Kobe Bryant’s rookie cards remain among the most sought-after basketball cards in the hobby.
His dominance on the court with the Lakers and tragic passing has renewed interest in Kobe’s rookie cards.
Like Tom Brady’s rookie cards, we usually don’t discuss cards from the modern era, but there are a few players (aka GOATS) for which we make an exception.
In this piece, we discuss the best Kobe Bryant cards, reviewing Kobe Bryant’s rookie card values while discussing PSA population reports and the investment potential for each.
Also check out this page, which lists the most valuable Kobe Bryant rookie cards for sale on eBay.
Kobe Bryant Top Rookie Card Picks
12 Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards
Below we provide a list of the 12 best rookie cards to invest in. Here we are only covering Kobe's base rookie cards, not his inserts or parallel (aka refractor) cards.
Be sure to also see our guide covering the best Shaq rookie cards.
1. 1996-97 Bowman's Best Kobe Bryant RC #R23
In the late '90s, Topps tried its hand in creating a premium chrome-oriented Bowman's Best basketball issue, which only lasted for a few years. This effort ran in tandem to their Bowman's Best baseball set, a run that lasted much longer than their basketball cards.
The 1996-97 Bowman's Best basketball set consists of 125 cards, with 25 rookie cards labeled with a different numbering system, starting with an 'R', hence the R23 number for the Kobe rookie card from the set.
Kobe's rookie from the set has a silver/foil look to it and, in my mind, is one of his sharper rookie cards. Note there are also much rarer refractor and atomic refractor variations.
PSA has graded over 8000 copies, so there is a fairly sizeable population. Collectors should be able to secure a copy in Mint condition (PSA 9) for under $300.
2. 1996-97 Flair Showcase Row 2 Kobe Bryant RC #31
In my opinion, 1996-97 Kobe's Flair Showcase Row 2 rookie card might be his most attractive. The card features dual images of Kobe, with one portrait in the corner with an overlay of Kobe making one of his trademark drives to the hoop.
The 1996-97 Flair Showcase basketball set consists of 90 cards, with cards split into Row 0, Row 1 and Row 2. In terms of Kobe's rookie and graded populations, Row 1 and Row 2 are fairly close in terms of population.
However, most collectors consider the Row 2 Kobe the base card, so we stick with that designation here. Note the Row 0 has about half the graded population of either the Row 1 or Row 2 card and is a lot harder to find.
Collectors should be able to secure a Row 2 Flair Showcase copy in Mint condition (PSA 9) for under $300.
3. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant RC #138
The 1996-97 Topps Chrome rookie card is one of his most popular. In typical Topps fashion, they created a Chrome set utilizing the same photos from the base Topps set, however with a chromium overlay.
Note that there is also a refractor variation of the card which is also extremely popular and valuable. In comparing population reports, the Chrome Kobe rookie has been graded nearly 6000 times, whereas the refractor parallel less than 500 times.
Thus, while a Chrome Kobe Bryant rookie card can be found today in Mint (PSA 9 condition) for nearly $3000, a Chrome refractor Kobe Bryant rookie card in mint condition is worth near six figures.
4. 1996-97 Topps Kobe Bryant RC #138
I consider Kobe's Topps rookie card to be his discount variation in comparison to the Chrome issue.
The Topps card was produced in generous quantities; note that PSA has graded nearly 27,000 Topps Kobe rookie cards, versus about 6000 of his Chrome rookie card.
Despite the sizeable population, Kobe's Topps rookie card in Mint (PSA 9) condition sells for near $400.
Note there is a darker Kobe NBA 50th anniversary parallel that can sometimes be confused with the Kobe Topps Chrome rookie card.
So be careful not to overpay for this one.
5. 1996-97 Skybox E-X2000 Kobe Bryant RC #30
The Kobe Bryant rookie card landscape can get confusing for collectors who weren't collecting these in the ‘90s. A lot of different issues, and many that didn't last all that long.
One example is the beautiful and futuristic E-X2000 set issued by Skybox in 1997.
The cards feature colorful framed borders, with the player's image overlapping the frame. The Kobe rookie card from the set is beautiful and has become increasingly popular in recent years. Note there is also a much rarer, Credentials parallel card from the set with white borders.
PSA has graded less than 5000 of Kobe's E-X2000 card and Mint copies sell for a minimum of $2000.
6. 1996-97 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #74
Probably one of Kobe's best poses on a card; here he is going in for a monster dunk on his Finest rookie card. Kobe's Finest card marks his third Topps issue on this list, not even including his Bowman's Best card, which Topps produced.
The 1996-97 Topps Finest set is a bit of a confusing issue. First it was issued in two series: Series 1 (1-146) and Series 2 (147-291). Each series has different subsets, so for example, the first series consists of Apprentices, Gladiators, Maestros and Sterling.
The set also consists of three color variations: Bronze (common), Silver and Gold. Kobe has two cards in the set, the #74 - Apprentices (shown above) and #269 - Heirs, shown below. The Heirs card however is much, much rarer than the base #74 Apprentices card.
To confuse matters even more, as with other Finest issues, the cards were issued with a protective film, and typically the cards hold more value if the film is still on the cards.
The #74 Finest Kobe rookie card was fairly widely produced, with over 10,000 copies currently graded by PSA. Mint copies (PSA 9) with the film still intact can usually be found for under $500.
7. 1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant RC #58
One of Kobe's more recognizable cards, his Upper Deck rookie card features a smiling Kobe with his white sunglasses atop his head.
The card was produced in fairly sizeable quantities: PSA has graded nearly 7000 copies, which makes the card one of the more affordable Kobe rookies for basketball card collectors.
Mint (PSA 9) copies of Kobe's Upper Deck rookie card can usually be found for less than $150, which in my mind represents attractive long term value.
8. 1996-97 SP Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #134
Interestingly, Upper Deck captured several portrait poses for a few of its Kobe Bryant rookie card issues (the Upper Deck base and SP both feature portraits).
The card images seemingly mean so much more, now that he has passed, and I think collectors sometimes gravitate to the SP and Upper Deck cards due to the portrait of Kobe Bryant.
Many collectors often think SP was more of a premium issue, but ultimately the SP Kobe Bryant card has a larger population (~8800) than his Upper Deck rookie (~7000).
9. 1996-97 Ultra Kobe Bryant RC #52
A cool shot of Kobe in the middle of what appears to be a finger roll to the rim for two. The Fleer Ultra rookie card of Kobe Bryant is a sharp card, and less frills than some of the more higher end rookie card issues.
It is also one of Kobe's more affordable base rookie cards, even despite having a lower graded population than some of his other rookies. PSA has graded roughly 6000 copies, and Mint (PSA 9) copies can be found for around $250.
Note that Kobe has another card in series two of the set (#266 - Encore) but the #52 is considered to be his true rookie card.
There are also two very rare parallel cards in the set - Gold Medallion and Platinum Medallion, with less than 250 of each believed to have been produced.
10. 1996-97 Skybox Premium Kobe Bryant RC #55
Although Skybox used the word 'Premium' with this issue, the set was still produced in fairly sizeable quantities (PSA has graded over 5500 of Kobe's #55 card from the set).
Issued in Series One packs, the Skybox Premium Kobe Bryant card is certainly one of the more attractive issues - I love the card's background, it reminds me of some distressed architecture I've seen before - super cool!
Note Kobe also has another card in Series 2 (#203), although collectors recognize the #55 Skybox Premium Kobe as the true rookie card.
It's definitely within arms reach for budget-minded collectors as well. A high- grade copy in Mint condition will run you about $150, with raw copies on eBay selling for even less.
Note there are also highly sought-after 'Rubies' inserts, which will run you about 20x the cost of the regular base card.
11. 1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #19
Upper Deck strikes again, with the portrait Kobe card - a reminder, the SP and Upper Deck cards also feature a portrait of Kobe Bryant. The UD3 set was a more premium issue for Upper Deck and featured a total of only 60 cards, with a 20 card 'Hardwood Prospects' set. Kobe, along with Allen Iverson are the highlights of the set.
I like the design of this one, and the Kobe rookie is a bit harder to find than some with higher supply. PSA has graded ~3400 copies and the card in Mint condition can be found for around $150, which is a pretty good value in my opinion.
12. 1996-97 Metal Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #137
The 96-97 Metal set was a more premium issue for Fleer, in addition to their base Fleer, Ultra, and Flair Showcase sets. The Kobe rookie card was issued in the Series 1 Metal set (#137) while he also has a card in the Series 2 Metal Set (#181), which is technically not considered his rookie card (but is a super cool card as well).
The #137 card is also a lot scarcer based on population reports versus the 181 card, with less than half the existing total graded supply.
Note there is also a very highly sought after 'Precious Metal' variation of the #181 card, which might just indeed be Kobe's best looking card.
Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Values
In terms of Kobe's base rookie cards, the range of values starts on the low end with Kobe's Collector's Choice #267 card which sells for less than $50, all the way up to Kobe's Topps Chrome rookie card which sells for around $3000 in Mint condition.
There's a wide range of values in between, however, it is all dependent on the overall grade of your card.
For anyone looking to purchase a Kobe Bryant rookie card, there are plenty of great budget options.
Here are the prices of five great Kobe Bryant Rookie cards which can be purchased for $200 or less in Mint (Graded PSA 9) condition. All, in my opinion, make for a great investment.
|96-97||Bowman's Best||R23||Kobe Bryant||$125|
|96-97||Flair Showcase Row 2||31||Kobe Bryant||$150|
|96-97||Topps Chrome||138||Kobe Bryant||$150|
|96-97||Skybox E-X2000||30||Kobe Bryant||$200|
What's The Most Valuable Kobe Bryant Rookie Card?
Out of Kobe Bryant's base rookie cards, the most valuable is the 1996-97 Topps Chrome #138 card. Copies of the card in Mint (PSA 9) condition average $3000 at auction, however ungraded copies can typically be found for cheaper on eBay. Just be careful as reprints have been floating around.
On the flip side, Kobe's most affordable base rookie card is the 1996-97 UD Collector's Choice #267. Known as the 'budget' issue for Upper Deck, copies of Kobe's Collector's Choice rookie card can be found for less than $50 in raw condition.
However, I don't really view this one as a great investment, due to the massive population.
What's The Rarest Kobe Bryant Rookie Card?
In examining Kobe Bryant's base rookie cards, the rarest is his Flair Showcase Row 2 card with roughly 1500 copies graded by PSA.
See our chart below for more population data on the twelve best Kobe rookie cards.
Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Investment Potential
In my opinion, Kobe is one of the GOATS and his rookie cards are still, despite a sizeable price increase, excellent investments.
The key to investing in any Kobe rookie card is identifying those that are 1) attractive, 2) have a fairly limited supply, and 3) appear to have collector support.
I chose the Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome #138 card as his rookie card with the best investment potential.
It might seem like a peculiar choice for some - the Chrome rookie, with ~6000 PSA copies graded, sells for around $3000 in Mint condition. His Skybox Premium card, with 5500 graded, sells for only $150. Why might this be?
When a player has many rookie cards to choose from, collectors tend to show a preference for only a few select cards of that player.
Topps Chrome is one of the most recognized issues across all sports, and thus, the Kobe Topps Chrome card has received the preferred designation from collectors. I don't see this changing anytime soon.
However, I believe that Kobe has several rookie cards that offer tremendous value, based on the overall supply versus the current price.
As noted above, Kobe's Flair Showcase Row #2 card looks drastically undervalued based on the existing supply.
Will collectors ever bid that card up to the same price as his Chrome rookie?
I doubt it, but there's a lot of ground to make up between the two and I think the Flair Showcase card is an excellent investment.
Where Can I Sell My Kobe Bryant Rookie Card?
Before selling your Kobe Bryant rookie card, it makes sense to decide if you should grade it or not. Our sports card grading calculator can help out in determining whether your card is worth grading or not.
If you have one of the more widely available Kobe cards that sell in the $150-$200 range in Mint condition, I'd probably avoid grading the card. Sure, a PSA 10 grade would pole vault your Kobe's value, but unfortunately nailing a PSA 10 grade is a pretty tough feat.
eBay is the easiest and most liquid marketplace to sell any raw (ungraded) or even graded Kobe Bryant rookie cards. Check out our guide to selling your sports cards as well if you need more advice.
Kobe Bryant's Legend On And Off The Court
Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the best basketball players of all time. In my mind, Kobe was one of the best scorers and playmakers of the past several decades, right up there with Lebron and Jordan.
Over his 20-year career with the Lakers, Bryant won five NBA championships, while cementing his legacy as the all-time leading scorer for the LA Lakers.
Kobe (also known as 'Black Mamba') established himself as one of the league's most prolific scorers and had a career-scoring average of 25.0 points per game.
He ranks fourth on the NBA's list of all-time scorers, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and Lebron James.
Bryant was well known for having an unbelievable work ethic, and one of the reasons he was such a fantastic success.
"Greatness isn’t easy to achieve. It requires a lot of time, a lot of sacrifices. It requires a lot of tough choices. It requires your loved ones to sacrifice, too, so you have to have an understanding circle of family and friends. People don’t always understand just how much effort from how many people goes into one person chasing a dream to be great.”
- KOBE BRYANT, FROM HIS BOOK "THE MAMBA MENTALITY"
In his book ‘The Mamba Mentality’, Bryant talks about his intense game preparations and how he mentally and physically prepared for each game. A highly recommended book even for non basketball fans.
Tragically, Kobe Bryant's life was cut short in January 2020, when a helicopter he and his daughter (and seven others) were traveling in crashed. The news rippled through the sports world and marked one of the saddest days for any basketball fan.
Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Checklist
Kobe Byrant has a total of sixteen base rookie cards. The full checklist can be found below:
1996-97 Bowman's Best Kobe Bryant RC #R23
1996-97 Flair Showcase Row 2 Kobe Bryant RC #31
1996-97 Fleer Kobe Bryant RC #203
1996-97 Fleer Metal Kobe Bryant RC #137
1996-97 Fleer Ultra Kobe Bryant RC #52
1996-97 NBA Hoops Kobe Bryant RC #281
1996-97 Skybox E-X2000 Kobe Bryant RC #30
1996-97 Skybox Premium Kobe Bryant RC #55
1996-97 Skybox Z-Force Kobe Bryant RC #142
1996-97 SP Kobe Bryant RC #134
1996-97 Topps Kobe Bryant RC #138
1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant RC #138
1996-97 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant RC #74
1996-97 UD Collector's Choice Kobe Bryant RC #267
1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant RC #19
1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant RC #58
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