1957 Topps Bill Russell Rookie Card (Value, Rarity, Investment)

January 28, 2022

bill-russell-rookie-cardIn basketball, there are a few select players who are considered true legends – and Bill Russell is one of them.

With 11 NBA championships, 5 MVP Awards, and 12 All-Star appearances, Russell’s resume is undeniable.

Bill Russell’s 1957 Topps Rookie card is considered among the Mt Rushmore for basketball card collectors.

It is also one of the hobby’s most valuable cards, and, unfortunately out of reach for many. 

In this piece, we examine the past career of Bill Russell and provide more intel into his Topps rookie card. 

Bill Russell As A Player

Bill Russell was the NBA's first truly athletic big man. He had an amazing vertical leap, known for his skill in rebounding, and a propensity as a defensive player.

Russell was a shy, lanky kid in high school. But when he got to college, he immediately dominated. 

With the San Francisco Dons, in two seasons (1955-56), Russell led his team to a record 55 straight wins with back-to-back NCAA titles

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Bill Russell San Francisco SP card

Celtics coach Red Auerbach had his eyes firmly set on Russell. And in the 1956 NBA Draft, the Celtics pulled off the unthinkable.

The Celtics traded for the #2 pick in the draft while also convincing the Rochester Royals (who held the #1 pick) not to draft Russell. 

Celtics Owner Walter Brown was a prime stockholder in the Ice Capades, which was a big draw for all of these arenas. And he made a deal with Lester Harrison that if they (Rochester) didn’t take Russell, he would maneuver the Ice Capades and they would set up some dates for the Ice Capades to appear at Lester’s arena. So he’s the only player in NBA history that got traded for the Ice Capades. (Source)

Bill Russell came to the Celtics in 1956 and won a championship in his first season in the league, averaging nearly 20 rebounds per game.

Russell brought the Celtics the big man they desperately needed, on a team that featured five future Hall of Famers: Bob Cousy, Tom Heinshohn, Frank Ramsey, Bill Sharman and Arnie Risen.

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Bill Russell and Coach Red Auerbach

Russell would go on to win another ten NBA Championships, with eight against his friend, Lakers star Wilt Chamberlain

Russell was all business on the court. Former teammate Tommy Heinsohn says that Russell was the winningest person he'd ever been around and that he 'would do superhuman things when you needed him to'. 

By the time Russell retired at the age of the 35, he had won 11 NBA titles, averaging 15 points per game, along with 23 rebounds per game. Russell was also a Five Time MVP winner.

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As much as Russell dominated on the defensive end of the court, he was also defensive off the court. 

“Success is a result of consistent practice of winning skills and actions. There is nothing miraculous about the process. There is no luck involved.”. 

- Bill Russell 

Russell was well known for his abrasive attitude with the press and the fan base. Even the fans in Boston never ever came to respect Russell. A lot of it unfortunately came from the color of his skin. 

Russell and his fellow black teammates were constantly faced with racism. The white stars, such as Bob Cousy seemed to garner all the attention.

Russell's shy and serious demeanor combined with his dealings with discrimination led to hard times for Russell in Boston.

Bill Russell Panini Flawess autographed card

When Russell decided to move his family to a predominantly white Boston suburb in Reading, MA, it wasn't long before they had to deal with the unfortunate reality of life for a black family in a white town:

One night we came home from a three-day weekend and found we had been robbed. Our house was in a shambles, and ''NIGGA'' was spray-painted on the walls. The burglars had poured beer on the pool table and ripped up the felt. They had broken into my father's trophy case and smashed most of the trophies. (Source, NY Times)

Bill Russell was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, but refused to attend the ceremony, stating that the Hall had avoided electing other deserving black players prior to him.

Did You Know?

In 1965, Wilt Chamberlain signed a $100,000 a year contract for three seasons. It was at the time, the highest salary in the NBA. Russell went to Red Auerbach and demanded a raise. He promptly hiked Russell's salary from $75,000 to $100,001.

Despite his confrontational attitude with the media, Russell did eventually make some amends. In 1999, the Celtics held a tribute to Bill Russell in Boston, re-retiring his number #6 and and providing a packed Fleet Center with a proper ceremony.

The 1957 Topps Bill Russell Rookie Card #77

The 1957 Topps basketball card set is a landmark set. It was the second official basketball card release and the first basketball issue from Topps. 

The Bill Russell rookie card #77 is a short print in the set, making what is already a tough condition issue, even harder to find in nice shape.  

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Russell's card is a true rookie card, in that he was drafted the year prior by the Celtics. This differs from many other cards in the set, which are considered rookie cards only because it was the only basketball set of the era.

The backs of the 1957 Topps cards are simple and creative in their own right.

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Back of a Bill Russell 1957 Topps card

There is a height chart of the player on the right hand side of the card. With Russell's card, we can see that he measured up at 6'10".

A brief player biography is posted above a small box showcasing the previous year's stats -- Field Goals, Free Throws, Total Points and Avg. Points Per Game.

In the case of Russell, Topps notes his college stardom and his Olympic victory.  

The card number (#77) is placed in the corner inside a basketball hoop. 

How Much Is A Bill Russell Rookie Card Worth?

There are no PSA 10 (Gem Mint) copies of Russell's rookie card and only three PSA 9 (Mint) graded copies. There's little sale data to work with on the PSA 9 Russell. 

The highest grade Russell sale happened in late 2021, when a PSA 8.5 Russell rookie sold for $630,000 at Heritage Auctions.

We can only guess that the PSA 9 Russell would gather at auction, but my hunch is the number would start at $1 Million. 

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There is more sales data available for PSA 8 Russell rookies since there are 47 PSA graded copies. The most recent sale on a PSA 8 Russell was for $229,000 in December 2021 at Memory Lane auctions. 

This was a near 50% drop from the near $400K average sales on the PSA 8 which took place only eight months prior.

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57 Topps Bill Russell Rookie PSA 8 Values - Courtesy Card Ladder

Even a PSA 7 Russell rookie card is big bucks - the average sale price is now at around $52,000.

So, can the average collector afford a Bill Russell rookie card?

If you are willing to spend $5000 or more, you might, I repeat, might be able to find a low grade Russell rookie card in pretty bad condition. 

Currently, Russell rookies in Poor (PSA 1) to Good (PSA 2) condition range from between $6,000 to $8,000.

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What Is The Current Graded Population For Bill Russell's Rookie Card?

In total, there are 1,019 PSA Graded Bill Russell rookie cards. 

No PSA 10 (Gem Mint) copies of Russell's rookie card exist.

There are only three PSA 9 (Mint) graded copies.  

Why Are Rookie Cards More Valuable?

Russell's card is also one of the short prints in the 1957 Topps basketball set, although it is the most graded card in the 1957 Topps basketball set.

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Bill Russell Rookie Card PSA Values By Grade with Population

1957 Topps basketball cards are notorious for a multitude of print defects. The most common are poor centering and surface issues. Hence, finding a centered Russell with minimal print issues is a tough feat.  

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A Russell Rookie card with the common 'snow' issues on the surface.

How Much Is An Autographed Bill Russell Rookie Card Worth?

Bill Russell felt autographs were foolish and impersonal.

During his playing days, he refused to give autographs to kids. He said he would rather shake hands, even refusing to sign for his teammates. 

Years later, Russell loosened up his stance, signing memorabilia contracts with card companies. But, because of his lack of signing during his playing career, his signature is tough to find.

On average, autographed Russell photos go for $200 plus, with signed jerseys or basketballs well above that rate

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An autographed 1957 Topps Bill Russell Rookie Card

PSA has authenticated 67 autographed 1957 Topps Russell cards. So, there are some out there, but they are quite expensive. 

A signed Russell card garners a significant premium over the base rookie card value. 

1955 All American Sports Club-Hand Cut Bill Russell Card

A pre-rookie card for Bill Russell, 1955 All American Sports Club cards were issued in uncut sheets and thus were hand cut by many fans. 

The 500-card set features many of the star players of the day, including Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson. Along with other college players, golfers, boxers and tennis players.

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Only 25 PSA copies of the Russell All American Sports Club card exist, making it a hard to find card. The last sale of a PSA Russell happened in 2020 at $4000 for a PSA 9, so expect to pay up for this one.

What's The Investment Potential?

The investment potential for Bill Russell's rookie card is excellent.

Russell was one of the league's first athletic big men and one of its most dominant.

There's a limited PSA supply (1000+) and a very strong demand for his rookie card.

Demand for Russell's rookie card is not likely to slow down, so if you have the budget, buy the Russell rookie card with confidence.

Bill Russell Rookie Cards For Sale on eBay

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