1972 Topps Julius Erving Rookie Card: A Closer Look

dr-j-rookie-cardVintage basketball card collectors have been pushing up values of Julius Erving’s rookie card of late.  And for good reason, Erving’s 1972 Topps rookie card is a hobby legend, one of the most valuable basketball cards of all time.

The rookie card of one ‘Dr J’ as he was better known, features Erving as a member of the Virgnia Squires, one of the teams of the American Basketball Association (ABA)

Erving led a storied career, first with the Squires and Nets of the ABA, while finishing up his career with the Philadelphia 76ers.

While Erving tends to get overshadowed by some of the bigger name stars from the era such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, his rookie card has found renewed interest.  

In this piece, we’ll review the career of Dr. J, while examining his 1972 Topps rookie card, including the existing population, current values and investment potential. 

Julius "Dr J" Erving As A Player

Julius Erving was a prolific scorer and one of the best players to play the game of basketball.  He grew up in Roosevelt, New York and was so good at an early age that he was dominating NBA players at the famed 'Rucker Park' in Harlem.  Crowds of people would come to watch Erving play as he showcased what many basketball fans would soon come to realize--Erving had crazy skills. 

"We played him the first game and they kept saying ‘You wait till Julius gets in, you wait til Julius gets in” and I’m like ‘Who’s Julius? I’m in the NBA, what do I care about Julius.‘ He came down one time, I had the angle on him — but he dunked the ball so bad, the ball hit me in the top of the head, my teeth fell out on the ground and the crowd roared.  I had scrambled the ground to put them back in my mouth. That helped build his reputation.”

Tom Hoover, former NBA Player

Erving played college ball at UMass Amherst but left his Junior year to head to the ABA.  He dominated the ABA, and in his rookie season he finished second to Artis Gilmore in Rookie of The Year voting.  The NBA was trying to lure Erving, but contractual disputes would keep Erving tied to the ABA for the next three years, despite his desire to exit for a bigger payday. 

Erving was not only a fantastic playmaker, but his legend also grew as a big time dunker.  He was one of the first to popularize the foul line dunk, setting the stage for Michael Jordan years later to take Erving's trademark and make it his own. 

The 1976 ABA Dunk contest was a precursor to the famous NBA dunk contests of nowadays, but in it's own right, was just as great.  

Check out footage of Erving below with his famous foul line dunk.

Erving finally was able to reach the NBA in the 1976-77 season with the merger of the ABA and the NBA.  Erving would play the next eleven seasons as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, where he would amass one of the best statistical records of all time. Erving finished as an All-Star each season, won the MVP in 1981 and was a five-time member of the All-NBA First Team.

Battles with the Celtics and Larry Bird were the norm, as this photo from a legendary encounter shows.  While Dr. J never really had the surrounding cast to take out the Celtics in the playoffs, he finally won the NBA Championship in 1983


How Did Erving Get The Nickname Dr. J?

"I have a buddy—his name is Leon Saunders—and he lives in Atlanta, and I started calling him "the professor", and he started calling me "the doctor". So it was just between us...we were buddies, we had our nicknames and we would roll with the nicknames. ...And that's where it came from."

-Julius Erving (as told to Class Act Sports)

1980-81 Topps Larry Bird Julius Erving Magic Johnson Rookie Card RC BGS 6.5 Y438

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1972 Topps Julius Erving #195 PSA 7 (Rookie, Hall of Fame)

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How Much Is Dr J's Rookie Card Worth?

Julius Erving's official rookie card is his 1972 Topps #195 card.  A perfect gem-mint copy of the card (PSA or SGC 10) is worth on average between $10,000 to $13,000. Lower graded copies can found for much less; in fact a Near-Mint (PSA or SGC 7) copy of Erving's rookie card has been selling for around $1300, whereas a VG copy (or PSA 3) of Erving's rookie can usually be found for between $300 to $400.

Here's a chart from PSA showing some recent pricing by grade:

auction-prices-realized (39)

The Erving rookie card isn't exactly rare; PSA has graded roughly 3500 copies of the card.

This chart from PSA shows pricing along with population for each grade:


However, this is dwarfed in comparison to the Jordan rookie card. PSA has graded over 16,000 copies of Michael Jordan's rookie.  You can see a breakdown of Jordan rookie values and the graded population for each card.


Note that a PSA 2 or 3 Jordan rookie sells for between $1500 to $2000, so on average nearly 8x that of the Erving rookie for a similar grade.  Sure, Jordan is a more household name, but despite the recent advance, Erving's rookie card appars relatively undervalued.  

Maybe Dr. J needs his own documentary?

What's An Autographed Dr J Rookie Worth?

I've seen sales on eBay for an autographed Rookie card averaging about $1000 to $1200. This also depends on if the card is graded or not, as opposed to only the autograph being authenticated, which is normally the case. 

These aren't necessarily hard to find, but not widely available. Erving is of course getting up there in age, and isn't a big autograph signer.

Vintage collector opinions differ on whether an autograph should significantly impact the value of a card, but there are many collectors who focus only on finding autographed copies of key rookie cards. 

I personally think autographed rookie cards are awesome, and Dr. J. has a sweet signature, making his autographed rookie card a true treasure.  If you can afford it, I'd recommend stepping up to go for the autographed Erving rookie if you can. 


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What's The Investment Potential?

While not scarce, the Erving rookie has a fairly limited population as compared to other star rookies of the era.  And Erving is one of the most recognizable names in the history of basketball.  Although Erving doesn't exactly get the same name recognition as Jordan, Bird or Magic, he's right there in the conversation (ESPN ranked him as the 15th best player of all time).  

Ultimately, with the availability of YouTube and the vast library of his old videos and dunks, I can only think the legend of Erving will grow greater from here.

Add on the hype that has been pushed from guys like Gary V, and the Erving rookie should continue to have staying power as an attractive long term investment. 

If you're priced out of buying a Jordan rookie card, a lower grade Dr. J rookie should be high on your list of cards to buy for a long term investment.  Overall, I'd say the investment potential for Erving's Rookie card is quite good. 

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