Kobe Bryant’s place in the hierarchy of great players of all time is a very controversial topic. Some believe he belongs in the conversation with guys like Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Others think he is overrated.
One thing that cannot be discussed, however, is his influence on the game. After the generation that wanted to “be like Mike”, the next generation wanted to be like Kobe. His will to win, work ethic and fearlessness in the greatest moments gave him a legion of followers who could fill the Staples Center many times over.
That alone would be enough to make Bryant one of the most wanted players in the sports card hobby, but there is another unfortunate factor to consider. Bryant was tragically taken before his time in January 2020, which shook the basketball community to its core. His losses were mourned by people all over the globe, who recognized Kobe for not only his influence on the field, but also his influence off the field.
It’s silly to think about how Kobe’s passing affects something as trivial as sports cards, but it does matter to those in the hobby. Not only did the price of his current card skyrocket, but it limits what can be done in the future. Autographs of all-time greats like Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still show up in current sets, but that’s obviously not possible with Kobe.
All of these factors together make it very attractive to invest in Bryant cards. Let’s dive into some of the most desired prints of Black Mamba and how much they can potentially drive you.
1996-97 Topps # 138
Topps no longer has the rights to the NBA – Panini has them exclusively at the moment – but they were the leading product in the 1990s. The flagship Topps set from 1996-97 has Kobe’s basic rookie card. There are no real bells and whistles, no autograph, no serial numbering and only one parallel, but it is still desired by collectors.
However, it is not that hard to get your fingers in one. There are almost 30,000 sorted copies in circulation just by using PSA’s population report, and there are no doubt thousands more at the other classification societies as well. It includes almost 3,700 PSA 10s, which will give you the most money on the open market. PSA estimates the card is worth around $ 1,600, with the latest sale checking in at just over $ 1,400.
It may not sound like much compared to some of the most expensive sales in history, but did not sleep on this card. In fact, I recently added a BGS 9.5 version of this card to my own personal collection. It’s my first Kobe rookie, and I’m short, which I’ll keep going for a long, long time.
1996-97 Topps Chrome # 138
Topps Chrome is like Audi to Topps base set Volkswagen; they look the same under the bonnet, but you get to pick up a lot more money. The Chrome version has a slightly shinier finish, and chrome cards are almost always preferred over paper cards in the hobby.
In addition, Topps Chrome rookie is much rarer. There are just over 6,000 graded copies of this card in PSA’s database, and this card is very condition sensitive. The centering on this card is tough, so there are less than 1,000 PSA 10s. PSA sets the expected value of this card at just under $ 9K in a PSA 10, and the average selling price is closer to $ 9.1K.
There’s also a refractor parallel to the Topps Chrome Bryant rookie, and it’s almost as good as it gets. The PSA population drops to only 416 in the refractor parallel, and there are only 63 PSA 10s.
Not surprisingly, these cards are going to cost you a fortune. A BGS Black Label 10 – which is a card considered to have a perfect surface, edges, corners and centering – brought in more than $ 1.75 million. at auction in March 2021.
1996-97 E-X2000 # 30
This is the type of card you do not see in modern collection. Panini has basically strangled the market thanks to their exclusive rights, but that was not the case in the late 90s. One of Kobe’s coolest rookie cards is the E-X2000. It has etched foil edges, a punched player image and an acetate background. The Kobe rookie has clouds in the background and it’s just a map that looks nicer than the Topps rookie.
This card also has a “credentials” parallel, which is serial numbered out of 499. We would not be particularly excited about that in 2022, but it is very exclusive to the era. There are only 81 graded copies of the credentials in parallel in the PSA database, including only four PSA 10s. The latest sale of PSA 10 is for over $ 617K and a PSA 9 will still give you around $ 50K.
1996 Bowman’s best basketball # R23
Bowman’s Best is the last Kobe rookie worth mentioning. It is a card that has experienced a marked bump in value recently, for a few different reasons. First, the Bowman name weighs more now than it has in the past. Bowman has become one of the best cards in baseball – “First Bowman” is considered the true rookie card of most MLB players – and the increased name recognition has also helped the basketball products. This is also another chrome-style card, so it has some appeal.
The base version of this card is comparable to Topp’s base rookie. There are just under 9,000 graded copies in PSA’s database, and a PSA 10 will cost you around $ 1K. However, this map also has two parallels: a base refractor and an atomic refractor. These cards are highly desirable. There are only 386 PSA-classified refractors, and that number drops to only 260 for the nuclear refractor. The base refractor will run you around $ 17K in a PSA 10, while atomic goes for $ 25K +.
1997-98 E-X2001 Jambalaya Action # 12
The Jambalaya effort has a cool story. It debuted in the 1997-98 set, and it instantly became one of the most coveted cards in the hobby. It featured a circular punched design, bright colors and a 15-card checklist, including some of the best players in the game. Kobe, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan all appeared in this debut set, meaning that 1/3 of the checklist contained the greats of all time. The rest of the checklist was not too shabby either: Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman, Grant Hill and Scottie Pippen are also included in this set.
In addition, these cards were extremely rare. There is no serial numbering, but these cards were included in only one out of every 720 packs. The cards became a little more prevalent in future sets, but pulling the original Jambalaya was super hard. There are only 50 graded copies of Kobe Jambalaya in PSA’s database, which makes it insanely rare for the era.
Although the Kobe card is not from his rookie year and does not have an autograph, jersey badge or serial number, this card goes for big money at auction. The latest PSA 10 sold for $ 57.6K in May 2021, while a PSA 9 sold for almost $ 18.5K in August.
1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gem # 81
First of all, the fact that this card is No. 81 in the set, just really cool. Bryant famously lost 81 points to the Raptors in January 2006, which is more than any player in history other than Wilt Chamberlain. I doubt it adds any value to this set, but it’s cool nonetheless.
Fortunately, this card does not need any gimmicks to increase its value. This card had a circulation of only 100, so like Jambalaya, it was extremely rare for that era. The first 90 cards in circulation had a red background, while the last 10 are green. The foil on these cards is also extremely easy to damage, so finding one of these cards in perfect condition is like finding a unicorn. None of the cards that have been rated by PSA have gotten better than an eight.
However, there is one BGS 8.5 in the green version. With only 10 of these cards being produced, it makes it without a doubt the rarest Kobe card available. This card was recently sold for $ 2 million in a private sale, setting a new record for a Bryant card.
1998-99 Upper Deck Game Jersey # GJ19 & # GJ21
Let’s be honest, sweater cards are no longer cool. There are some exceptions – Logoman is still one of the most coveted cards in the hobby – but most jersey cards have just a small napkin mark that is not even necessarily game-used. They are also not very rare, so collectors no longer put a premium on them.
But things were different in the 90s. Jersey patch cards were still extremely rare, so it was exciting to draw one. Kobe’s first jersey card came in the 1998-99 Upper Deck set, and it contained two versions. There was a gold version, which was part of a set that only appeared in one of every 2,500 packages. There was also a silver version that was exclusive to hobby boxes and on average had one out of every 250 packs.
Between both cards, there are less than 100 graded Kobe jersey patch cards in PSA’s database, so they were relatively rare. The last PSA 10 of the gold version sold for about $ 29.5K at auction, while a PSA 9 of the silver version sold for just under $ 6k.
1999-00 Upper Deck Game Jersey Patch # GJ11 & # GJ21
The following year, the Upper Deck raised the stakes. These cards contained the first game-used Bryant patches, and game-used ones are always better than the alternatives. “Player worn” is something we see a bunch of nowadays, which simply means that the player at one point put on the jersey. Some jersey cards for the latest NBA products have not been associated with any match or event, so the player has literally never seen the jersey himself.
This card was also even harder to draw than the previous year’s edition. There was a jersey card in about one out of every 7,500 packs, and the set included a checklist of 30 cards. That meant the odds of drawing a Kobe jersey card were astronomical.
In addition, this card also contained a “super patch” parallel that was serial numbered to 25. Everything with a serial number feels more exclusive – you know exactly how many are in production – so it’s another big upgrade from the previous year.
The base version of this card has a population of only 35 – including only three PSA 10s – while the super patch parallel has 15 PSA-graded copies. Only one of them got 10, making it highly desirable.
2009-10 National Treasures notable nicknames # KB1 & # KB2
Any Kobe autograph will be a great addition to your collection. Still, there are a few things you would like to look for. Autographs on the card are considered to be superior to branded or sticker cars. Serial numbers are a good thing. Any card with an autograph and a patch is preferable to a standalone auto.
The inscription on the car is another defining feature. Most players just sign their name, but sometimes they add some extras. Maybe they’re throwing their shirt number there. Sometimes they will write something like “Go Lakers.”
That’s what makes the set of “Notable Nicknames” from National Treasures so cool. The 2009-10 product contained two versions for Kobe. The first card was serial numbered 99 and contained the “Black Mamba” inscription. The other was numbered 35 and used “MVP” instead.
Both of these cards are extremely cool, but owning an official “Black Mamba” Kobe must be a dream card for many collectors. It’s one of the most iconic nicknames for one of the most iconic players in NBA history.
In addition, National Treasures brought this set back in 2012-13, this time with Kobe named “Vino”. That card was serial numbered at 49, giving collectors another chance for Kobe.
Any car from the Upper Deck Exquisite Collection or Panini Flawless & Immaculate
In addition to National Treasures, Flawless and Immaculate Panini’s trio of advanced products. The price tag on these boxes has gone through the roof recently, but the cards are simply amazing. They all have autographs on the card, low editions and beautiful jersey patches so you really can not go wrong with any of them.
Before Panini gained exclusive rights to the NBA, Upper Deck’s Exquisite Collection was the best product for collectors. They feature many of the same premium features as the Panini counterparts, so your best Kobe cars from 2003-04 to 2008-09 will be found in this set.