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LeBron James Rookie Card Becomes the Most Expensive Basketball Card Sold in History

According to PWCC Marketplace, a 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection RPA (rookie patch autograph) LeBron James card was sold for a record-breaking $5.2 million in a private sale.

The previous record for most expensive basketball card had been set in March when a 2018 autographed Luka Doncic Panini National Treasures card was sold for $4.6 million in a private sale.

The buyer of the James card hasn’t been released. The James rookie card is one of just 23 editions of the card that are in existence. According to ESPN, the card holds a Beckett Grading Services grade of 9 as a card and a perfect 10 signature. It’s one of two cards ever graded that high by Beckett.

“This was actually in the works for a while,” PWCC’s director of business development Jesse Craig told Darren Rovell of The Action Network. “The demand for rare cards, especially basketball right now, is just like the demand for fine art.”


“Exquisite was a revolutionary product when it came out in 2003,” explained Jesse when talking about the card. “It was the most expensive retail product that had ever been released, at $500 a box, and they were only made from 2003 to 2009; the rarity of those assets carries a lot of weight for collectors and investors today.”

According to Sports Illustrated, the James rookie card is not just the most expensive basketball card ever, but it also ties the all-time sports trading card record. The record was set by a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card through PWCC, which was sold in January of this year.

“There are LeBron cards [still] out there, I would say, worth over $10 million,” Jesse Craig, PWCC’s director of business development, told ESPN. “And let’s be clear: There are three Mantle PSA 10s that, whenever they transact, will break every record there is. But as a market, there are so many desirable cards that haven’t sold yet publicly.”

Craig said that in general, trading card sales have been down recently, but high-end cards are still setting records. Notable sales this year in the sports card industry include a signed rookie Tom Brady card, which sold for $2.25 million earlier this month. Another includes a rare Kobe Bryant rookie card selling for $1.795 million in March. 23 of the 24 most expensive sports trading card sales of all time have come since February 2020. 


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