically along with the card in blue ink. The serial number for the red parallel (390) is also hand-signed below.
Bryant is pictured hanging off a rim, in an unbranded tee with a U.S. flag in the background.
2000 Tom Brady Playoff Contenders Autograph RC #144 (buy on eBay)
One of the greatest of all-time, Tom Brady has a list of highlights and achievements that are longer than many franchises.
His tally of six makes him the record holder for most Super Bowl wins by a player, and he’s the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, at 41. He’s a four-time MVP in the final and is still going strong for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the age of 43.
Brady was a rookie back in 2000, which is the year of release for this rare signed Playoff Contenders card. It can go for upwards of $100k, making it one of the most expensive options on the list. The on-card auto is located at the base, somewhat hidden between Brady’s feet. It hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most iconic RCs in the last 20 years.
2013 Giannis Antetokounmpo National Treasures Gold Auto Patch RC #130 /99 (buy on eBay)
The ‘Greek Freak’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is next up, having cemented his place on the list after being named as the NBA MVP in consecutive years. He’s the third-youngest player to win the MVP award over the previous 40 seasons and joined Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to win MVP and NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season in 2020.
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National Treasures sets always offer a number of premium autos which are a hit with collectors. This 2013 RC is no different and should be seen as Antetokounmpo’s best card on the market. It’s reflected in a significant asking price, thanks to the combo of a popular brand, a game-used patch, autograph, and low supply. In terms of parallels, Gold Proof Autographs (#/25), and Platinum Autographs (#/5) raise the stakes significantly.
2005 Alexander Ovechkin UD The Cup Gold #179 /25 (buy on eBay)
One of the greatest NHL players of all-time, Alexander Ovechkin is still going strong as of 2020. He holds many league records, including being the first player to win the Art Ross Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Award, and Hart Memorial Trophy in a single season, and has the most goals scored by a left-winger in a career and season.
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“The Cup” has started to gain a reputation as a truly special subset in the hockey card industry since Upper Deck began producing this premium product. Ovechkin’s RC is found in the Autographed Rookie Patches Gold Rainbow set, which comes with a three-color patch.
“Mint grades are more affordable than you might expect, and give hockey fans another great signed option to choose from.”
The image of Ovechkin is small, giving way to an on-card auto found on a tab in the middle. As with a couple of the others, there’s a Gold parallel, numbered to 25 rather than 99.
1998 Peyton Manning Playoff Contenders Ticket Exchange RC AUTO #87 (buy on eBay)
The final card to make the list is a Peyton Manning RC from 1998. Pushed on by his rivalry with Tom Brady, Manning won two Super Bowls, and still holds many NFL records, including AP MVP awards (5), Pro Bowl appearances (14), 4,000-yard passing seasons (14), single-season passing yards (5,477 in 2013), and single-season passing touchdowns (55) despite retiring in 2015.
The Tom Brady Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket issue is condition-sensitive at the best of times, while the autographed parallel was limited to roughly 200 copies upon release.
A famous set, it was the hobby’s first-ever to offer signed rookie cards as a part of its base checklist. It’s something we’ve come to expect of modern cards, but they went a step further.
Playoff Corporation tasked collectors with completing full sets containing each of the three different Contenders sets: Leather, Pennant, and Ticket. They could then submit completed sets to Playoff for a redemption prize as well as a special treatment to their cards. Each “Registered Exchange” card was stamped on the back in gold foil with the number in which its set was received back by Playoff. It’s little wonder that it’s so popular.
Best Autograph-Sports Cards: Investment Outlook and Things to Remember
No matter the sport, there’s a heap of interesting signed cards from the past 30 years. Given their age and value, we’d stick to graded options every time, as you’ll have a better idea of the overall condition, and you’ll be able to avoid any of the fakes and forgeries that plague the top end of the market.
Above Autograph Investment Rating: Strongest Buy Possible (5 out of 5)
Ownership Disclosure: 2001 Tiger Woods SP Authentic Auto #45
Best Of The Bunch: 2018 Luka Doncic Panini Opulence RPA Gold /10 #145 (best for huge ROI potential in short to mid-term) and 2003 LeBron James Exquisite Collection Limited Logos RPA /75 RC #LL-LJ (best for long-term)
Nearly all of the cards found on the list have a story to tell or contain one of the greatest players from their respective eras. The market for the best players remains strong, and values continue to rise each year.
The asking price will keep most collectors at eBay, but they probably wouldn’t make the list if the best modern sports cards were easily attainable! They also represent some of the most interesting investment options, so it’s worth keeping tabs on prices at the very least.
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