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Hidden Gems: Top 10 Vintage NBA Rookie Cards To Invest In

From under the radar basketball cards of Bob Petit, Jerry Lucas and Moses Malone, these undervalued gems deserve another look.

Updated Sep 29, 2023

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Vintage basketball rookie cards featuring some of the biggest names in the sport remain highly sought after.

In particular, high-grade cards of these yesteryear stars are gaining popularity on online marketplaces such as eBay.

Interestingly, the rookie cards of many Hall of Fame greats and former stars are still considered undervalued. 

Thus, in this piece, we will examine ten hidden gems that are not only affordable but also have the potential to serve as a good long-term investment.

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1. Moses Malone - 1975 Topps Rookie #254

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Moses Malone was one of the most dominant centers of his era. He would emerge into the NBA from the merger of the ABA and NBA to become one of the sport's all-time greats.

Malone played from 1974-1995, winning three MVP awards and winning the NBA Championship during the 1983 season.

Malone's rookie card is the most valuable in the 1975 Topps set and one of most valuable rookie cards from the 1970s

During the 2020-2021 covid card craze, Malone's rookie saw an all-time high value. PSA 8 examples reached a peak of over $1000.

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Historical values of a PSA 8 Moses Malone #254 Rookie Card

Today, the same PSA 8 Malone card sells for only $160 to $200. Perfectly centered PSA 8 examples are still bringing a higher premium of closer to $300. However, only 707 straight PSA 8 examples of this card exist.

Malone's rookie card in a PSA 8 grade is still widely undervalued, considering higher-grade vintage cards of stars like Malone continue to get scooped up at auction and on eBay. 

2. Bob Pettit - 1957 Topps PSA 6 Rookie #24

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Bob Pettit played in the NBA from 1954-1965. He was a two-time MVP, and two-time scoring champion and won an NBA Championship during the 1958 season. One of his other standout accomplishments was being one of the first players to reach 20,000 career points. 

Pettit is one of the best players of the 1950s, and his rookie card is from the 1957 Topps Basketball card set. Pettit's rookie in a PSA 6 example sells for between $350 to $500. Only 155 PSA 6 graded copies exist

Considering how dominant of a player Pettit was, his rookie card still has a lot of upside. I would shoot for PSA 6 copies which are in that sweet spot of scarcity and affordability. 

3. Max Zaslofsky - 1948 Bowman Rookie #55

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Max Zaslofsky ranked 3rd in total points scored with 7,990 points when he retired. He played from 1946 to 1956 and is best remembered as the scoring champion during the 1947-48 season.

Zaslofsky is featured in the first official 1948 Bowman NBA basketball set, which features many all-time great players, including the George Mikan rookie card. The '48 Bowman Zaslofsky rookie card is one of the few cards remaining that is still affordable for many collectors and buyers. 

PSA has graded only a total of 135 of Zaslofsky's rookie card. Lower grade examples featured in a PSA 3-4 average between $200 to $350 at auction.

Zaslofsky is regarded as one of the best players of all-time not ever elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. At some point, Zaslofsky could still get in through the senior committee vote.

4. John Havlicek - 1969 Topps Rookie #20

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John Havlicek is considered one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. He spent his entire career with the Boston Celtics from 1962 to 1978. Havlicek won eight NBA Championships and was a vital member of the Celtics dynasty teams. 

Havlicek's rookie is one of the key rookie cards in the popular 1969 Topps 'tallboy' set. PSA 6 examples of John Havlicek are still obtainable for many collectors and buyers.

A PSA 6 is valued at between $250 to $300. Only 417 straight PSA 6's exist and 783 are graded higher. Havlicek's rookie is an excellent buy for longer term vintage card collectors.

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5. Sam Jones - 1961 Fleer Rookie #23

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The late Sam Jones was a key member of the Boston Celtics dynasty teams. He spent his entire career with the Celtics playing from 1957 to 1969. Jones won 10 NBA Championships in his career and was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. 

Jones's rookie card is featured in the iconic 1961 Fleer set, which features many other Hall of Fame, great players. Jones's rookie card remains one of the set's most undervalued Hall of Famers. 

A PSA 7 Sam Jones rookie is valued around $400 at recent eBay auctions and only 158 exist. His rookie card will only become tougher to find in this grade, especially.

6. Jerry Lucas - 1969 Topps Rookie #45

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Jerry Lucas played in the NBA from 1963-1974. He would win an NBA Championship late in his career with the New York Knicks. He began his career winning Rookie of the Year while playing with Oscar Robertson. 

Lucas's rookie card is a part of the popular 1969 Topps Basketball set which also features the rookie card of Lew Alcindor. High-grade examples are still undervalued, especially PSA 7 (Near-Mint) and PSA 8s (NM-Mint). 

PSA 7 copies of Lucas' rookie card have sold for about $100 at recent eBay auctions. Only 168 PSA 7's exist and given the low price, it means this may be a great card to buy in bulk while you still can.

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7. David Thompson - 1976 Topps Rookie #110

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David Thompson played in the NBA from 1975-1984. He was a top-rated player of his era and became a star player early on.

Known for his speed, agility and insane vertical leap, Thompson (aka 'Skywalker') was one of the ABA and NBA's most prolific scorers during his injury shortened career.

Thompson's rookie card in the key rookie card in the 1976 Topps Basketball set and is a unique oversized card.

A PSA 8 (NM-MT) David Thompson rookie card is valued at between $140 to $175. Only 406 David Thompson PSA 8 rookie cards exist. 

Thompson remains an undervalued Hall of Famer and his oversized 1976 Topps rookie card is becoming more of a hot commodity given the value disparity.

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8. Larry Foust - 1957 Topps Rookie #18

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Most collectors don't know his name, but Larry Foust was considered one of the best big men in the 1950's. He played in the NBA from 1950-1962 and was an eight-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection.  

Foust was strong and a bit clumsy, but used his size to dominate opponents under the paint. Foust finished his career with over 11,000 career points and over 8,000 rebounds.

According to Basketball Reference, Foust SHOULD be in the HOF, but he hasn't been elected yet.

Foust's official rookie card is in the 1957 Topps set and tends to get overshadowed by the big-time HOF rookie cards, like Bill Russell and Bob Cousy.

Higher condition, PSA graded examples are already becoming tougher to find as collectors look to snap up Foust cards at a good value.  
 
A PSA 6 Foust rookie card is valued at $175 and only 61 straight PSA 6's exist, with only 124 of these graded higher by PSA.

Buying Foust rookie now will pay off in the long-term if he does get elected to the Hall of Fame someday.

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9. Dick Barnett - 1969 Topps Rookie #18

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Dick Barnett aka 'Fall Back Baby' played for the Lakers and the Knicks but is well known for his time with the Knicks where he won two NBA Championships. His number 12 is also retired and hangs in the rafters of Madison Square Garden.  

Barnett wasn't always the best player on the court but was known as a winner. To this day he hasn't made the HOF, but many think he deserves a nod

Barnett's rookie card is in the tallboy 1969 Topps set. A PSA 8 copy of Barnett's rookie card is a great affordable option and will only set you back about $75.

Barnett's PSA 8 rookie card is limited to only 162 examples in existence. This is another great card to buy in bulk at this cost.

10. Bob Love - 1969 Topps Rookie #78

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Bob 'Butterbean' Love played in the NBA from 1966 to 77 and is best known for his tenure with the Chicago Bulls. Love was a three-time All-Star with the Bulls, known as a great scorer and a solid defender. Love is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but he does have an outside shot of getting elected someday. 

Love's rookie card is in the 1969 Topps Basketball 'tallboy' set. A PSA 8 Love rookie card is valued between $80 to $125, and only 105 exist in this grade.

Love's rookie is already becoming tougher to find especially higher-grade examples. This would be an excellent addition to any basketball rookie card collection, especially at this cost.

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Vinnie Rullo

About the author

Vinnie Rullo is a passionate sports fan, with a hardcore loyalty to the Yankees, NY Giants and New York Knicks. An avid sports card collector, Vinnie has also worked a collectibles specialist for one of the bigger online auction houses.

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