32 of the Most Popular and Valuable Modern Sports Cards

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Are you wondering what the most popular and valuable modern sports cards are? Before I get in to my list, I want to first talk about the hobby itself.

Sports cards are no longer a thing of the past. With an increase in overall sports viewership and with the instant ability to access an ever-growing base of popular athletes, it only makes sense that sports cards would find their rightful place back in the United States. With Fanatics increasing their presence in the hobby, it seems as if trading cards are here to stay.

Related: The Most Valuable Sports Cards Ever Sold

Being a shop owner over these past 5 years has given me an interesting and unique look at what collectors, investors, and flippers are making popular. Grading companies, eBay, the increase in the use of mobile payment services, and, of course, the rapid growth in social media have only fueled the rise. In all of the recent attention, a few cards have definitely emerged to the top. Popularity and value seem to intertwine in the hobby community and the following list of modern sports cards should help you navigate the modern scene.

Now, before I get to this list, let’s qualify a few things:

  • Modern cards are considered to be cards that are not "vintage,” and vintage cards are typically denoted as any card produced before 1980. Conversely, modern cards would be considered everything else until now.
  • There are different tiers of value: low, mid, high, and then the astronomical, record-breaking sales. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the low to the mid/high end. These are the cards that are certainly pricey, but they are tangible grails for many collectors.
  • This list excludes any entertainment or non-sport trading cards. We also are only allowing each individual player to appear once in order to showcase 25 different popular athletes.

1. 2017 Panini Prizm Patrick Mahomes (PSA 10) $3,600

mahomes 1
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PSA 10 Population: 914

It’s 2023, and football is king in the United States. The most-watched televised broadcasts are football games, players are receiving record contracts, and new legacies are being crafted. Patrick Mahomes falls into that latter category after winning his second Super Bowl in four years. Interestingly enough, this 2017 Prizm rookie is worth a third of the price it was two years ago.

The short answer is that the trading card market is correcting itself, and it’s also shifting identities. Players like Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic were integral in the initial hobby boom, but now the hottest releases are often football boxes. And Mahomes is the undeniable face of the league, and this card will grow more and more iconic as the Chiefs gunslinger adds more hardware.

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2. 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James (PSA 10) $5,500

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PSA 10 Population: 2,230

LeBron’s Topps Chrome rookie is a staple in the card collecting community. I can’t tell you how many “baseball-only” or “football-only” folks have one of these LeBron’s stashed away. Is it the staple step-back jump shot on the front that makes it so popular? Maybe the classic, youthful 19-year-old image on the back? Or is it just that this is THE Topps Chrome brand rookie card of this current generation’s Michael Jordan? Probably the latter, but it’s an interesting card value-wise. 

When the hobby boomed during the pandemic, this card eclipsed nearly $30,000 in value. While that number may have been an overreach, it has since regressed to the $5,000-7,000 range. In that time, King James has become the league’s all-time leading scorer, and he has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest to ever do it. He may even be THE greatest depending on who you ask.

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3. 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. (PSA 10) $1,800

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PSA 10 Population: 4,071

Ask any card collector about this card, and I’m sure they all can identify it as the most popular card of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s junk era. The funny thing is this card is far from junk. With a PSA 10 POP report of 4,071, this card’s value on the secondary market continues to remain solid, and Griffey continues to be wildly popular with baseball collectors. With his recent Hall of Fame induction (2016) and popularity that crosses multiple generational lines, the Griffey Star Rookie has cemented its place as one of the most collectible and popular cards. It’s quite easily the most recognizable baseball card of the current generation.

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4. 2000 Bowman Chrome Tom Brady (PSA 10) $8,500

brady 1
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PSA 10 Population: 1,126

After Tom Brady announced his official retirement on the sands of a Florida beach, one fact was certain: the greatest of all time was riding off into the sunset. While we don’t think Brady’s legacy will be truly appreciated for some time, no one is doubting how influential he was for the biggest sport in America. There are many sought-after cards from his rookie year (Upper Deck SP Authentic #118, Playoff Contenders Autograph, etc.). Still, the Bowman Chrome is by far the most preferred for anyone trying to own a small piece of the sixth-rounder out of Michigan. The PSA 10 copy has corrected itself to around the $8,000 range, and it is still a grail for many high-end football collectors.

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5. 2018 Bowman Chrome Shohei Ohtani Autograph (PSA 10) $8,000


PSA 10 Population: 45

Perhaps no athlete had a more impactful 2021 than Shohei Ohtani. After a few years marred with injuries, the Japan-born star broke through and won A.L. MVP. He mashed 46 homers and posted a 3.18 ERA on the mound, which is unheard of in the modern era. As a result, Sho-Time’s global popularity skyrocketed, as did his trading card market. 

Ohtani doesn’t have a Bowman 1st like many modern prospects, but his 2018 Bowman Chrome rookie autograph fills that role. The base auto copy trades for $7,000-9,000 as a PSA 10, and he is poised to be the face of baseball for years to come.

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6. 2013 Panini Prizm Giannis Antetokounmpo (PSA 10) $1,200

giannis prizm psa10 rookie

PSA 10 Population: 2,862

With his youthful spirit and dominant nature on the court, Giannis Antetokounmpo has cemented himself as one of the faces of the NBA. The Greek-born superstar won his first championship with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2021, and he has finished atop most major statistical categories in the last five years. As a result, he has become beloved within the hobby, and his 2013 Prizm rookie is immensely popular as well. The card currently trades around $1,200, but that number will jump if the Greek Freak makes a deep playoff run this summer.

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7. 2011 Topps Update Mike Trout (PSA 10) $1,600

trout 1
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PSA 10 Population: 5,996

One of the most influential Topps rookie cards of the past decade has been the #US175 Update Mike Trout. The modern-day Griffey Star Rookie, this Trout rookie has seen a healthy rise in value and grading submissions in the past five years. Known by many in hobby circles as simply the “Trout Update,” the card may not woo you at first glance. It’s quite basic and made relatively cheap—thin card stock, simple design, paper base, minimal foil—no bells and whistles. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this card isn’t a powerhouse.

PSA 10 Gem Mint copies of this card trade for well over $1,500. There’s something to be said for how beloved Trout’s game is and how he carries himself on and off the field. From a strictly subjective perspective, customers always talk about Trout. They talk about his play demeanor and cards. Trout has fans young and old. Many see him as the modern-day Mickey Mantle. How do you see him? Or better yet, how do you see his rookie card?

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8. 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 10) $180,000

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PSA 10 Population: 319

This is another card that fueled the hobby’s 2020 boom, and it is likely the most iconic basketball card ever made. Jordan’s name and likeness carries more weight than any other player in the hobby, and that Chicago red has become synonymous with winning. While the card itself is down significantly from its all-time high, it remains as a grail for just about every basketball collector out there. The Fleer Jordan could’ve easily ranked atop this list, and it will likely be one of the most popular trading cards for decades to come.

Please be careful when looking into purchasing this card, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Buying an already graded version of the MJ Fleer rookie will save you a lot of headaches.

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9. 1993 Upper Deck SP Derek Jeter Foil (PSA 10) $600,000

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PSA 10 Population: 21

0.14 percent—this is the magic number. This 0.14 refers to the percent of the 1993 Upper Deck SP FOIL that have received the unicorn-level grade of PSA 10. It puts things into perspective when the registry has the Jeter Foil at a whopping 15,683 total cards graded. To give some perspective in terms of value, in May 2018, a PSA 10 off eBay sold for $99,100. The 1993 SP FOIL Jeter has only seen an uptick in recent months and years.

What’s unique about this card is that the foil element makes the surface of the card extremely delicate to scratching, and the dark corners highlight any imperfections to almost a higher degree than other cards of this era. It is widely known that this card could be damaged simply by friction in the wax packs—a very tough grade. In terms of mass production popularity, the Jeter Foil and Griffey Star Rookie sit in their thrones atop the ‘80s/’90s junk era. However, if you can’t swing the $600,000 price tag, a PSA 8 copy can be picked up for ~$400.

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10. 2001 SP Authentic Golf Tiger Woods Autograph (PSA 10/AUTO 10) $33,000

Tiger Woods 2001 SP authentic auto

PSA 10 Population: 52

Even if you are just a casual golf fan, you will easily recognize the man on the card above. Tiger Woods has inspired a generation of golfers and athletes in other sports. The five-time Masters winner has maintained a solid trading card market since the hobby’s boom, and his crown jewel is undoubtedly the 2001 SP Authentic Autograph. The card’s sleek design and bold blue signature give it unparalleled eye appeal. There are numerous collectors who haven’t watched golf in ages but would still gladly own this card.

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11. 2009 Topps Stephen Curry Rookie (PSA 10) $7,000


PSA 10 Population: 368

When he steps away from the game, much will be said about Stephen Curry’s legacy. Is the greatest shooter ever? Certainly. The greatest point guard ever? Likely. Regardless, Steph has fundamentally changed the way we think about scoring the basketball. After he became the all-time three pointer leader and won his fourth title, his legacy was permanently cemented in the hobby. This 2009 Topps Curry rookie is a go-to if you want a solid card of the best shooter to ever step on the court.

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12. 2019 Bowman 1st Julio Rodriguez Autograph (PSA 10) $2,000

julio rodriguez 2019 bowman auto

PSA 10 Population: 233

After growing up in the Dominican Republic, “J-Rod” signed an international contract with the Mariners at only 16 years old. Fast forward six years, he’s the reigning A.L. Rookie of the Year and he recently finalized a record-breaking contract extension. With his skills in the batter’s box and the outfield, Rodriguez will be a staple of the league for years to come. This Bowman 1st autograph is a go-to for J-Rod, and it will continue to grow as he asserts himself in the Major League.

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13. 2015 Upper Deck Young Guns Connor McDavid Rookie (PSA 10) $2,900

connor mcdavid 2015 young guns upper deck

PSA 10 Population: 2,500

Connor McDavid, at just 26 years old, is a two-time MVP winner and has already scored an impressive 294 goals in only 554 games played. He’s yet to win a Stanley Cup but has played in several pivotal playoff series. He’s a rising star with plenty of time left in his career. His 2015 Upper Deck Young Guns Rookie is a must-have modern hockey card, and it’s a classic for hockey’s biggest superstar.

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14. 2020 Panini Contenders Joe Burrow Autograph (PSA 10) $4,800

joe burrow contenders auto

PSA 10 Population: 79

Joe Burrow may not have the biggest arm in his draft class. He may not be the most dynamic on his feet. But the guy just wins. He’s a gamer who makes plays in the highest-pressure situations, and the hobby rewards that. If you are a big believer of Joe Brr, this Contenders Rookie Ticket is a top-notch autograph that will likely reach iconic status. 

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15. 1996 Topps Kobe Bryant (PSA 10) $850

1996 topps kobe bryant psa10

PSA 10 Population: 4,239

The Black Mamba’s on-court achievements are etched into basketball’s history forever; however, the inspiration he instilled in millions of fans made him even more legendary. We all remember trying to emulate Kobe’s fadeaway in the backyard, and we all remember not being able to do it quite like him. This 1996 Topps Rookie is one of the most iconic basketball cards ever, and it can currently be picked up for around $850.

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16. 2018 Panini Prizm Luka Doncic (PSA 10) $250

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PSA 10 Population: 19,358

Make no mistake- this was nearly a $2,000 card two years ago.  While this card (and Luka’s market) certainly aren’t the same as they were during the NBA bubble era, you cannot deny Luka’s mark on the hobby. Furthermore, this card remains very liquid, and it’s now much more affordable for the everyday collector. If you are betting on Luka long-term, we recommend leveraging into a rookie autograph instead of the base Prizm. Even still, you can’t go wrong with this iconic modern slab.

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17. 2017 Panini Prizm Green Jayson Tatum (PSA 10) $2,500

Jayson Tatum 2017 Prizm Green

PSA 10 Population: 172

A Duke alum, Jayson Tatum has emerged as one of the most complete basketball players in the NBA. He led his Celtics to a Finals berth in 2022, and he will look to do the same in the 2023 Playoffs. This Prizm Green is an aesthetically pleasing rookie card, and it is a great addition to any modern basketball card collection.

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18. 2018 Contenders Josh Allen Autograph (PSA 10) $4,400

josh allen contenders rookie auto

PSA 10 Population: 26

Josh Allen has all the tools to be the face of football. He can sling a football 75 yards. He runs like Earl Campbell in the open field. He just hasn’t won the big game yet. When he does, cards like this 2018 Contenders Rookie Ticket will prove to be worthy investments. Regardless, this is a premier rookie autograph of one of the game’s best quarterbacks.

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19. 2004 Panini Sports Mega Cracks Lionel Messi (PSA 10) $3,200


PSA 10 Population: 176

With a population of just (176) of one of soccer's GOATs, it's no surprise that this Messi rookie card commands a $3,200 price tag if you want to purchase one. After a win with Argentina in the 2022 World Cup, Messi has completed his resume and solidified himself as one of the greatest to ever step onto the pitch.

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20. 2007 Topps Chrome Kevin Durant (PSA 10) $1,100

Kevin Durant 2007 Topps Chrome

While KD may have regressed slightly in recent years, he is still perhaps the most dominant scorer in NBA history. His 2007 Topps Chrome rookie is still an iconic basketball card, and it’s still very liquid in the hobby. You can also pick one up for less than $1,200, and that number will jump if Durant makes a deep run with his new Phoenix squad.

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21. 2013 Bowman 1st Aaron Judge Autograph (PSA 10) $3,000

2013 bowman chrome Aaron Judge auto

PSA 10 Population: 179

Aaron Judge’s 2022 run was magical. 62 homers, MVP, and the clear face of the most valuable baseball team in the world. Judge will look to continue this success in 2023, and he is the heart of an already-stacked Yankees lineup. This Bowman 1st autograph is a staple in the modern baseball collecting scene, and it has a comparatively low population compared to other Judge rookies.

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22. 2005 Topps Chrome Aaron Rodgers (PSA 10) $1,600

Aaron rodgers 2005 topps chrome

PSA 10 Population: 253

Aaron Rodgers is a four-time MVP and one of the most gifted passers in NFL history. His card market may not reach Brady’s or Mahomes’, but he is still a beloved quarterback. At 39 years old, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers has any gas left in the tank with the Jets. If he does, this 2005 Topps Chrome rookie will be one you wish you had in your collection. 

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23. 2015 Panini Prizm Nikola Jokic (PSA 10) $500

Nikola Jokic 2015 prizm

PSA 10 Population: 881

Nikola Jokic is a Serbian Army Knife for the Denver Nuggets. He’s also the reigning two-time MVP, and he may add his third one soon. Jokic’s 2015 Prizm rookie has become an increasingly popular basketball slab, and it’s one with a much lower population than those of recent draft classes.

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24. 2003 NetPro International Serena Williams Apparel Autograph (PSA Authentic) $30,000

Serena Williams 2003 NetPro auto patch

2003 was a year in the hobby where we saw the origins of many generational athletes. In basketball, we got our first cards of LeBron James.  In soccer, we got RCs of Cristiano Ronaldo.  And in tennis, NetPro produced the first licensed rookies/autographs of Serena Williams. She is one of the most influential athletes ever, and this rare rookie patch autograph is a grail for many trading card collectors.

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25. 2020 Panini Contenders Jalen Hurts Autograph (PSA 10) $2,000

Jalen Hurts 2020 Contenders Auto

PSA 10 Population: 9

Despite not winning Super Bowl LVII, Jalen Hurts’ 2022 season proved he was a franchise quarterback in the NFL. The Alabama-turned-Oklahoma alum led the Eagles to the best record in the NFC, and he came up just short against Mahomes and Co. Regardless, he will look to respond this fall after becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history. If you’re all in on Hurts, this Contenders autograph is the one for you.

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26. 2018 Topps Update Ronald Acuna (PSA 10) $49

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PSA 10 population: 22,006

Probably one of baseball's most popular cards, the Acuna Update (At-Bat in Blue Jersey) has seen a tremendous dip in value for one of MLB’s most promising young talents. This specific card has multiple variations, including the “Bat Down” pose and the coveted “White Jersey” SSP, all of which carry the #US250 numbering.

The Topps Update version has become synonymous with many players as the player’s “true” rookie card, and Acuna is no exception. PSA 10 copies of the base “At-Bat in Blue Jersey” card sold for as much as $250 consistently on eBay two years ago, but due to the market for base cards cooling off and the high population of PSA 10s, it has come crashing back down to earth. .

That said, for under $50, you can currently own the rookie card of one of the top young players in the sport. It would also make for a nice gift for the young card collector or Braves fan in your life.

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27. 1986 Topps Jerry Rice (PSA 10) $63,000

Heritage Auctions

PSA 10 population: 60

This iconic card of arguably the greatest football player of all-time comes from the 1986 Topps set. Due to their borders which were known for chipping along the edges as well as the poor centering of cards that this set is notorious for, there are only (60) PSA 10s in the entire population.

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28. 2005 Upper Deck Sydney Crosby (PSA 10) $3,200


PSA 10 population: 953

The first overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft came with quite a bit of hype. He entered the league with multiple nicknames, including "The Next One", referencing the nickname of Wayne Gretzky "The Great One".

His Upper Deck "Young Guns" rookie card has a PSA population of (953) and has remained fairly steady at that price.

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29. 2020 Panini Prizm Justin Herbert (PSA 10) $137


PSA 10 population: 5119

Here's what I wrote about this card back in April of 2021 when it was selling for around $1000:

"While I love Justin Herbert and think he has all the tools to be a top quarterback in the NFL, I am a little scared of the current prices for this card. With the logjam over at PSA holding up submissions, the population of these cards is only (834) currently, but that number will absolutely explode once they work their way through the backlog. What happens to the value if there are 8000 of them in the population instead of 800?"

Seems I hit that analysis on the head! It doesn't help that Herbert still has yet to win a playoff game. I'd stay away from this card unless you think he has a deep playoff run on the horizon.

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30. 2019 Panini Prizm Zion Williamson (PSA 10) $73


PSA 10 population: 22,728

Following up on the previous Justin Herbert card, here was my analysis on this card back in April 2021:

"This card is another one that scares me a bit, as the PSA population is already astronomically high (16,782) and you can be sure that number will go way up once everybody receives their submissions back that are stuck in the backlog.

Zion is a beast and has all the makings of a mega-star, but will the value of this card hold up long-term with so many of them out there?"

Unfortunately, a string of injuries and the crash of the value of base cards made for the perfect storm on Zion base cards. Are they getting close to the point where you'd actually consider buying one? In December of 2020, this card peaked at nearly $1000.

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31. 2018 Panini Prizm World Cup Kylian Mbappe (PSA 10) $175


PSA 10 population: 3796

This Mbappe rookie has seen an interesting run over the last three years, selling for $741 back in January of 2021, and almost doubling that price by the start of April 2021 ($1437).

While it currently sells for just $175, I actually feel ok about the relatively low PSA population (3796) combined with Mbappe's worldwide popularity. It should be enough to make sure that this card doesn't dip much further. Now might actually be a decent time to pick one up.

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32. 1992 Upper Deck Shaquille O'Neal (PSA 10) $1590


PSA 10 population: 337

This card was just so iconic when it came out, as Upper Deck superimposed three photos in one showing off a Shaq dunking the ball in a creative, unique way, especially for the time.

With Shaq's seemingly never-ending string of endorsements, his larger-than-life personality on the NBA on TNT, his Hollywood appearances and popular culture references, you never really have to worry about him staying relevant. The all-black background makes it hard to find this card in mint condition, so the population is only 337. With a relatively small price tag, I think that this card has some upward potential long-term.

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