LeBron vs. Kareem Points Record Hype; Rookie Card Prices vs. Pop Reports

LeBron James already made history by becoming the second highest NBA point scorer of all-time. But after surpassing Karl Malone for that #2 spot, the all-time regular season scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is now less than 500 points higher than LeBron’s record. Abdul-Jabbar’s record has been in place since 1984 as the all-time points scorer in regular season, and if LeBron keeps this pace up he should become the all-time regular season points scorer in February 2023.

As for the hobby of sports collectibles, will breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time regular season points record help those who own LeBron’s rookie cards? LeBron’s record-breaking regular season points leadership should matter to basketball card collectors. When is the next time that record may come under fire?

This is a complex situation where LeBron’s base rookie prices are still suffering from more and more supplies of graded cards. Those who have bought the base LeBron James rookie have continued to witness that card prices could drift lower and lower. Even last May, when we were only starting to see grading times come down, there was still quite a large surge in the graded population of LeBron’s base rookie cards. And today this record is undeniably exciting as LeBron’s points per game is so high.

Image below courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

LeBron James Rookie Card

As of last look, LeBron James was just 485 points shy of Kareem’s 38,387 regular season points. So, just how long will it take for LeBron to reach this milestone? His career average is 27.2 points per game, but despite missing games LeBron is averaging closer to 29 points per game in the 2022-23 NBA season. That leave’s Kareem’s record attainable in somewhere around 17 games at the current pace, or perhaps even sooner if LeBron’s 10-game average is able to be held up.

LeBron was 19 during his rookie season of 2003-04. Zoom forward to today and he is 38 and has played 1,395 regular season games. Jabbar was 22 in his rookie season, and he retired at 41 after a total of 1,560 games. And so far this season, after just 29 games, LeBron has scored 841 points in just 29 games. Kareem’s final NBA season of 1988-89 was a total of 74 games and just 748 points.

Whenever LeBron breaks the record for all-time regular season points now only seems to be a “how soon” rather than “if” or even “when.” But…

The 2003 Topps LeBron James #221 base rookie PSA population report has continued its surge over the last year. There is also no way to know what the phantom population happens to be. The base card #221 was last seen at 14,362 PSA graded examples without qualifiers, or 14,580 after counting the “+” and “Q” graded examples too. Of that population, some 2,245 are graded as PSA 10 and another 6,038 are graded as PSA 9.

Going back to May 22, 2022 that total graded population was 12,737 cards. And here is how much it had risen since I started tracking these in the base grades — up close to 12% since May of 2022; and it had been up 7.7% last May versus the 11,828 base grades recorded on December 31, 2022. The prior base grade population was 11,282 on 9/11/21 and 10,166 on 6/3/21.

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 with two outlier auction prices at $14,400 and $16,200. Then the price went under $7,000 at the end of March-2021 and then went under $5,000 in May-2021. These PSA 10 prices had routinely been above $2,000 up through November 2022 but these were the prices as of the end of 2022 versus 2021:

  • 12/1/22 – 12/29/22 was $1,950 on 12/5 (HIGH) and $1,625 on 12/12 (LOW)… 12/1/21 – 12/20/21 was 12/6 at $3,399.00 HIGH and 12/13 at $2,600.00 LOW.

And looking over a longer period of time, the base rookie card for LeBron was handily under $1,000 (even closer to $500) at the end of 2019. Its graded population at that time was far lower and the prices today remain nearly four-times higher. Here is a copy of PSA’s price charting below for LeBron’s 2003 base rookie (#221).

Perhaps the biggest issue is whether or not the population reports keep growing or not. They will of course keep growing as many LeBron rookies that look like PSA 9 and PSA 10 were not submitted when the turnaround time was measured in 6 months to a year. Now those grading times have come down handily, as have grading prices.