What are the best basketball cards to invest in now? Much depends on what is most likely to sell for the biggest profit, and it’s not always easy to judge who or what will be popular in a year’s time.
It’s worth taking the time to gauge your options, to work out exactly which card is right for you. For example, your budget will be an obvious constraint, as well as how long you’re looking to invest. (A long-term investment piece will have different characteristics to a card you’re hoping to flip quickly.)
“Basketball Cards are overtaking baseball cards as the most popular in the hobby”
Here’s a list of seven of the best basketball cards to invest in right now! We’ve included everything you could possibly need to know about both the player and the card, with something to suit
Top Basketball Cards to Invest in Now
We’ve looked at everything from recent market data to values to bring you this list with some of the best investment options as of now. The cards are listed in chronological order of release, while there are options to suit almost every budget.
RCs make up the majority of the list, as they’re one of the hottest rookie card investment options at any given time. Of course, some are worth more than others, and brand recognition will also have a role to play.
For investment purposes, we’d advise sticking with graded options whenever possible. You’ll have a better idea of exactly what the card is worth, and you won’t have to go to the trouble of sending it off to be appraised yourself.
We’ll start off with one of the most recognizable cards in the hobby, released way back in 1985.
1985 Nike Promo Michael Jordan (buy on eBay)
Where better to begin than with His Airness? Michael Jordan is a true legend, while the legacy of his branding still remains as strong today as it ever was. A six-time NBA champion, (and the Finals MVP each time), he ended his career as a 14-time All-Star and the first billionaire player in NBA history. If you can name it, he has probably achieved it.
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This promo card was released by Nike in 1985, as Jordan leaps towards the net in an iconic shot. It’s one of the first-ever cards to feature the young star, while the ‘Jumpman’ pose is used to advertise the original Jordan 1 sneakers. It wasn’t the rarest card by any means when it was originally released in ‘85, but prices for mint copies have risen significantly in the last few years.
Keep an eye out for reprints which are sometimes sold as the ‘85 card by unscrupulous sellers. Cards from the original set are over-sized, measuring a little more than 3″ x 5″.
1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC #57 (buy on eBay)
MJ cards are great investments at the moment, following a resurgence in popularity in 2020. In part due to The Last Dance (Rewatch The Last Dance Now), almost every Jordan card is worth significantly more than they were a decade ago. As such, the same is true for his RC, released during the 1986-87 season.
One of the most iconic cards from the 1980s, Jordan’s Fleer RC has a bright red, white, and blue background. It features an action shot of MJ as he leaps up towards the rim, in a typically dominating display. As the definitive Jordan rookie card, the ‘86 Fleer sees a lot of interest at any given time.
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Compared to many others on the list, it’s extremely condition-sensitive, which is why the price of PSA 10 copies has skyrocketed over the past year. It’s arguably the most popular basketball card ever, and prices continue to climb with no end result in sight. For example, prices for mint Jordan RCs have more than doubled since 2014. What will they be worth by 2025?
2012 Panini Prizm Kawhi Leonard RC #209 (buy on eBay)
Kawhi Leonard’s cards are another hot ticket item at the moment, with investors desperate to grab rare copies whenever they’re available. He first won an NBA championship in 2014, where he was named the Finals Most Valuable Player. Leonard earned a second with the Toronto Raptors in 2019, leading them to their first win in franchise history. A 2020 NBA All-Star Game MVP award helps him to earn a spot on the list.
Watch this tool pull a Kawhi RC worth THOUSANDS?!
His 2012-13 Panini Prizm card is what we’re looking at here. It has a large action shot of Leonard in the middle, with the players in the background mostly faded out. Leonard’s right arm is coming out at the top and goes over the border to help the image stand out.
It has a metallic-style border design, which is especially noticeable on either the base or Gold Prizm versions. Despite being unsigned, the base Prizm card is a great mid-range investment piece.
Parallels: Prizms, Green Prizms, Gold Prizms (/10)
2013 National Treasures Giannis Antetokounmpo RC /99 #130 (buy on eBay)
Next up is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The ‘Greek Freak’ is one of the biggest stars in the modern-day and recently announced that a Disney movie about his life was in the works. Among his numerous accolades is the honor of being named as the NBA MVP in 2019 and 2020, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan as the only players to win MVP and NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.
His National Treasures card is another great addition to the list, and it’s a true premium option. A BGS 8 graded copy recently sold for $81,700, to give you some indication of the value. The top segment has an image of Antetokounmpo, along with a chrome RC logo and the serial number (99).
Another Must Read For Giannis Fans: Top Giannis Antetokounmpo Autos
The middle is left for a large player patch, while the bottom has an on-card auto, filled in blue ink. NT cards are generally the preferred option when looking at premium RCs, and it’s hard to do better if you’re looking for a long-term investment piece that could be worth a lot more in a decade or two. Of course, that also depends on how his career goes, and a devastating injury would spell disaster.
Parallels: Gold Proof Autographs (/25), Platinum Autographs (/5)
2017 Donruss Optic Kyle Kuzma RC #174 (buy on eBay)
Kyle Kuzma was originally picked by the Brooklyn Nets in 2017 but ended up being traded to the LA Lakers immediately. He earned a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2019 and won his first NBA Championship in 2020. Given the victory, his RCs have been receiving a lot of interest from canny investors.
His 2017 Donruss Rated Rookie is one of the cheaper options, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t good potential for profit. It features an image of Kuzma mid-dribble, and there’s a variety of chromium parallels with low print numbers. Overall, it’s a great pick if you’re working within a tight budget.
Parallels: Holo, Flash, Blue Velocity, Checkerboard, Purple, White Sparkle, Orange (/199), Lime Green (/175), Red (/99), Pink Velocity (/79), Blue (/49), Black Velocity (/39), Aqua (/25), Pink (/25), Purple Stars (/13), Gold (/10), Green (/5), Gold Vinyl (1/1), Black (1/1)
Fast Break Parallels: Holo, Orange (/193), Purple (/155), Red (/85), Blue (/50), Pink (/20), Gold (/10), Black (1/1)
2018 Panini Prizm Luka Doncic RC #280 (buy on eBay)
Luka Doncic is sixth on the list. The 2019 Rookie of the Year, he went on to make his first All-Star appearance in 2020. It’s easy to see why one of his RCs is one of the best basketball cards to invest in now, as he seems destined for greatness, and he has all of the tools to succeed in the NBA.
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His 2018 Panini Prizm card has everything you’d expect from the brand, with a unique border design and a crisp RC logo found on the top left corner. Doncic is pictured in the middle of the card as he leaps up to make a shot.
As you can see from the list below, there’s a ridiculous amount of parallels to look out for, some of which benefit from low print runs. They offer something to suit almost every budget, making for another great investment option.
Parallels: Choice Blue, Yellow and Green, Choice Tiger Stripe, Fast Break, Green, Hyper, Pink Ice, Purple Wave, Red Ice, Red, White and Blue, Ruby Wave, Silver, Red (/299,) Blue (/199,) Fast Break Blue (/175,) Purple Ice (/149,) Fast Break Red (/125,) Blue Ice (/99,) Choice Red (/88,) Fast Break Purple (/75,) Purple (/75,) Fast Break Pink (/50,) Orange (/49), Pink Pulsar (/42), Purple Pulsar (/35), Green Pulsar (/25), Mojo (/25) Fast Break Bronze (/20,) Gold (/10), Choice Green (/8) Blue Shimmer FOTL (/7) Light Blue Shimmer FOTL (/7) Red Shimmer FOTL (/7), Black Gold (/5), Fast Break Neon Green (/5), Black (1/1), Choice Nebula (1/1)
2019 Donruss Optic Zion Williamson RC #158 (buy on eBay)
Last, but by no means least, is Zion Williamson’s 2019 Optic. Williamson was a first overall pick in the 2019 draft, and signed a $75m deal with the Jordan brand that year. To give some indication of the hype surrounding him, it is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history, trailing only LeBron James’ $90 million rookie deal signed in 2003.
Best Investment: Zion Williamson Rookie Cards (Must Have Some)
Williamson’s RCs are a hot ticket item at the moment, and the Donruss Optic is no different. It features a posed shot of the player as he clutches a basketball, with a ‘Rated Rookie’ logo found at the bottom. It has a thick border, and it’s an understated design overall.
“If Zion can stay healthy his career is limitless! Can a body that big take pounding after pounding year in year out… that is the billion dollar question”
The lack of auto makes it cheaper than some premium options, but rare parallels rapidly raise the price. As you can see below, there’s a number of hyper-rare cards to look out for, including a couple of one-of-ones.
If you’re willing to buy into the hype, Zion’s cards are a great potential investment piece.
Parallels: Holo, Checkerboard, Hyper Pink, Purple, Purple Shock, White Sparkle, Orange (/199), Lime Green (/149), Red (/99), Blue (/59), Purple Stars FOTL (/29), Pink (/25), Gold (/10), Lucky Envelopes (/8), Green (/5), Black (1/1), Gold Vinyl (1/1)
The Best 7 Basketball Cards to Invest in Now: Summary
So, there you have it. Players like Williamson and Doncic are joined by old favorites like MJ, making for a list that feels more like a who’s who in the NBA. Each of the cards we’ve mentioned has attracted hundreds of bids over the past few months, making for some of the more interesting basketball cards if you’re purchasing solely to invest in the future.
Some cards are better suited to a quick flip, while others would probably have a better chance if you’re willing to hold in the long-term. Much depends on your personal appetite for risk, and what sort of profit you’d be willing to accept. After all, you might have been happy with the price if you sold an ‘86 Jordan Fleer in 2014. However, holding for a few more years would have seen a significant increase in your personal profit margins.
The same goes for younger players, who still have the majority of their careers ahead of them. Are you willing to put faith in the prospect of future championship rings and an HoF spot, which will surely cause prices to rise once more?
It’s a risk either way, but that’s the name of the game when you’re investing in items that will ebb and flow depending on external factors.