The 10 Most Expensive Sports Illustrated Magazines of All Time

These are the most valuable issues and their corresponding covers

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Since 1954, S.I. has become an iconic brand in American popular culture, but what were the most expensive Sports Illustrated magazines of all time? It was recently announced that nearly all employees of Sports Illustrated would be laid off. While the decline of print media is undoubtedly noticeable, it was still a shock to see an icon of American media first go from publishing weekly to bi-weekly in 2018, then monthly in 2020, and in 2024, the publishing license has now been revoked by current owner, Authentic Brands while they navigate how to proceed with licensee, the Arena Group. 

Current negotiations aside, the millions of circulated copies left an indelible imprint on both sports media and American popular culture. While this might mark the end of an era, we believe that no matter how it plays out, S.I. will have an undying nostalgic impact for years to come. Physical media is being graded more and more by licensed companies who look to evaluate condition, as illustrated by our list of the most expensive trading cards ever sold. Because of this, many magazines, including S.I., have garnered immense popularity and secondary market value. 

In honor of Sports Illustrated’s legacy, we are counting down the 10 most valuable copies of all time. Without further ado, let’s dive right in and take a glimpse through the last 70 years of sports! 

Related: Top 20 Most Expensive Basketball Cards Ever Sold

10. 1983, #V59 #23, “Jordan’s First Appearance” – $11,400

1983 Sports Illustrated v59 College Basketball Preview Featuring Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins

Sold on: 1/09/22 (via Goldin Auctions

Grade: CGC 8.5

This is Michael Jordan’s first (but certainly not last) appearance on an S.I. cover, and it shows him during his time as a North Carolina Tar Heel. Jordan played a pivotal role in the ‘82 title run, knocking down a last-second jumper in the championship game against Georgetown. It was then that he and Coach Dean Smith knew he would be a star, which is why people are paying five figures for this magazine 40 years later. 

9. 1963, #V18 #23, Muhammad Ali – $13,200

1963 Cassius Clay Muhammad Ali First Sports Illustrated Magazine
Heritage Auctions

• Sold on: 8/28/22 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.2

You’ll quickly notice a common theme on this list: many of the covers will be graced by American sports legends. This incredible shot of Muhammad Ali is a great example, as a looming view of London’s Big Ben rests in the background. Ali, then Cassius Clay, would go on to defeat Henry Cooper in a bout inside of Wembley Stadium. 

8. 2002, Tom Brady "Super Bowl Champions” – $13,800

2002 Tom Brady Sports Illustrated Presents Super Bowl Champions Magazine
Heritage Auctions

Sold on: 3/26/22 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.8

As the only copy on this from the 21st century, there’s only a couple of names that would fit the bill for it. This guy certainly meets the criteria. With seven Super Bowl rings and just about every QB statistical record, Tom Brady is a highly collected name in memorabilia who may have just sniffed the surface of his long-term market. 

7. 1967, #V27 #1, Roberto Clemente – $19,078

SCP Auctions

• Sold on: 9/10/22 (SCP Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.0

Roberto Clemente’s impact on the lineage of baseball cannot be overstated. He’s an all-time great who is widely collected by fans of the game.This 1967 copy is very emblematic of its era, as it’s draped with an array of patterns and a unique color palette. It graded a CGC 9.0 and sold for nearly $20,000 in 2022. 

6. 1980, #V52 #9, "Miracle on Ice" – $25,000

1980 Miracle on Ice Sports Illustrated Magazine
Heritage Auctions

Sold on: 8/20/23 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.6

You can make the case for some other features on this list, but no cover is more recognizable than Team USA’s historic victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics. This photo will forever immortalize that moment, and it is encapsulated with a nearly flawless 9.6 grade. 

5. 1956, #V4 #25, Mickey Mantle – $27,600

1956 Mickey Mantle Rookie Sports Illustrated Magazine
Heritage Auctions

Sold on: 8/28/22 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.0

When it comes to trading card collecting, no name rings out louder than Mickey Mantle. While not quite as prolific in the magazine market, the Mick is still deeply treasured as a Yankee and a definite contributor to Americana. This piece, which displays an impeccable close-up shot, sold at Heritage Auctions in 2022. 

4. 1981, #V55 #16, Wayne Gretzky – $30,000

1981 Wayne Gretzky Sports Illustrated First Cover
Heritage Auctions

Sold on: 2/27/22 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.4

Iconic Oilers uniform. Immaculate coloring. The Great One. This one checks all the boxes, and it is remarkable to see the oranges and blues pop out so well 40 years later. Gretzky is grouped with those names like Jordan, Tiger, and Brady, and for good reason. The guy just won games, so it’s no wonder why a collector was willing to pay up to $30,000 for this copy in 2022. 

3. 1964, #V20 #15, Sandy Koufax – $32,400

1964 Sandy Koufax Sports Illustrated Magazine
Heritage Auctions

Sold on: 2/26/23 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.8

This canvassed portrait of HOF'er Sandy Koufax epitomizes S.I. as a crossroads between sports and art. The southpaw’s iconic wind-up is in full display, and it is covers like these that make the Dodger as memorable as he is 60 years later. In February of last year, this 9.8-graded copy sold for north of $32,000. 

2. 1961, #V15 #18, Wilt Chamberlain – $60,000

sports illustrated v15 October 30 1961 Wilt Chamberlain

Sold on: 4/25/23 (via Rally

Grade: CGC 9.4

In this shot, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain stands in the background behind his coach, Frank McGuire. Yet, his 7’1” frame juts through half the page. Wilt was a budding star, and here he is only a few months removed from scoring 100 points in a single game. That’s a record likely never to be broken, and we will also likely never see a higher-graded copy of this $60,000 magazine. 

1. 1984, #V61 #26, Michael Jordan "A Star is Born” – $126,000

1984 Sports Illustrated Magazine Michael Jordan A Star Is Born Newsstand Edition
Heritage Auctions

Date Sold: 8/20/23 (via Heritage Auctions

Grade: CGC 9.8

For us, it makes total sense to see His Airness landing at the number one spot on this list. Jordan’s high-flying playstyle and bold university red uniform made nearly every picture of him look iconic. Case in point: this snapshot from MJ’s rookie year has an almost prophetic tagline. 15 years after this issue, #23 would solidify himself as the game’s best player. This incredible copy, graded a CGC 9.8, recently sold for $126,000. 

Did you grow up on Sports Illustrated? Let us know on Instagram and Twitter @CardTalkPod! 

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