As we noted in our discussion of The Rarest Baseball Card of All Time, identifying the rarest basketball card of all time is a challenge.
The reason? Over the history of basketball cards, many oddball misprints, or error cards or type cards were produced that have a very, very low population.
In addition, basketball truly had a late start in terms of becoming a mainstream sport (as compared to baseball); hence, the first widely produced basketball sets didn't begin until 1948.
Thus, in answer this question, I like to focus first on the players that people care about, thus avoiding the common players that might be rare but aren't really in demand aside from set builders.
In addition due to the dearth of early mainstream basketball card sets, we need to also examine some of the regional basketball card issues.
Case in point, the 1968 Topps Test Basketball set, that was a 'test' by Topps, and never released to the general collecting public at large.
Still, the hard to find cards were produced by Topps and thus, this is a set that people certainly care about.
The 1968 Topps Test Bill Russell Card Is Quite Rare
PSA has graded only nine copies of the '68 Topps Test Bill Russell card (SGC has graded none).
Thus in terms of cards produced by major card manufacturers, the rarest basketball card of all time is the 1968 Topps Test Basketball Bill Russell card, which has a total of nine PSA graded copies.
There are also many regional basketball card issues from the 1950's that are quite scarce.
The 1950 Scott's Potato Chips George Mikan IS A Tough Card To Find
Although not as scarce as the Russell Topps Test card, the 1950 George Mikan card issued by Scott's Potato Chips is one of the more challenging cards of the HOF big man.
PSA has graded 15 copies and SGC only 6 for a grand total of 21 graded cards.
Another popular issuer of cards during the 1950's and 1960's was Kahn's Weiners, and some sets are quite rare.
One of the most popular Kahn's issues during this time as the the 1960 Kahn's Weiners Jerry West card, which predates his 1961 Fleer card and is one that some consider to be his rookie card.
However, the population reports tell us, that while scarce, the 1960 Kahn's Jerry West card is not exactly rare, as the grading companies have graded the card a total of 32 times.
However, in examining some of the earlier Kahn's issues, there are definitely some tougher to find cards. The first two Kahn's issues (1958-1959) are tough to find, especially in good condition. Note that the cards were issued in packages of Kahn's hotdog and are prone to staining.
However, each ten card set featured only Cincinnatti Royal players, and none are as recognizable as the later Kahn's sets which featured the likes of West and Oscar Robertson.
The 1961 Bell Brand Potato Chip Cards Of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor Might Indeed Be The Rarest Basketball Cards Of All Time
Again, we have to turn to a regional issue - in this case, another potato chip issued card. The Bell Brand snacks company was a California based company that issued cards in packs of potato and corn chips. They were more focused on baseball cards and issued cards of local favorites the LA Dodgers from 1958-1962.
The company's lone basketball card issue in 1961 is considered by many to be one of the toughest sets to locate. The distribution was regional as the set features only cards of the Lakers. The Jerry West card from the Bell Brand set is nearly impossible to find.
There are only three PSA graded West cards. SGC has not graded any copies, thus less than a handful are known to exist.
Note that just based on PSA population reports, the Elgin Baylor card in the set could indeed be rarer. PSA has only graded one Baylor card (versus three for West).
Thus, in terms of regional basketball card issues, the 1961 Lakers Bell Brand Jerry West and Elgin Baylor cards are considered to be the rarest basketball cards of all time.
Do you have an old basketball card that might be rarer than any of the cards mentioned here? Let us know in the comments section below.