Many in and out of the hobby are predicting the NBA to take over the NFL as America’s number one past time (sorry Baseball you lost that status years ago). We actually are predicting this to an extent as well… (read later Is NBA Card Investing the Future?)
Having said that now is a great time to buy basketball cards as the league is on its rise to #1 fan stardom! So what are the best basketball cards to collect/invest in to take advantage of this epic upswing?
Keep reading to find out! 🙂
Collecting cards is a popular pastime for many sports fans and basketball fans are no different. Basketball cards have been around for almost as long as the NBA has, and every year more are produced.
Nowadays every popular rookie will have numerous variations created before they even touch an NBA hardwood floor.
Open a pack of cards from the most recent season and you will see cards that contain everything from autographs to pieces of jerseys to help add rarity and make them unique.
With all these cards it can be hard to tell which ones are worth investing in and that is why we are here with our list of the twenty greatest basketball cards of all time.
PLEASE NOTE: In this write up we only used ONE card of each player and this list is based on LONG TERM investments (not a quick flip for quick cash).
Without further ado, let’s check the top 20 NBA cards ever printed on cardboard!
Best 20 Basketball Cards Of All-Time
#20 1989 David Robinson Hoops SP Rookie RC #136 (buy on eBay)
This card was released the same year as the iconic 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr rookie card and while it was not quite as important to the hobby, it does have its own special place in basketball card history. The front of the card features a beaming Robinson holding his Spurs jersey on draft night and Robinson would go on to have a great career not only in the NBA but also in international basketball as a key piece of the “Dream Team”.
This Robinson card carries plenty of nostalgia for many basketball card collectors and therefore is a solid investment option. The value will not be tanking anytime soon with so many collectors vying for this card that reminds them of their childhood.
#19 1961 Oscar Robertson Fleer Rookie #36 (buy on eBay)
The only man to average a triple-double for an entire season until Russell Westbrook did it in 2017, “The Big O” is an NBA great. This is the only rookie card for the well-rounded guard and is part of the famous 1961 Fleer set that produced many of the cards on this list.
Oscar is an NBA Hall of Famer already and there is not much room for upwards movement for this card, but it is a relatively safe investment for those that would like to own one.
Related: Best Sports Cards To Buy Right Now
#18 1961 Elgin Baylor Fleer Rookie Card #3 (buy on eBay)
Another card from the 1961 Fleer set and another card that is the only rookie card for an NBA legend, the 1961 Fleer Elgin Baylor card is a classic for collectors. Baylor was one of the first in a long list of legendary players that would play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
One defining feature of this card is a small white dot on the right side of Baylor’s face. This will not count against the card when it comes time to be graded as it appears on every card. For investors, this card will be similar to many of the other retired players where the upwards movement in price may be limited but it will retain its value well.
#17 1986 Fleer Karl Malone Rookie RC #68 (buy on eBay)
Karl Malone, half of the best pick-and-roll duo of all time with point guard John Stockton, comes in at number seventeen. This is another legendary set as it was full of rookie cards of future NBA Hall of Famers.
While Malone struggled to get past Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls for much of his career, but he managed to finally win a title with the Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
#16 1969 Lew Alcindor Topps Rookie #25 (buy on eBay)
Lew Alcindor, who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and an undisputable choice as one of the best players of all time. He used his signature move, the skyhook, to rack up points and other accolades.
Kareem is a fan favorite and one of the largest figures in NBA history. As an investment, this card would be a solid choice even though Kareem will not be able to secure any more awards because of Kareem’s stature and large fanbase.
#15 1988 Fleer Scottie Pippen Rookie RC #20 (buy on eBay)
Scottie Pippen was the greatest second fiddle of all time and one of the best two-way players of all time. With the recent release of ESPN’s documentary “The Last Dance” that focuses on the Chicago Bulls, all the players from that team have had increased exposure.
With this, these cards may be slightly overvalued at the moment as more collectors are reminded of Scottie’s greatness. However, with the price difference between this card and the rookie Michael Jordan, this may be one to consider.
#14 1961 Jerry West Fleer Rookie Lakers #43 (buy on eBay)
Jerry West is not only one of the greatest NBA players of all time but also a man who has his fingerprints all over many of the best teams today. These cards were distributed in packs of gum and while they may have been cheap then, they are very expensive now.
With this card being one of the oldest on the list it could be a good investment option if you could find one in solid enough condition for a reasonable price. However, that can be tricky as these cards are quite highly valued.
#13 1980 Topps Larry Bird & Magic Johnson & Julius Erving (buy on eBay)
The only card on this list that features more than one player, this team leader card acts like a rookie card for both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. This card pictures three legendary players that had huge influences on the NBA through the 1980s.
The card is known to have issues with centering and black splotches so they are hard to find in good condition. If you can find one that has a high grade, it could be a solid investment option because of the trio of players pictured and their large fanbases.
#12 2009 Stephen Curry Topps Chrome Rookie #101 (buy on eBay)
Stephen Curry is one of the most popular basketball players in the world today. He has changed the game by showing the power of the three-point shot and he is one of the more charismatic off-court personalities in the league.
Curry is an international superstar and while his Golden State Warriors had a down season this year, they will be sure to bounce back in the future with a healthier roster. They have a high draft pick this season that they will be sure to weaponize by either selecting a prospect that they believe in or trading it for someone who can produce better in the short term.
The Topps Chrome set has a strong history of valuable rookie cards that do not rely on autographs or jersey patches to inflate value. With it being an iconic set, this card would be a good choice for investors as Curry still has plenty of basketball left to play.
#11 1957 Bill Russell Topps RC #77 (buy on eBay)
Bill Russell, the man famous for winning eleven championships in thirteen seasons, has only this 1957 Topps card to commemorate his rookie season. As with many older cards, this card has its share of printing issues that make it difficult to find in good condition.
Russell is known as the greatest winner in NBA history and the success he achieved may never be matched. Therefore, this card will always be sought after as people attempt to remember the man that is associated so closely with winning.
These older cards will usually be strong investments when able to be found at a good price but are often hard to find at a good price for the condition of the cards.
#10 1997 Tim Duncan Topps Rookie RC #115 (buy on eBay)
“The Big Fundamental” was a player who was so efficient in his game that he made it look easy and boring. Duncan was part of the San Antonio Spurs core that won titles ranging from the late 1990s to the mid-2010s.
Duncan today is a coach with the same Spurs franchise that he played with. As Duncan continues in his coaching career, if he can find a fraction of the success that he did as a player than his cards will increase in value.
This Topps card is one of the more basic rookie cards for Duncan and therefore could be an investment option for more casual collectors or people entering the hobby for the first time.
#9 2007 Kevin Durant Topps Chrome Rookie Card #131 (buy on eBay)
Another Topps Chrome rookie card makes this list, showing just how influential that set is in basketball cards. The price that these cards command even without autographs or other memorabilia is impressive and speaks to the branding that Topps has done.
Durant is already perhaps the best scorer that we have ever seen. As he starts a new chapter of his career in Brooklyn, if he can win an NBA title with the franchise it will do wonders for his reputation and overall image. This would help Durant prove that he can lead a team to a championship as the main guy and will do wonders for the value of his cards down the road.
For those looking for a good investment, Durant may be the choice as he still will earn plenty of accolades during the rest of his NBA career and will finish his career as an NBA legend. One thing to be cautious about is the fact that Durant did suffer an Achilles tear which is a severe injury and could affect his play when he returns.
#8 1961 Wilt Chamberlain Fleer Warriors #8 (buy on eBay)
Another 1961 Fleer card and another card that is the only recognized rookie version of an NBA legend. There are many of stories about Wilt that range from describing his superhuman strength to his legendary scoring prowess.
Wilt owns more records than any other NBA player ever and is one of the most amazing physical specimens to ever walk this planet. Like the other cards that were printed in this set, this card can be hard to find in good condition and therefore is quite rare to find as a good investment option.
#7 1992 Shaquille O’Neal Topps Gold Rookie RC #36 (buy on eBay)
This card was a rarer variety of the base Topps rookie card for the dominant center. The gold version has the writing on the card done in gold foil, giving it a more premium look and commanding higher prices than its basic counterpart.
For investors, this card could be a good choice as it’s at a good price where it should be affordable to many investors. Shaq is still very involved with the NBA and is one of the hosts of Inside the NBA, one of the more popular sports segments on TV.
Shaq has taken the leap from former athlete to full-fledged celebrity and his name will not be forgotten for a long time. For investors that want a safe option that is sure to rise over time any Shaquille O’Neal card would be a good choice but the 1992 Topps Gold would be a great one.
#6 1986 Hakeem Olajuwon Fleer Rookie Card #82 (buy on eBay)
“Hakeem the Dream” was one of the greatest NBA centers of all time and another NBA legend that would have many more rings if he hadn’t had the unfortunate coincidence of playing at the same time as Michael Jordan.
Hakeem wowed fans with his smooth footwork and impressive coordination for a man of his size and he managed to win two championships while Jordan was playing baseball. The card reads “Akeem Olajuwon” which was Hakeem’s former name.
This 1986 Fleer set is another legendary one and this card would be a solid choice for investors as Hakeem is an NBA great that will likely result in his cards keeping their value.
#5 1986 Charles Barkley Fleer Rookie RC #7 (buy on eBay)
Charles Barkley, another great NBA player who is part of Inside the NBA on TV, is pictured in this 1986 rookie card from the legendary Fleer set. Barkley has a big personality and is a fan favorite for his honest quotes and relationship with Shaq.
Barkley never could get to the promised land and win a championship, but he is still remembered for his great play and unlucky coincidence of playing at the same time as Michael Jordan.
For investors, this card could be a good option because of Barkley’s outspoken personality and charisma. As new basketball fans are introduced to the game, they are introduced to Barkley and he quickly wins them over.
#4 1995 Kevin Garnett Topps Finest #115 (buy on eBay)
This is the most highly sought-after Kevin Garnett rookie card and is at a price point where it is available to many. The card has a portrait of Garnett on the front and he is pictured in his draft hat.
#3 1996 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #138 (buy on eBay)
The 1996 rookie class was one of the best of all time and led by the late Kobe Bryant. Kobe was an international superstar that had a massive following of die-hard fans that loved him for his competitive spirit and will to win. This card comes from the Topps Chrome set that produces so many amazing rookie cards.
Fun Read: Topps Baseball Cards (best cards and sets)
Unfortunately, Kobe passed away this year in a tragic helicopter accident. He will forever be remembered by basketball fans everywhere and the NBA will find different ways to honor him. He is already in the Hall of Fame and will never be forgotten.
For investors, this card could be a good choice as Kobe’s legacy will always mean that there are buyers looking for this card. Kobe will forever be on the minds of people that love basketball and his inspiring work ethic will continue to inspire millions for the years to come.
#2 2003 LeBron James Topps Chrome Rookie Refractor RC (buy on eBay)
Lebron James is considered by many to be one of the top two players of all time and he still has gas left in the tank. Lebron has been a star and in the public spotlight since he was a teenager and is one of the few child phenoms that has exceeded the immense pressure that was placed upon him.
James has multiple NBA championships and currently plays for one of the best teams in the league. He could easily add another championship to his resume, or more than one, and increase his already impressive list of accolades.
Lebron is more than a basketball star as he has embraced the age of social media to become a true superstar. He is one of the most famous athletes in the world at the moment and is already acting in movies and doing other appearances that will make sure his name is in the spotlight for a long time.
This card could be a good option for investors who believe that James will be able to snag another championship or two. If you trust in “The King” than by all means you should be looking to acquire this card and holding it for the rest of his career.
#1A 2018 Luka Doncic Panini Opulence Rookie Patch Auto Gold /10 #145 (buy on eBay)
We just couldn’t decide between these two outstanding specimens of basketball cards so we fell back to the old 1 & 1A horse racing terminology.
The 2018 Panini Opulence basketball set is one of the most underrated sets on the planet as it is simply jaw-dropping beautiful… we haven’t seen something that beautiful since Kathy Ireland in Sports Illustrated… and then toss in the best young player in the NBA (according to 17 out of 20 NBA scouts/coaches/executives) and you simply have a masterpiece in the 2018 Luka Doncic Panini Opulence RPA Gold rookie card… only 10 of these were made so good luck getting your oven mitts on one.
#1 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie Card #57 (buy on eBay)
At number one of this list, we have “Air Jordan”, the man who is the subject of the immensely popular ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” that is currently showing. Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest of all-time and is known for his competitive spirit.
Everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike” and Jordan has done a great job of remaining around the game as he currently owns a team as well as his signature Jordan brand. The kids entering the NBA today still point to Jordan as an inspiration and someone they look up to and that will not be changing anytime soon.
One thing investors should be wary of before buying this card is the fact that it is so often counterfeited. It may be better to buy a previously graded version to save the headache of worrying about the legitimacy of the card.
For those that find an original card, this will always be a good investment as Jordan is not only the biggest name in basketball but possibly in all sport.
NBA Basketball Card Investing Outlook
These twenty cards are all iconic pieces of basketball card history, showcasing the best players to ever play the game. While all these cards are likely to at least hold their value, some are better than others when looking at the future prospect of their prices.
Picking the right card is crucial to seeing strong returns on your investment and with this guide, we have laid out some of your stronger options when looking at these cards.
Best Basketball Cards Investing Outlook: Strong to Very Strong