Sports Cards: 10 Most Valuable Basketball Rookie Cards of the 1990s

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2022

Sports Cards: 10 Most Valuable Basketball Rookie Cards of the 1990s

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    SUSAN STERNER/Associated Press

    Let's say you did some basketball card collecting during the 1990s, and now you're revisiting your old collection and wondering if anything you have is valuable.

    We've got you covered!

    Ahead, we've taken a closer look at the 10 most valuable rookie cards of the 1990s. A few important parameters for our list before we get started:

    • No short-printed, parallel or autographed cards: The goal here was to identify cards that are valued because of the player on them, not because of their scarcity or an accompanying autograph. That notably excluded the rookie cards of Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Paul Pierce from the 1998-99 SP Authentic set, which had a print run of just 3,500.
    • One card per player: In an effort to provide some variety to the list, each player only appears once. Otherwise, this would have just been a countdown of the most valuable Kobe Bryant rookie cards.
    • Rankings based on PSA 9 value: Included with each card is its raw, PSA 9 and PSA 10 value, based on recent eBay sales. The rankings are ordered by PSA 9 value, with raw value serving as the tiebreaker when needed.

10. 1994-95 Finest #240 Grant Hill

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Raw: $10
    PSA 9: $40
    PSA 10: $120

    After a terrific collegiate career at Duke, Grant Hill was the No. 3 pick in the 1994 NBA draft and an immediate star for the Detroit Pistons. He averaged 19.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists to win co-Rookie of the Year honors alongside Jason Kidd, and Hill quickly developed into a perennial All-Star from there.

    He averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game over his first six NBA seasons, tallying 29 triple-doubles and earning five All-Star selections. However, an ankle injury sidelined him for most of the 2000-01 season and he was never quite the same after that.

    Still, his status as one of the most dynamic stars of the 1990s has helped him maintain some enduring hobby popularity, and the 1994-95 Finest is his most sought-after rookie card.

    Total Rookie Cards: 15

9. 1998-99 Topps Chrome #199 Vince Carter

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    The Sporting News/Getty Images

    Raw: $20
    PSA 9: $60
    PSA 10: $400

    The "Vinsanity" hype was very real during Vince Carter's peak with the Toronto Raptors, and he went on to play 22 seasons, progressing from high-flying dunk contest champion and leading scorer to veteran role player and fan favorite.

    He averaged 25.7 points per game during his second season in the NBA, peaked at 27.6 points per contest the following year and he earned eight straight All-Star Game selections during his time with the Raptors and Nets.

    The North Carolina product was the No. 5 pick in the 1998 NBA draft, and his rookie cards helped drive 1998-99 product releases. His Topps Chrome rookie is the most valuable of his first-year cards, and while the PSA 9 population is high, a mere 8.4 percent of the 5,299 PSA submissions have come back with a Gem Mint 10 grade.

    Total Rookie Cards: 18

8. 1992-93 Upper Deck #1 Shaquille O'Neal

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Raw: $10
    PSA 9: $100
    PSA 10: $3,000

    We've already touched on this card in our "10 Basketball Cards Every 90s Kid Should Own" article a few months ago:

    "Due to an exclusive sports card agreement with Classic Games, Shaquille O'Neal was not initially eligible to be included in 1992-93 products. Most companies simply waited to include him in their sets until they released Series 2 of their checklist, but Upper Deck took a different approach.

    They included a "Trade Upper Deck" card that could be sent to Upper Deck along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope in exchange for a special card of the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft, which of course, was O'Neal."

    The "Trade Card" sells for $40-50 in PSA 9 condition and $800-1,000 in PSA 10 condition.

    The same card was then included in Hi-Series packs, with "#1 NBA Draft Pick" replacing "Trade Card" printed on the front. The pack version is the one that is considered his true rookie card, and it was also short-printed since it was a late addition to the set, making it the more valuable of the two and his most valuable rookie card overall.

    Total Rookie Cards: 7

7. 1996-97 Topps Chrome #217 Ray Allen

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    Jon Soohoo/Getty Images

    Raw: $30
    PSA 9: $120
    PSA 10: $1,200

    Originally drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 6 pick in the 1996 NBA draft, UConn standout Ray Allen was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks along with a future first-round pick in exchange for No. 4 pick Stephon Marbury on draft night.

    While Marbury was the bigger star out of the gates, Allen went on to have the better NBA career by a wide margin, developing into one of the greatest three-point shooters in the history of the sport. His 2,973 threes rank second all-time, and he hit them at a 40.0 percent clip over the course of his 18-year career with the Bucks, SuperSonics, Celtics and Heat.

    Allen was part of a loaded rookie class that was headlined by Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, and while he wasn't the chase card in the 1996-97 Topps Chrome set, his rookie card is a solid consolation prize to anyone who missed out on pulling one of those cards.

    Total Rookie Cards: 16

6. 1995-96 Finest #115 Kevin Garnett

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Raw: $100
    PSA 9: $130
    PSA 10: $850

    Teenager Kevin Garnett became the first player since 1975 to jump directly from high school to the NBA when the Minnesota Timberwolves took him with the No. 5 pick out of Farragut Career Academy in Chicago.

    The lanky 6'11" forward played sparingly as a rookie, tallying 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game, but his potential was impossible to ignore. It didn't take long for him to develop into the face of the Timberwolves franchise.

    He wrapped up his 21-year career in the top 25 all-time in points (26,071, 21st), rebounds (14,662, 10th), steals (1,859, 19th) and blocks (2,037, 20th), and he was one of the most popular players in the sport throughout his run in the league. His Finest rookie card is his most valuable by a wide margin, and it stands as one of the iconic cards of the decade.

    Total Rookie Cards: 15

5. 1997-98 Topps Chrome #115 Tim Duncan

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    John W. McDonough/Getty Images

    Raw: $60
    PSA 9: $140
    PSA 10: $500

    On the opposite end of the spectrum from Kevin Garnett, who made the NBA jump straight from high school, Tim Duncan played out his four years of college eligibility at Wake Forest before going No. 1 in the 1997 draft.

    His pro transition was as smooth as any in recent memory, as he averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while earning a spot in the All-Star Game as a rookie. He was a model of consistency in the middle of the San Antonio Spurs roster for 19 seasons, finishing his career 18th all-time in points (26,496) and seventh all-time in rebounds (15,091).

    Despite his status as one of the greatest players in NBA history, most of his rookie cards can be found for a fraction of what his Topps Chrome card costs, and it still feels tremendously undervalued sitting at the top end of his market.

    Total Rookie Cards: 18

4. 1998-99 Topps Chrome #154 Dirk Nowitzki

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Raw: $40
    PSA 9: $150
    PSA 10: $1,500

    Dirk Nowitzki made a name for himself at the 1998 Nike Hoop Summit, and he was drafted out of Germany by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 9 pick in that year's draft. He was then traded along with No. 19 pick Pat Garrity for No. 6 pick Robert "Tractor" Traylor in one of the most lopsided draft-night deals in league history.

    Nowitzki averaged a modest 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.4 minutes as a rookie, but he quickly upped his production in the coming years to emerge as one of the NBA's top scorers. The 7-footer spent his entire 21-year career in a Dallas Mavericks uniform, finishing as a 14-time All-Star who currently sits sixth on the all-time scoring list with 31,560 points.

    His 1998-99 SP Authentic rookie card is actually his most valuable, but with a limited print run of 3,500, it was not eligible to be included in these rankings. That said, his Topps Chrome rookie still carries a high enough price tag to check in No. 4 on the list.

    Total Rookie Cards: 18

3. 1996-97 Topps Chrome #182 Steve Nash

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    ERIK S. LESSER/Associated Press

    Raw: $60
    PSA 9: $155
    PSA 10: $800

    A two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year who helped lead No. 10 seed Santa Clara to an NCAA tournament win over Maryland as a senior, Steve Nash was selected 15th in the 1996 NBA draft.

    After two seasons as a backup with the Phoenix Suns, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he teamed with Dirk Nowitzki for six seasons before returning to the Suns. He won back-to-back MVP awards during the 2004-05 (15.5 PPG, 11.5 APG, 43.1 3PT%) and 2005-06 (18.8 PPG, 10.5 APG, 43.9 3PT%) seasons, and he currently ranks fourth all-time with 10,335 career assists.

    He doesn't quite command the same attention as Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson from his same rookie class, but there is no question Nash was one of the elite players of his generation, and the value of his Topps Chrome rookie card reflects his status.

    Total Rookie Cards: 14

2. 1996-97 Topps Chrome #171 Allen Iverson

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    Vince Compagnone/Getty Images

    Raw: $150
    PSA 9: $250
    PSA 10: $1,200

    After averaging 20.4 points per game as a freshman at Georgetown, Allen Iverson racked up 25.0 points, 4.7 assists and 3.4 steals per contest as a sophomore to secure his spot as the No. 1 pick in the 1996 NBA draft, ahead of UMass center Marcus Camby.

    Iverson averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 assists per game for a 22-win Philadelphia 76ers team as a rookie, and two years later he had them in the postseason. He averaged more than 30 points per game five different times, won four scoring titles, was an 11-time All-Star, and played with a swagger that made him one of the most popular players in the sport.

    When 1996-97 products were first released, Iverson was the rookie card to pull, and his immediate success only further boosted his appeal. He was ultimately overtaken by Kobe Bryant for top rookie card honors in his class, but the market for his cards remains robust, and his Topps Chrome rookie is the cream of the crop.

    Total Rookie Cards: 16

1. 1996-97 Topps Chrome #138 Kobe Bryant

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    The Sporting News/Getty Images

    Raw: $700
    PSA 9: $2,200
    PSA 10: $10,000

    Who else but Kobe Bryant in the top spot?

    A high school phenom playing in one of the sport's biggest markets, Bryant was compared to Michael Jordan from the start of his pro career. It was all a recipe for superstardom, and his development from tantalizing teen star to franchise player and all-time great helped solidify his place as one of the hobby's biggest names.

    His rookie cards are head and shoulders above everyone else on this list in terms of value, with PSA 9 versions of his Topps Chrome rookie selling for more than a PSA 10 version of Allen Iverson's in the No. 2 spot in these rankings.

    His 1996-97 E-X2000 rookie also sells for a boat load, as do high-grade versions of his Topps base rookie—really, you can't go wrong with any early Kobe cards.

    Total Rookie Cards: 16


    All card images courtesy of TCDB, while pricing data is pulled from recent eBay sales as of Tuesday morning. Stats via Basketball Reference.