Top 15 Most Valuable Basketball Rookie Cards of The 1970s

December 29, 2022

The 1970s was a seminal decade for basketball, with some of the greatest players in the history of the sport making their debuts.

As such, rookie cards from this era are sought after by collectors and can fetch high prices at auction. 

This post will examine the fifteen most valuable basketball rookie cards from the 1970s. I'll explore values and the investment potential of each card.

If you're a long-time collector or a newcomer to basketball cards, this post will provide insight into some of the best vintage basketball cards from the 1970s.

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Topps dominated basketball card production in the 1970s. They were the only licensed basketball card manufacturer during the decade. Hence the rookie cards listed below were all issued by Topps.   

The cards below are listed in descending order based on overall value (using PSA 9 values). 

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"Pistol" Pete Maravich was one of the best playmakers in the history of the NBA. Unfortunately, his life tragically ended at 40 while playing in a pickup basketball game. To this day, Maravich is still considered one of the best point guards of all time.

The Maravich 1970-71 Topps 'Tallboy' rookie card is one of the must-own basketball rookie cards for collectors. The 1970-71 Topps set was Topps's second consecutive 'tall boy' release. The Maravich was also the most valuable rookie card from the 1970s. 

PSA has graded over 3500 Maravich rookie cards, so it's not by any means a hard to find card. Only 2 PSA 10 (Gem-Mint) copies exist, while 110+ have earned a PSA 9 (Mint) grade. Mint condition Maravich rookie cards have averaged over $20,000 at auction. 

Collectors can find low to mid grade Maravich rookies on eBay for under $1000.

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As with the Maravich rookie card, the Julius "Dr J" Erving rookie card is one of the holy grail rookies for basketball card collectors

It's a classic card from a visual perspective. Topps went with a colorful, retro design with an image of Erving in his ABA Virginia Squires. It's a classic.

Like the other rookie cards on this list, Erving's rookie card has plentiful supply. PSA has graded over 5,000 copies, making it an affordable buy for many collectors

There's only one PSA 10 (Gem-Mint) #195 Erving rookie card in existence and about 200 PSA 9 (Mint) copies. PSA 9 Erving rookie cards have averaged $20,000+, making it one of the most valuable basketball cards in the hobby.  

The good news? Ungraded or lower graded copies can be found on eBay for less than $100.  

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Bill Walton was one of the most beloved, respected, and talented players in the history of the NBA. Walton is one of only four players in the history of basketball to have won multiple NCAA and multiple NBA Championships.

Walton's 1974-75 Rookie card is the most valuable basketball card in the 1974-75 Topps set. A great set which also features the rookie card of 'Ice Man' George Gervin.

The young big man is shown here shortly after his selection as the #1 pick in the 1974 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers

PSA has graded over 1,500 copies of Walton's rookie card. Three have earned a PSA 10 (Gem-Mint) grade, with another 150 or so graded PSA 9 (Mint).

Mint copies of Walton's rookie card sell for over $3000, but mid to high grade copies can easily be purchased for $500 or less on eBay

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Before Pat Riley got his start as one of the most successful NBA head coaches, he was a guard for nine seasons in the NBA. Riley wasn't a star, but he was a good player, finishing his career averaging over 7 points a game. 

Most collectors buying the 1970-71 Topps Pat Riley rookie card are doing so based on his coaching career. In LA, Riley won four championships during the Lakers heydays of the 1980s, teams that featured Magic Johnson and Kareem. Riley also won another championship as head coach of the Miami Heat in 2006.

Pat Riley's rookie card has only been graded 900 times by PSA, and the card's large size has made the cards quite condition sensitive. There are no PSA 10 copies and only 14 PSA 9 copies. Thus, scarcity at the PSA 9 grade makes the Riley rookie card one of the most valuable issues of the 1970s.  Recent sales of PSA 9 copies have averaged $3000 at auction, but the last sale was in 2021. 

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The "Ice Man" George Gervin was a big time star, and one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history. Gervin was a four time scoring champ, 12x NBA All-Star, finishing with an NBA career average of over 26 points per game. 

Gervin's 1974-75 Topps Rookie card is the second most valuable card in the set, behind only the Bill Walton rookie card. PSA has graded 1400 copies, with four PSA 10 copies and only 90 PSA 9 (Mint) copies. 

A PSA 9 Gervin rookie on average sells for around $3000 or more. Good news is that collectors can buy mid to higer grade Gervin rookie cards for less than a few hundred dollars

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Moses Malone's 1975-76 Topps Rookie card won't win any awards for design. The Topps set featured full size card photos and the image quality is pretty fuzzy, and to say the least ugly.  

PSA has graded over 2000 Moses Malone rookie cards, with 38 earning a Gem-Mint, PSA 10 grade, and over 450 PSA 9 (Mint) grades. Perfect, PSA 10 copies have sold for over $40,000, whereas a PSA 9 sells for around $1000 on eBay.

I like the investment potential on a PSA 9 Malone rookie, given that the population is still light (under 500 copies exist)

rick-barry-rookie-card

Rick Barry might be one of the most underrated basketball players in history. How so? 

Well, for starters, Barry is the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA, and NBA in scoring. He was a nine-time NBA All-Star and was named to the All-NBA First Team four times.

Barry finished his ABA/NBA career averaging 25 points a game. Most remember Barry for his unique free throw shooting style, in which he shot the ball underhanded.

Barry's 1971-72 Topps card features him in his rookie year as a member of the New York Nets. That year, Barry finished as the ABA scoring leader, averaging 31.5 points per game.

PSA has graded around 1300 copies of the Barry rookie card, with ten copies earning a perfect PSA 10 grade. Only 70 have received a PSA 9 Mint grade. 

The last PSA 10 Rick Barry rookie sold for over $28K at auction, which was near the market's peak in late 2021. I'm not sure it retains that value in today's market. The latest PSA 9 Rick Barry rookie cards have averaged between $2000 to $3000 at auction.  A good price, given the low quantity at that grade. 

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Like Pat Riley, Phil Jackson isn't known for his basketball skills but his expertise as a head coach in the NBA. Jackson coached the Michael Jordan-led lakers of the 1980s and 90s. And then the Lakers dynasty of the 2000s featured Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal

Jackson's 1972-73 Topps Rookie card features the young forward as a member of the New York Knicks. Jackson's rookie has over 1100 PSA graded copies, with only 4 PSA 10's and 80+ PSA 9 copies.

A Mint, PSA 9 copy of Jackson's rookie sells for between $2000 to $3000.

Step down from there and the card in mid grade is very affordable, often sold for under $100 on eBay.

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George McGinnis doesn't get the same attention as other stars of his era, but he should.  McGinnis tore up the ABA in his early years as a member of the Pacers. In 1974-75, McGinnis won the ABA MVP averaging 30 points a game.

He was a hard-nosed, strong athletic forward that was a big scorer and a great rebounder. He later joined the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, with Dr. J forming one of the best duos in the league. They both led the 76ers to the 1977 NBA Finals. 

His 1972-73 Topps rookie card isn't a top-tier rookie card for collectors, but has recently gained more popularity. It isn't hard to come by but doesn't have huge graded pop; PSA has graded only 400+ copies, with no PSA 10s and only 27 PSA 9 copies.

PSA 9's sell for between $2000 to $3000 at auction. Low to mid-grade copies, however, can be purchased for less than a few hundred dollars

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Bob McAdoo was a dominant force in the league during the 1970s and 1980s, winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 1972 and the NBA MVP  in 1975. McAdoo was a five-time NBA All-Star and a three-time NBA scoring champion, winning two NBA championships with the Lakers in the 1980s.  

McAdoo's 1973-74 Topps Rookie card is an unusual shot, as it looks like they caught Bob at the local high school. Nonetheless, it's a highly sought after rookie card with only 800 copies graded by PSA.  Only four have earned a PSA 10 grade, with another 85 copies grading a PSA 9. 

PSA 9 copies sell for between $1500 to $2000 but you can buy lower grade copies for under $100

lanier-rookie-card

Bob Lanier was one of the top big men during the 1970s, but knee injuries kept him from realizing his true potential. Despite injuries, Lanier lasted 14 years in the NBA, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Lanier was an eight time NBA All-Star and was elected to the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 1992. 

Lanier's rookie card is card #63 in the great 1971-72 Topps basketball set. The year before its issue, Lanier was the Pistons' #1 pick in the NBA Draft.

There are less than 1000 PSA graded Lanier rookie cards. Four have earned a PSA 10 Gem-Mint grade, whereas less than 100 have earned a PSA 9 (Mint). A Gem-Mint copy sold for over $20K at auction in 2021, but a PSA 9 copy averages between $1000 to $2000. 

Collectors can buy mid to high grade Lanier rookies graded by PSA for under $100. That's a great deal. 

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Adrian Dantley was a six-time NBA All-Star and won the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 1977. He was also a United States Olympic team member that won a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Most collectors don't know that Dantley had four straight seasons in which he averaged 30 points or more per game. Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain were the only others to do so. 

Dantley's 1977-78 Topps rookie card had a bit of a higher production run than many of the other early 70s Topps Basketball cards.  Still, only 800 cards have been graded by PSA

A PSA 9 copy sells for between $800 to $1000

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Nate "Tiny" Archibald was a diminutive but fearless leader on the court. Over the course of his 14 year NBA career, Archibald was a 6x NBA All-Star and won his only NBA championship as a key part of the Celtics teams of the early 1980s. 

Archibald's 1972-73 Topps Rookie card is one of the key rookie cards in the sets. Notably, Tiny's rookie card in PSA 9 condition sells for a bit more than former fellow Celtics teammate Dave Cowens. 

PSA 9 copies of Archibald's rookie card sell for $1500 to $2000

parish-rookie

The "Chief" Robert Parish was a huge part of the Boston Celtics domination throughout the 1980's, along with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.

Parish's 1977-78 Topps rookie card is one of the set's key cards, and PSA had graded nearly 2000 copies

Mint, PSA 9 copies of the Parish rookie card sell for $800 to $1000 at auction

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Topps came back with the oversized tall boy cards in 1975-76. David Thompson's rookie card is the highlight of the set. Thompson was another sight to behold on the court. 'Skywalker' as he was commonly known was a scoring machine.

One of only six players to score 70 points in a game. Thompson played only nine seasons in the ABA/NBA with the Nuggets and Sonics. Injuries and drug addiction led to the downfall of Thompson in his later years. 

Thompson's rookie card in most conditions is quite affordable.

A Mint, PSA 9 copy sells for around $1000, but even a PSA 8 sells for between $100 to $200

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