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The State of the Basketball Card Hobby

When the NBA shut down, there were a lot of questions surrounding the basketball card market. “Were card values going to dip because the players were no longer able to drive their value based on their play?” “Were card values going to increase because everyone was at home bored and just online shopping all day?” Even a question as drastic as, “will the card market crash because everyone is saving their money for more important things like food, bills, and toilet paper?”  

Then, as the quarantine progressed, the market was introduced to new questions. “How will ‘The Last Dance’ influence MJ cards, specifically, the 86 Fleer?” There were also non-Bulls questions asked in response to “The Last Dance.” “Could we see a dip in LeBron prices because people will now think he’s no longer the GOAT?”  Well with the conclusion of “The Last Dance” we’ve got our answers to those questions. I doubt there was a single person who could have seen what was to come. 

Let’s answer some of these questions, and then I’ll get into some other strange things going on within the basketball card market. Firstly, I’ll answer: “were card values going to dip because the players are no longer driving their value based on their play?” The answer to that is a resounding no. The card prices for just about EVERY player have gone up. Not just the big stars like LeBron, Steph, and Giannis, but cards for your second-tier guys like Luka, Trae, Tatum, have also increased in price. What I mean specifically when I say “increase in price” is that the price of card X, BC (before Covid-19), was at $Y, and now it is greater than Y. A card that would  normally cost you $50 might cost you $80 or $90 now. 

But why? Why is that happening? No one has played to make their card more valuable than they were a few months ago . I think that people being at home and buying stuff online all day contributed to a lot of the price increases . Let’s say you search for a card on eBay and 5 results pop up. Two cards listed at $5, one card listed at $7, and two at $10. Now let’s say the two cards listed at $5 sell. When someone else searches for that same card, they will see only  three listings: One for $7 and two for $10. So naturally, they take the cheaper of the two options. Now, when someone wants to sell that exact card, the cheapest price they see is $10 , so they also list  it for $10. Add a couple of rinse and repeat cycles and you have an inflated market.  

Let’s turn to a different topic – Michael Jordan basketball cards have been a crazy many years now. It used to be that not every Michael Jordan card was valuable. There were some that were only worth a few bucks. Others were worth thousands.  Let’s take a look at how “The Last Dance” has changed the market . First, a quick note: there’s a thing called “card grading,” which is basically when you submit a card to be tested and graded based on its condition. The higher the score the better, and it’s a 1-10 system. Graders look at whether a card’s corners are sharp, and whether there are surface scratches, edge wear, or  other impurities. 

Take a look at these 1993-94 Fleer Ultra Scoring Kings below. This is one of the more iconic Jordan cards; both of the cards  received a grade of 9. They’re the exact same card with the exact same grade. The only difference between them is that they were sold 3 months apart. The first being sold on February 27th, 2020, around two weeks before the NBA shut down. 

The second picture shows a listing that was sold on May 23, 2020. That was about a week after the last episode of “The Last Dance”  premiered. 

The market price increased from$620 to $1,013, about a 63% increase! That’s a ridiculous profit considering all you had to do was wait for a documentary to come out. It’s sort of been like that across the board with Jordan. $80 cards became $400 cards. People expected some increase with the documentary coming out, but I don’t think anyone expected anything like this. And it’s not just Jordan. It’s Pippen, Rodman, Malone, Payton whoever was specially featured in an episode, really. As you can see, we’re a very reactionary community. 
Now, let’s talk about modern basketball cards. Well, they’ve also gone insane. ESPECIALLY LeBron James cards. If you were to open a box of 19-20 Donruss, you would find maybe about 5-6 “Net Marvel” (pictured below) cards inside the box. While the comic style art  looks really cool, they aren’t really rare. Prices reflected that at first;  you could scoop one up in the $5-$10 range in early March.

Throw in a global pandemic, and another 3 months wait time, and boom — you have a $150 card. Yes, the card above and below are exactly the same, with absolutely no differences between the two. It’s things like this that have me scratching my head. These aren’t any rarer than they were 3 months ago!

What’s going on in the basketball card community is something I’ve never seen before. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s sustainable, but people are consistently paying premium prices for non-premium cards. If that keeps up, we may have a new standard in the market. Since I unfortunately don’t have the ability to see the future, I don’t know if the market will ever settle to what it once was. All I know for sure is that Basketball card collecting has become a more expensive hobby than it used to be.

James Garcia
If you want to talk basketball, or cards don't be afraid to hit me up on twitter! @Jhappychillmore I'm probably top 3 nicest people you've ever met.

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