Before basketball card brands like Flawless and Panini Prizm, there were Fleer, Topps, and Bowman. That’s right, Bowman and Topps were making more than baseball cards.
Today, the sports card community is hunting rookie cards from Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, and Ja Morant. Yet, before we got to experience the greatness of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, other hall of fame basketball players paved the way.
We’re breaking down the best vintage basketball cards ever worthy of any basketball card collector’s personal collection. Naturally we expect some feedback so feel free to let us know a vintage basketball card that you think are worthy of being on the list!
HM. Jerry West 1968 Topps Test
The logo! Jerry West, one of the league’s pioneers, makes our list with one of the coolest vintage basketball cards with the 1968 Topps Test set. The 1968 Topps Test was just as it is called… a test.
Featuring other Hall of Famers like Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, and Oscar Robertson, the Jerry West 1968 Topps Test card design is very unique. It has a white background with black lettering on the front and back. On the front, you can see the player’s name, number, and position. On the back, it serves as a puzzle piece to an image of Wilt Chamberlain.
Considering this is one of the rarest cards, it can bolster quite a price. According to PSA, it has already been sold for $30,000 in some instances.
HM. 1986 Fleer #7 Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley’s 1986 Fleer rookie card makes it onto our honorable mention list as one of those iconic cards, among many others. Charles Barkley is one of the best power forwards ever to play the game of basketball, and over the years, it has received more eyes.
With a young Barkley flushing home a ferocious two-hand dunk, the 1986 Fleer Charles Barkley card value has improved in recent years and has sold in auctions ranging in from $8,0000 to $20,000.
6. 1986 Fleer Akeem Olajuwon (Hakeem Olajuwon)
Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the greatest centers in NBA history. He won two championships with the Houston Rockets, but before Hakeem Olajuwon etched himself into the upper echelon of NBA royalty.
He, along with the Michael Jordan card, is considered a key rookie in this hall of fame laden basketball card set. While Jordan is the big fish in this set, Olajuwon is another one of the more valuable cards. The price can vary depending on grade, and a PSA-10 grade version of the card can be anywhere from $6,000 to over $20,000.
5. 1980-81 Topps Cards Larry Bird RC #34 / Julius Erving #174 / Magic Johnson RC #139
Another card on our honorable mention features three players who helped propel the NBA to new heights. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Erving were the big names of the 1980s, and those who were into basketball card collecting during that time were trying to add these star players to their personal collections.
This is considered their key rookie cards for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Value-wise, Magic, and Bird being paired with another hall of famer in Julius Erving make this vintage card a real gem for basketball card collectors. On three separate occasions, the gem mint condition card sold for over $700,000 in the last two years.
4. 1961-62 Fleer Basketball Wilt Chamberlain Rookie Card #8
At number 4 on our list, we take a look at one of the most dominant players in the history of basketball, the hall of fame center, Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt Chamberlain was the guy during the 60s. He even posted the still standing 100 points in a game record. He dominated the NBA for years winning, 6 MVP awards, and he was named the league.
I love this card’s design with the red background and the black and white image of Chamberlain front and center, seemingly looking to be staring down the ball on defense. The highest graded version (PSA 9) of this card is going for as high as $400,000!
3. Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) 1969 Topps #25 Lew Alcindor
The 1969-70 Topps Cards basketball release featured some of the greatest players ever to this day, including the likes of Walt Frazier, but there is no bigger card from this release than the Lew Alcindor rookie card.
At number 3 on our list, we go to the new all-time leader in points, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; however, before we knew him as such, he went by his given name Lew Alcindor. This is another desirable rookie card that many basketball card collectors would love to have on a mantle. According to PSA, this card has sold for over $200,000 on three separate occasions.
2. 1957 Topps #77 Bill Russell
1957-58 Topps gave us one of the most beloved vintage cards in basketball history by one of the beloved players. At number 2 on our list of best vintage basketball cards, we go to one of the pioneers of the NBA, the late and great Bill Russell.
Basketball card collectors have deemed this as one of the most desirable rookie cards, and it is proven in major auction houses. This card, just this year, has sold for more than $200,000. Yes, two hundred thousand dollars at auction. So there should be no question that his significance on the court is matched with his significance in the basketball card market.
1. 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan
We all expected that 1986-87 Fleer would be on this list somewhere, and even further, we all expected that it would be the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card. As one of — if not the most — iconic and valuable basketball cards ever.
The card depicts a young Michael Jordan already exerting his dominance as he soars through the air with the ball in hand towards the rim as defenders and teammates alike can only watch from below.
This is the biggest card in all basketball card collecting and shows itself in major auctions as the most expensive card in the basketball card market (if highly graded). When we say expensive, I mean record-breaking expensive. For example, just earlier this year, this same card sold for 1 million dollars, and in auctions before, others sold for $600,000-$750,000!
Here are our top vintage basketball cards ever. While the new generations chase the greats of today like James Harden, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, or maybe even a little further back in modern history (like a Shaquille O’Neal card). We are able to do so because of these players who came before and lifted the NBA to new heights and in turn lifted basketball card collecting to new heights as well.
If you’re new to the card game or a die-hard collector, it’s never too late to start, and if you’re looking for a space to chat and expand your collection, hop on the Loupe app today! Be sure also to sign up so you can get free Loupe credits on your first purchase!