LeBron James Graded Rookie Card Populations Keep Surging

One thing that has happened in 2022 is that the endless grading backlogs at PSA, Beckett, SGC and others have finally started to dwindle. That said, the graded population of modern era rookies seems to be growing larger and larger by the day. The phantom population of cards in line to be graded and the countless cards that could be submitted for grading also remains very high for many base rookies. This brings up the debate over the supply and prices of LeBron James base rookie cards.

LeBron James is obviously one of the greatest basketball players who has ever played. If all goes well, he will become the highest scoring player in NBA history. This could be one of those events that rekindles demand for James’ rookie cards, assuming the graded population of his cards doesn’t keep rising endlessly. So, what about his base rookie card trends so far in 2022?

Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class, implying that high-end collectibles are attracting the same capital that could have otherwise been invested in stocks and bonds. Time has proven that no asset class is assured to rise in value endlessly. LeBron James has not been immune to this, but there may be more to this than just how LeBron and his team are doing on a weekly basis — including potentially more than the Lakers not even making the playoffs.

The stock market at the end of May (2022) was teetering on an official bear market as equity index prices have dropped handily. Bond yields have risen in most maturities, which means long-term bond prices have also fallen in value due to the inverse nature of prices and yields. The endless growth in home prices seems to be abating. Gold and silver, which we consider alternative assets, have also fallen from their highs despite the safe-haven status. And alternative assets like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have plummeted from their 2021 highs by more than 50%.

If no asset class has been safe in values in 2022, particularly with fears of a recession becoming much more vocal and evident, it doesn’t seem fitting to expect that even the greatest modern era rookies with thousands upon thousands of graded cards would see their prices suddenly scream higher. In fact, these prices have remained soft so far in 2022. Perhaps the growing graded populations have only continued to add to that pressure.

Those who bought the base LeBron James rookie have witnessed firsthand that those prices can drift much lower. LeBron’s 2021-22 season and the lack of the Lakers in the playoffs did not help matters. One key issue which is likely to come to pass in the 2022-23 NBA season is that LeBron James should pass up Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time statistics leaders for total points scored. This certainly doesn’t assure that prices of his base rookie cards will only rise from here. But what about what feels like a nearly unlimited supply of LeBron’s base rookie cards?

It is important to keep in mind that unique 1 of 1 cards that may command $100K or even over $1 million are not in the same rookie base card class for popular players because they are unique or have very limited supplies and almost unlimited demand.

The 2003 Topps LeBron James #221 base rookie PSA population report was 12,737 as of 5/22/2022. That is up 7.7% from 11,828 base grades on 12/31/21. This new population of base rookies is also even higher than the 11,282 on 9/11/21 (up 12.9% cumulatively) and versus 10,166 on or around 6/3/21 (up 25.3% cumulatively). These are just the base grades, not counting autographs and not counting half-grades and qualifiers. This card is now effectively 19 years old and the bulk of the grades are still PSA 9 — at 5,357 up 7.5% versus the 4,984 as of 1/1/2022. The perfect PSA 10 graded population of 2,130 examples as of 5/22/2022 is up 3.8% from the 2,051 examples as of 1/1/2022.

SGC’s population has also risen handily. As of 5/22/2022 the graded population of 1,124 cards is up 23.2% from the 912 graded base rookie cards as of 12/31/21. SGC’s grading system showed that its population report of 735 total graded examples as of 9/11/21 was up 25.2% from the 587 total cards graded as of 6/3/21. In short, SGC’s graded population has risen 91.5% in just under a year.

LeBron’s base 2003 Topps rookie in PSA 10 was routinely selling for close to $5,000 at the end of 2020. From January of 2021 the price surged to well above $10,000 into February 2021. There were even two outlier auction prices at $14,400 and $16,200 but the price went to sub-$7,000 at the end of March-2021. LeBron’s base rookie in a PSA 10 went under $5,000 in May-2021. These were the prices as of the end of 2021:

  • 12/1/21 – 12/20/21 was 12/6/2021 at $3,399.00 HIGH and 12/13/2021 at $2,600.00 LOW.
  • 11/1/21 – 11/30/21 was 11/15/2021 at $4,001.00 HIGH and 11/20/2021 at $3,600.00 LOW.
  • 10/1/21 – 10/31/21 was 10/13/2021 at $4,299.99 HIGH and 10/24/2021 at $3,740.00 LOW.

And now here are the last PSA 10 prices captured in the PSA data as of the present time:

  • 5/15/2022 was $1,770.00 and $1,710.00 (PWCC Marketplace)
  • 5/13/2022 was $1,920.00 (Heritage Auctions)
  • 5/13/2022 was $2,400.00 (Heritage Auctions)
  • 5/3/2022 was $2,775.00 (eBay/COMC consignment)
  • 4/18/2022 was $3,000.00 (eBay/showtime231)
  • 4/14/2022 was $2,375.00 (eBay/probstein123)
  • 3/29/2022 was $2,599.99 (eBay/hunnic51)

Here is what LeBron’s 37,062 all-time careers points means for his likelihood of breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time points scored record. LeBron just needs 1,325 points to break the record and the changes in the game seem quite evident in the players’ race to all-time points:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons and a total of 1,560 games (and 57,446 minutes played) for his career 38,387 points.
  • LeBron James has played 19 seasons and a total of 1,366 games (and 52,139 minutes) for his career 37,062 points.

Again, there are no assurances that prices will rise in sports collectibles and in this case the price of LeBron James base rookie cards have fallen since the early 2021 peak. There are also no assurances that any player’s past statistics can be carried forward into any future season.