What are the cards in my basement worth?
If you have '90s basketball cards in your basement thinking that you will be rich, this is probably not true. The rare cards listed in this article were extremely tough to pull, with ridiculously high pack odds. In modern card collecting, you are guaranteed a "hit", or a valuable card, in every box. In the '90s, that wasn't the case. You could open 20 boxes and only hit one parallel of a no-name player.
“A lot of us remember opening packs of cards in the mid-late '90s and remember getting nothing but base cards and non-rare inserts. The problem is that while the supply has not increased, the number of collectors looking for these cards has,” says Adam Gray, a long time '90s basketball card collector.
The cards that people are after (Jordan PMGs, Kobe Credentials, Autograph inserts) are buried in a sea of '90s junk, creating an almost mythical allure to cards. Without the internet as kids, you could hear stories of Jordan Precious Metal Gems cards, but you could never see one.
Why have prices surged?
If you were ten years old in 1999, you’d be 30 now. Generally, adults hit an earning income peak at age 30-40. The nostalgia-reboot cycle is hitting the '90s generation hard and basketball cards are no exception.
Also, cards can be an alternative investment class. Traditional investing has no emotional attachment: you buy and sell stocks. With cards, you can invest on an emotional level. There’s also a sense of investing for the common man. Sports fans can invest, so to speak, in their favorite athletes, strengthening the connection between athlete and fan.
Prices started to surge in about 2010 and have again hit an exponential growth curve since about 2017, especially the Michael Jordan card market.
"The holy grail of all '90s basketball cards—the Michael Jordan 1997-98 Metal Universe PMG Green—sold in 2007 for $5,300.23. It last sold in 2019 for $350,100. That's an ROI 6,505.37% over a 12-year period,” says Chris McGill of the House of Jordans podcast.
How do I know if my cards are genuine?
Be careful and study up on the differences before spending big money, because counterfeits do exist in basketball cards.
Nat Turner's collection is a museum of basketball cards and his cards can be used as a reference point to validate authenticity.
“Nineties forgers can reproduce an entire card from scratch using the original photography and graphic/text elements they recreate themselves. The end result is a forgery that is frighteningly identical to the original, and it cannot be identified using traditional methods. While PSA and BGS have a great track record of spotting vintage fakes, they’ve struggled to adapt to this new generation of modern forgeries," states Brendan Bigelow, a noted '90s counterfeit expert.
What is the future of basketball cards?
The global popularity of basketball in the NBA continues to grow rapidly which will continue to bring in more interest. According to figures produced by the NBA, over 600 million people in China watched some part of its programming on television during the 2017 season and with 178 million followers across its Chinese social media channels, the NBA also boasts the highest following of any sports league in that particular market. Experts have noted that the demand for '90s basketball cards continues to go up and the supply continues to go down. Collectors are buying cards and locking them into their collections because they know it's almost impossible to get them back.
The urgency to acquire these cards is at an all-time high, so if new money comes into the hobby and wants to acquire these cards, the prices will continue to rise. Some of these cards only come up for sale once a year or less.
Gee says, “Collectors want what’s unique. While vintage is highly collectible, it’s ultimately hundreds of the exact same card of the exact same player, with the only variable being the card’s condition. Modern cards pushed the envelope in product design (PMGs, Credentials, the introduction of the first jersey cards in 1997), scarcity (low serial numbered subsets, subsets with extremely difficult odds) and price point (’93-’94 Finest basketball as the first ‘high-end’ product at $100 per box, ’03-’04 Exquisite basketball as the first ‘ultra high-end’ product at $550 per box). To me, vintage basketball is about collecting the grade, whereas modern basketball is about collecting the card.”
Basketball cards are more than just pieces of cardboard. They represent art, culture, sport and—for some of us—they define our childhood. The '90s basketball card market isn’t driven by money, but rather the passion of its collectors. And we’re passionate.
Follow @edisoncards on Twitter for more.