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The recent release of Space Jam 2 only serves to highlight LeBron James’ role as Michael Jordan’s successor.
He might have been ‘the Chosen One’ since the age of 16, but he’s also one of the few players to step out of Michael Jordan’s shadow (read: 50 Greatest Michael Jordan Cards), developing his own style for the next generation to emulate.
Here are 20 of the greatest LeBron James cards of all time, as well as investment advice for the entire collection.
20 Greatest LeBron James Basketball Cards of All-Time
LeBron was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers directly out of high school in 2003, so there are hundreds of cards featuring the player across the various stages of his career.
His RCs were released by Upper Deck, Topps, and Fleer, with UD having exclusive signature rights that year.
#20. 2003 LeBron James Fleer E-X Jambalaya Die-Cut RC #1
Following a debut in 1997-98 E-X2001 Basketball, Fleer brought back the famous Jambalaya set for their 2003-04 E-X release.
As with the original subset, there were only 15 cards, which were inserted at a rate of 1:480 packs.
This James RC was the first in the collection, and the card is a great retro pick that is difficult to locate in pristine condition.
This is partly due to the oval shape, as well as the foil background. Prices have gone up tenfold since 2017, so it’s a great card to start the list from an investment perspective.
#19. 2003 LeBron James SP Game Used Rookie Exclusive Autographs #RE1 (/100)
Another rare LeBron RC from 2003, this time we’re looking at the Rookie Exclusive Autographs subset from 2003-04 SP Game Used.
It’s a busy card, as they aim to fit in lots of information on the front, along with an image of the player on the right, and a large on-card auto at the bottom.
The card is serial-numbered to 100 copies and has a red and black motif that replicates the look of a basketball.
Once again, it’s tough to find pristine copies due to the age and the low print run.
#18. 2003 LeBron James Fleer Ultra RC #171 (/500)
This Redemption card is limited to 500 copies and is almost identical in design to an Ultra card that came out in the Hummer H2 set.
However, the Lucky 13 variation also has a logo above James’ name tag, as well as a serial number on the reverse.
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It features a simple image of the rookie, with a light around him that helps the player to pop.
The Lucky 13 card is by far the more valuable option, especially if you’re on the lookout for higher grades.
#17. 2003 LeBron James Upper Deck Finite RC #242 (/200)
A scarce card limited to only 200 copies, James’ 2003-04 Upper Deck Finite Basketball RC has a silver chrome finish, and a sizable Finite Rookie logo across the front.
One strange design choice is found on the serial number itself, as it has been stamped with a series of black dots, as you’d find on a beer bottle expiry date. (It’s a cheap look, and clearly inferior to the norm.)
Aside from the text and the image of LeBron, the design is split into tiny squares on the front, while his white kit helps the player to stand out.
#16. 2003 LeBron James SkyBox LE #118 (/99)
Next up is the 2003-04 SkyBox LE RC. There are a couple of versions of this card, split between hobby and retail.
One major difference between the duo is that a version of the hobby card is limited to 99 copies, making for one of the rarest LeBron James rookie cards in existence.
It also has a large ‘Limited Edition’ stamp in the middle, finished in gold chrome, with a great action shot of James as he hangs onto the rim.
Once again, it’s hard to overlook one of the rarest LeBron RCs, while there’s also a Gold Proof card numbered 150.
#15. 2003 LeBron James Finest RC #133 (/999) + Refractors
A popular card that also has a couple of refractors, the base 2003 Finest edition is limited to 999 copies.
It’s another design that is slightly busier than it needs to be, but that’s due to the style of the era more than anything else.
The gold, red, and silver chrome stands out in the light, while the serial number is found on the reverse.
Pristine copies of the base version are expensive, while Refractors don’t come up for sale often.
2003 Finest Parallel Cards: Refractor (/250), Gold Refractor (/25), X-Fractor (1/1), Printing Plates (1/1)
#14. 2003 LeBron James SPx Auto Jersey RC #151 (/750)
If you want a swatch to go along with your LeBron auto, the 2003-04 SPx has you covered.
This landscape card is limited to 750 copies, and the auto is found inside a cutout, rather than on the outer surface. (This means that it’s not as good as an on-card auto, but still better than a stickered version.)
The design hasn’t stopped graded editions of the card from selling for five figures, which is a notable rise compared to a couple of years ago.
The serial number can be found in the middle, underneath a small image of LeBron.
#13. 2003 LeBron James SP INKredible INKscriptions RC #II-LJ (/25)
In his rookie year, LeBron took the time to sign 25 cards from the 2003 SP INKredible INKscriptions subset by hand.
As well as a rare on-card auto, he also jotted down his status as the ‘#1 Draft Pick’ with blue ink on the front.
He’s soaring through the sky in an image on the left, and there’s a chrome SP logo in the top left corner, with the serial number found on the bottom right.
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If you hadn’t guessed, it’s one of the more expensive early James cards, thanks in part to his decision to add a personal touch.
#12. 2003 LeBron James SP Authentic RC #148 (/500)
The next card on our list is also from the 2003 SP Authentic set.
It might be more plentiful at 500 copies, but a great design and a crisp image have ensured that it’s one of the more expensive LeBron RCs overall.
The lined background and the white outline surrounding LeBron make the image pop, while the logos are fairly understated for chrome offerings.
The serial number is on the left-hand side of the card, while there’s an on-card auto in the middle.
If you’re looking for valuable RCs, this should be on your shortlist.
#11. 2003 LeBron James Topps Chrome & Topps Chrome Refractors RC #111
At the midway point is where you’ll find his famous 2003 Topps Chrome RC.
It’s insanely popular, even if the base card has no autograph, or even a serial number anywhere to be found.
What it does have is a classic red and gold design, with a chrome finish added to an iconic image of one of the biggest stars in the NBA over the last two decades.
Refractors were released at a rate of one every 12 packs, and while that isn’t especially rare, they’re exceptionally valuable.
A PSA 10 copy sold for $94,223 in June 2021, representing a recent ATH.
2003-04 Topps Chrome Basketball parallels: Refractors (1:12 packs), Black Refractors (/500), X-Fractors (/220) (Uncirculated), Gold Refractors (/50), Printing Plates (1/1)
#10. 2003 LeBron James Ultimate Collection Ultimate Logos Signature RC #LJ-A (/1)
One-of-one cards are some of the most popular within the hobby, for obvious reasons.
You can pretty much set your selling price, as long as there’s an aftermarket of collectors who want to add it to their stack.
That brings us to the 2003 Ultimate Collection and a refined LeBron auto that is worth serious money.
The signature might be on the smaller side, but this Upper Deck card is undeniably one of the most aesthetically pleasing to make the list.
#9. 2003 LeBron James Ultimate Collection Auto RC #127 (/250)
Staying with the 2003 Ultimate Collection; it was a set that aimed for quality over quantity.
For example, they stuck with a single-pack per box, preferring to add serial numbers and autographs where applicable.
Happily, this includes a LeBron signature on an RC numbered to 250 copies.
UD has opted for a red and white motif which blends in well with James’ Cavs jersey, with the card hand-signed underneath the image of the player.
It’s one of the rarer cards to make the list, and costly when looking at higher PSA/BGS grades.
#8. 2003 LeBron James Exquisite Collection Patch Auto RC #LJ
The 2003-04 Exquisite Collection LeBron James RC is one that is likely to be familiar to any high-end hobbyists with a passing interest in the player.
The set itself helped to redefine the market, even if a $500 pack of cards didn’t seem like a good deal at the time.
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(Just take a look at average prices nowadays, both for new premium products, as well as 2003 Exquisite cards from the collection.)
The point is, the set helped to introduce the concept of ultra-high-end releases, while the LeBron RC is one of his rarest, numbered to only 99 copies.
Additionally, a swatch and an on-card auto make it worthy of any collection.
#7. 2003 LeBron James UD Triple Dimensions Standout Sigs RC #STA3
The 2003 UD Triple Dimensions Standout Signatures subset features another great LeBron auto.
This time, it’s numbered to just 25 copies, while the lime green background certainly helps it to stand out from the crowd. It’s finished off with gold trim around the signature and the UD logo.
There were a variety of rare LeBron RC signatures released in 2003, but this has to be seen as one of the more distinctive offerings.
It also doesn’t come up for auction often, which should make it tempting for any serious collector.
#6. 2003 LeBron James Bowman Chrome RC #123
2003 Bowman Chrome sets contain a great LeBron RC which shows off his personality, as he smiles at the camera in a classic Cavs uniform.
As with any chrome card, there’s a sleek metallic finish, helping it to stand out from the crowd.
However, Bowman Chrome Basketball cards are unfavored compared to Topps versions, and that’s reflected in the average sale price.
It’s still one of the better entry-level LeBron RCs, and could easily multiply in value over the next decade or so.
It’ll never be the most expensive, but it’s worthy of a spot on the list.
#5. 2005 LeBron James Topps Chrome Gold Refractor #102 (/99)
One of the best post-rookie picks has to be LeBron’s 2005 Topps Chrome Gold Refractor.
It has a print run of 99, while only six have earned the illustrious gem mint designation from PSA.
The background pops with his Lakers uniform, and it still has the look and feel of a vintage card.
The base version is a more affordable option for the average collector, but we don’t think it has the same potential to shoot up in price following his retirement.
At the very least, it’s worth keeping tabs on.
#4. 2004 Kobe Bryant/LeBron James/Michael Jordan/Carmelo Anthony SP Signature Edition #BJJA
Generally, we’re not fans of cards that feature multiple players.
After all, you can hardly fit one good image on such a small space, never mind accounting for any others.
This card is an exception to the rule, featuring four of the biggest names from the era, and the sport itself.
The addition of an MJ auto should be enough to pique the interest of any serious hobbyists, and it’s limited to only 15 copies.
#3. 2003 LeBron James SP Signature Edition Famous Nicknames #LJ2
Back to 2003, and another LeBron RC worth a high five-figure sum.
The ’03 SP Signature Edition Famous Nicknames card is exceptionally rare. There are only 25 copies, while many feature a separate inscription from the player to go with the on-card auto.
It gives his nickname as ‘Bron’, although we prefer ‘King James’.
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The design is busier than it needs to be, and the image of LeBron is slightly questionable, but you could do far worse from an investment perspective.
2. 2004 LeBron James Topps Chrome Refractor #23 (/500)
The penultimate card to make the list is James’ 2004 Topps Chrome Refractor. LeBron is shown in a classic action shot as he leaps up towards the hoop.
It’s another post-rookie card, but there are numerous serial-numbered parallels, including Black (500), and Gold (99).
2004 and 2005 Topps Chrome LeBron cards are respectable, if nowhere near as flashy as his coveted RC options.
Mid-2000s releases could still provide a good return, and they’re somewhat underpriced given the rarity when looking at higher grades.
1. 2003 LeBron James Fleer E-X Essential Credentials Now RC #102 (/102)
Finally, we’ve reached the number one spot. The 2003 Fleer E-X Essential Credentials Now LeBron James RC proves that you don’t need gimmicks or large autos to design a desirable card.
It’s fair to say that it’s understated, especially for the early 2000s.
The image of LeBron pops out of the card, as he dribbles with extreme speed, while the serial number is visible on the right-hand side (102).
Better still, you can see the outline of the front from the reverse, with text overlaid on the player.
102 might sound like a reasonably high number, but they don’t come up for sale at auction often.
LeBron James Basketball Cards: Investment Outlook
There aren’t many better players than LeBron James if you’re looking for graded cards to invest in for the long-term.
His basketball cards hit the headlines in 2020 after a gem mint copy of his 2003-04 Topps Chrome, which features James (see best Michael Jordan Cards) mid-jump while taking a shot during his rookie season with the Cavs, sold for $57,100 at auction.
But what’s the big deal? After all, cards sell for crazy figures all the time, and LeBron is one of the biggest stars in the world.
The real news is; it sold for just $7,150 four years before, making it one of the canniest investments in the hobby.
As for now? A PSA 10 copy sold for a cool $94,223, and it’s a perfect example of how the market continues to grow.
He might be coming to the end of his illustrious career on the court, but he’s a Hall of Famer with extreme potential to make a profit in the future.
His rookie cards dominate the list, and it’s difficult to think of many others that can match up.
The Chosen One hopes to play on until he’s 40, and he’s an active social campaigner, and a foray into politics or something similar could yet be on the cards.