10 of the Most Valuable Modern Sports Rookie Cards

Sports cards are exploding in value.
Sports cards are exploding in value. / Hunter Martin, Getty Images

As a possible consequence of an uncertain economy and a global pandemic, the collectibles market had a robust 2020. Prices of everything from sports cards to the cryptic world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) skyrocketed.

While classic baseball cards held their value, not everyone can get their hands on a Honus Wagner without having disposable income in the millions. Take a look instead at 10 of the most valuable rookie sports cards minted in the past 20 years. (Bear in mind values for the same card can vary widely depending on its condition and grade from a third-party authentication company.)

1. Mike Trout, 2009 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor // $215,000

Dubbed “the holiest of grails” by Sports Collectors Daily, Mike Trout’s rookie status with the Los Angeles Angels got the highly reflective treatment from Bowman in 2009. A Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) 10 autographed card fetched $215,000 on eBay. In 2012, the card could have been had for as little as $2500. Only 50 of the Gold Refractor versions were produced.

2. LeBron James, 2003 Topps Chrome Refractor // $320,000

The star of 2021’s Space Jam: A New Legacy is also known for his basketball prowess. His 2003 rookie card for the Cleveland Cavaliers graded PSA 10 snagged $320,000 on eBay. (It’s estimated there are at least 62 different James rookie cards, not including variants, in circulation.)

3. Zion Williamson, 2019-2020 Panini National Treasures // $165,100

For true sports card rarity—and an elevated price point—cards with authentic player jersey swatches are tough to beat. This Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans autographed rookie card graded 9.5 by Beckett Grading Service (BGS) nabbed $165,100. A graded 9 card sold for $124,200.

4. Dwyane Wade, 2003 Topps Chrome Gold Refractor // $115,100

Wade of the Miami Heat got the rookie card treatment in 2003. His Topps Chrome Gold Refractor graded PSA 10 recently sold for $115,100. For evidence of how much the sports card market has changed, the same card with the same grade sold for $46,100 in July 2020. In August 2018, it could be had for just $2918.

5. Kevin Durant, 2008-2009 Topps Chrome Orange Refractor // $100,101

Seattle Supersonics standout Kevin Durant had a good rookie season on and off the court. His rookie card graded a perfect PSA 10 went for $100,101.

6. Kyle Lewis, 2016 Bowman Chrome Red Wave // $29,999

Seattle Mariners outfielder Lewis saw his rookie card nab $29,999—a tidy sum considering it wasn’t professionally graded.

7. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 2019 Topps Chrome Sapphire Red Refractor // $26,000

Toronto Blue Jays standout Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got a rookie card in 2019 courtesy of Topps, and it’s already tearing through the marketplace. An extremely limited Sapphire Red Refractor version graded PSA 10 fetched $26,000.

8. Patrick Mahomes II, 2017 Panini National Treasures Green // $188,988

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II autographed this rare rookie card, which also comes with a jersey swatch. Graded PSA 9, it sold for $188,988. The same card graded 9 sold for $59,100 back in July 2020, making its investment potential considerable—after all, only 15 were produced.

9. Lamar Jackson, 2018 Panini National Treasures Gold // $65,100

Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson got the rookie card treatment with this Panini card that was extremely limited—just 10 were produced. It features a piece of his jersey, his autograph, a perfect PSA 10 grade, and a $65,100 price tag. In December 2019, it sold for $30,000.

10. Connor McDavid, 2015 Upper Deck SP Authentic // $85,100

Edmonton Oilers hockey standout Connor McDavid autographed this rookie card, which BGS judged to be a perfect 10. It sold for $85,1000. Unlike most cards fetching super-premium prices, this one had a print run of 999.