Kobe Bryant (1978-2020) was a basketball player who spent the entirety of his 20-year NBA career with the LA Lakers. Affectionately known as Black Mamba, he passed away in a helicopter crash on the 26th of January 2020.
He was a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star, and widely seen as one of the best players to grace the court. A phenom in his early years, Kobe went on to become an icon in the sport during the latter stages of his time in LA.
He scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, the second-highest single-game total in NBA history. Kobe bowed out with 60 points against the Utah Jazz in his final game.
We’ve prepared a list containing a trio of Bryant’s best rookie cards to look out for at auction, as well as a checklist and an investment outlook for the future.
Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Checklist
His true rookie cards all hail from the 1996-97 season, and there’s a mix between the various brands. Many of the cards have parallels or refractors, which are rarer and tend to cost far more on average.
- 1996-97 Bowman’s Best #R23
- 1996-97 Collector’s Choice #267
- 1996-97 E-X2000 #30
- 1996-97 Finest #74
- 1996-97 Flair Showcase Row 2 #31
- 1996-97 Fleer #203
- 1996-97 Hoops #281
- 1996-97 Metal #137
- 1996-97 SkyBox Premium #55
- 1996-97 SP #134
- 1996-97 Topps #138
- 1996-97 Topps Chrome #138
- 1996-97 UD3 #19
- 1996-97 Ultra #52
- 1996-97 Upper Deck #58
- 1996-97 Z-Force #142
The Top 3 Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards
With his untimely passing, fans are snapping up many of the rookie cards that were listed before the news was made public. There are lots of great options, so we’ve found three of the most popular Bryant rookie cards based on average bids and value.
1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Rookie Card #138 (or non-chrome)
The 1996-97 Topps Chrome #138 is one of the most popular options, and the most expensive by far if you’re looking at the refractor version. It’s also the key for an important rookie set from the era, adding further value.
A simple front sees Bryant setting up for a shot in typical fashion. His mouth is open as he prepares to leap, and it’s a great action card. The reverse quote reads;
“Why are scouts so confident Kobe can adapt to the NBA? Excellent grades; the experience of traveling Europe with a father (Joe “Jellybean” Bryant) who played 16 years of pro ball; and a scoring average of 30.7 PPG to name three reasons. Washington’s Tim Legler, who played with Bryant in a Summer league, offered this; “There were 10-12 NBA players in the gym and it was difficult to tell the difference.”
The base version is incredibly expensive, but the refractor blows it out of the water. A BGS 9.5 recently sold for $15,356, while 10’s are even pricer. One sold in 2017 for an impressive $33,500.
1996 Kobe Bryant Skybox E-X2000 Credentials #30
Numbered #30, the 1996 Skybox E-X2000 Credentials is a special version of the normal card. There’s a vast difference in price between the two. A gem mint version of the base card recently sold for $5,222, while the Credentials version will cost a lot more to add to your collection.
You’ll be able to tell the difference as the latter has a green background, compared to the silver foil found on the Credentials version. The front of the card features Bryant carrying the ball, with his head poking out of the top of the border. It’s numbered to 499, but it’s hard to find a good copy because of the foil.
The back doesn’t have a quote, although it does list his 1996/97 LA Lakers stats as of the 1997 NBA All-Star break. It also has a reversed image and features the clouds and the green background found on the basic version.
1996-97 Kobe Bryant Metal #137
The 1996-97 Metal #137 is another good option and by far the most affordable on our list. The backquote says;
“A long way from Lower Merion, PA, Kobe Bryant will take his blossoming young game to the West Coast as the freshest face of the new-look Los Angeles Lakers. The son of former NBA hoopster Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, Kobe leaves high school as the highest-scoring schoolboy player in Southeastern PA history (2.883 points), passing someone named Will Chamberlain along the way.”
The card features an image of Bryant in a suit and cap, proudly holding his Lakers jersey up for display. His team logo makes up the background on the front, while the reverse has a zoomed-in image of his face in the bottom left corner.
BGS 10 versions can go from anywhere from $750-$900, while an 8 grade can be picked up for under $20.
Non-Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Worth Buying
- 2015-16 FLAWLESS KOBE BRYANT SHAQUILLE O’NEAL 6CLR PATCH LAKERS LEGENDS /14
- 2007-08 UD Chronology Timeless Memories Kobe Bryant Silver Ink AUTO /10
- Panini 2015-16 Black Gold Basketball Autograph Signature Kobe Bryant /60 AUTO
- 2017-18 Panini Dominion Peerless Kobe Bryant Auto 3 Color Patch Rare /10
- 2010-11 Gold Standard 24 Karat Kobe Bryant Lakers GU Patch AUTO /24
Kobe Bryant Investment Outlook
Kobe is always going to be a legend, and his legacy on the court was secured before he retired in 2016. Over a 20-year career, he achieved it all, while he passed before his time at the age of 41. Just four years on from his final game, many of us can remember his meteoric rise to the top, as well as the injuries that took their toll in the latter stages.
He was basketball for a time, and he’ll be remembered fondly by fans. It’s no exaggeration to call Bryant one of the greatest players in the game’s history.
Lebron James went up to 33,655 career points on the day of Bryant’s death, which is 12 more than the former Lakers star. It moved Bryant down to fourth in the all-time NBA scorers list, but he’ll always be known for his determination and his ridiculous work-rates. It’ll take a long time for his tally to be matched again, and his shadow still looms over the Staples Center.
His death is likely to cause a significant bump to his rookie card prices across the board. This is especially true as we begin to look back on his life through a lens of grief and nostalgia, and we try to make sense of the tragedy. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone, or that there’s really a makeshift memorial for Bryant in front of the Lakers’ stadium.
Popular cards generally tend to retain value, especially if you can find one of the rarer copies. A number of Bryant’s cards were already on the pricier side, and the rare parallels and refractors were already highly collectible due to his achievements as a player as his point-scoring abilities.
It’s slightly macabre, but from Lakers fans to anyone with a passing interest in the sport, Kobe’s rookie card prices are likely to be boosted by the news of the helicopter crash. Anyone hoping to buy is likely to take the plunge, while others will look to offload their copies as soon as possible to cash in on the hype.