Highest-Priced Basketball Memorabilia

Don't Turn Over a Fortune by Mistake

Highest-Priced Basketball Memorabilia
September 21, 2015

Have you cleaned out an attic lately and found a basketball autographed by some kid at the University of North Carolina named Jordan? You may want to hang onto that and get it appraised. The original Magic Mike can bring in the big bucks.

Michael Jordan basketball collectables (pictured below) are some of the highest-priced pieces of sport memorabilia because of their high market demand. A game-used jersey from his North Carolina days sold for $114,000, and his 1986-1987 Fleer rookie card sells for $100,000 in mint condition and in the $300,000 range if autographed. Unfortunately, this may also be the most counterfeited card in existence based on price and demand.

Older basketball cards and souvenirs tend to be more valuable, simply for the scarcity. There is plenty of LeBron James memorabilia available on the market costing thousands of dollars, and that keeps the price from heading into the tens of thousands. For example, the game-used jersey from Wilt Chamberlain's hundred-point game in 1961-1962 — yes, kids, Wilt the Stilt scored 100 points in a real live NBA game — recently sold for over $130,000, while the 1948 card of George Mikan, the gentle giant of the then-Minneapolis Lakers (pictured below), sold for $218,550.

If you do happen to stumble across basketball memorabilia in your attic or old collection that your eccentric uncle bequeathed to you, the first order of business is to assess its value honestly. For any potentially valuable pieces, it is best to have it appraised by a professional. However, you can do a reasonable first-pass assessment of value using online resources, especially eBay.

Start by understanding what you have. Card values can be looked up online by the card manufacturer (which will be noted on the back of the card) and by the year (look on the back for the last year of statistics, then add a year). Multiple price guides and sports collectable auction sites, as well as eBay, are available for price comparisons. Signed jerseys, basketballs, and old programs can also be priced on those sites.

Do not overlook college memorabilia. Many collegiate fan bases pay top dollar for souvenirs from hometown heroes, even if they never went on to NBA stardom.

Evaluate the condition of any collectables carefully. It makes a huge difference in card prices at the highest levels. Well-centered cards with sharp corners are preferred, with no creases, scratches or markings, except for legitimate autographs. Look for legibility and location of the signature with signed basketballs or jerseys, and try to establish authenticity by whatever means possible. Otherwise, you leave it in the hands of an appraiser who may or may not have a vested interest in lowballing you.

Your most likely valuable finds are from the 1986-1987 Fleer trading cards set. Unlike baseball cards from that era, basketball cards had been almost completely absent from the market. Topps halted production after the 1981-1982 season, making a Fleer's set full of five years’ worth of "rookie cards," including the Jordan rookie, highly valuable.

Finally, do not assume that it must be a card, an autographed basketball, or a jersey to be valuable. Ticket stubs (especially unredeemed ones) for important games, programs, promotional items, and other objects can have disproportionate value. The card company Upper Deck actually purchased the wood floor from Michael Jordan's final championship game in the Delta Center for a cool $1 million — not that you are likely to find a piece of that in your attic.

To illustrate this point, the most expensive piece of basketball memorabilia sold is not a basketball, an autograph, a card, or a jersey. Dr. James Naismith's original manuscript on the founding rules of basketball sold for over $4.3 million in 2010. Take that, Michael and LeBron.

Basketball cards by Hgrobe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons | Michael Jordan memorabilia by Marcin Wichary [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

  Conversation   |   32 Comments

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Kamie | 09.19.15 @ 04:01
I think I have basketball items still at my old family home with my parents.
Nancy | 09.19.15 @ 04:19
When I think of sports memorabilia, it doesn't usually involve basketball. It makes sense that there would be a market for it though.
Steffanie | 09.19.15 @ 04:39
My brother and Dad have collected a lot of Larry Bird memorabilia.
Leah | 09.19.15 @ 04:42
Not a big fan of basketball. But I imagine that some things go for a lot.
Heather | 09.19.15 @ 04:55
Never really got into basketball, but I know people who do collect their favorite team memorabilia.
Elaine | 09.19.15 @ 05:30
Never collected basketball cards, but wish I would have with those money amounts.
Apryl | 09.19.15 @ 05:35
Lots of money for 'things'...lil sad actually
Katie Greene | 09.19.15 @ 05:44
Hmm, I should go dig through my old boxes. I could swear I still have a set of pogs from taco bell when I was a kid that had Michael Jordan on them
Beverly | 09.19.15 @ 05:47
I remember when basketball cards were the thing to collect. You don't hear about that much anymore. There is definitely some big money in the right memorabilia.
Debbie | 09.19.15 @ 07:13
I have boxes and boxes of sports cards, baseball and basketball. I tried to go through them once but it was too overwhelming looking each one up. Any suggestions?
Jo Ann | 09.19.15 @ 07:26
I just think of how many mothers cleaned out their attic and the disappointment on the son's face when he discovers what she has done. I wish i had an old collection but alas I don't . Time to dig in the attic all you collectors.
Alec | 09.19.15 @ 08:51
It's amazing how much sports memorabilia will sell for. Although most fans who collect and end up having said things worth a lot tend to hold on to them for an extremely long time. It makes me wish my family had been in the basketball though.
irene | 09.19.15 @ 09:51
It's incredible to me that anyone would be willing to pay that much.
trish | 09.19.15 @ 10:28
We have a ton of MJ memorabilia stored in the attic! My husband is a huge fan. Not sure any will get us the money in these articles, but there are plenty that are worth way more than he paid for them when he got them.
Erin | 09.19.15 @ 10:37
Basketball isn't one I follow much, but to the right collector there is a lot more of value in some of these things. Great article.
Ambar | 09.19.15 @ 11:18
I didn't know people were willing to pay that much for basketball memorabilia. The more you know.
STOKES | 09.19.15 @ 11:24
I wish I had valuable memorabilia, but I just have old baseball cards.
Ron | 09.19.15 @ 11:27
I wouldn't think to even give basketball.gear a look unless it is from the superstars of yesteryear such as Wilt the Stilt, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, or Michael Jordan.. The king of sports history will always be baseball to me.
Selena | 09.19.15 @ 11:32
Now I wish I had collected more baseball memorabilia.
Angie | 09.19.15 @ 12:08
Amazing! Guess any friends who borrowed a jersey off of these fellows could kick themselves for returning them!
Daniel | 09.19.15 @ 12:20
It is crazy the prices some items are valued at
Christina | 09.19.15 @ 12:22
Time to go digging see what I can find...
George | 09.19.15 @ 12:34
My dad and I collected a few things while I was growing up. I need to look them up see if there worth anything.
Britt | 09.19.15 @ 12:47
I used to collect cards back when I was a kid.
Britt | 09.19.15 @ 12:52
That is an insane amount of money for cards!
Carla | 09.19.15 @ 13:33
I guess it does pay to hang on to sports memorabilia. I have a few baseball cards from years ago around here somewhere.
Meredith L | 09.19.15 @ 13:36
I don't have any basketball memorabilia but I do have some football cards that I should be looking through.
Jackie | 09.19.15 @ 13:54
I grew up in Indiana and love basketball. I have Larry Bird and Reggie Miller memorabilia.
Chrisitna | 09.19.15 @ 14:01
It's crazy how much people will pay for some of this stuff....
Tina | 09.19.15 @ 14:11
I have a set of Team USA basketball cards that came in a McDonald's Happy Meal when I was a kid. Doubt those are worth much, though :-)
Owen | 09.19.15 @ 14:30
If only I had listened when my mom said it would be worth money someday.
Kathryn | 09.19.15 @ 15:17
I played basketball all through school, had the cards and mini figurines of the players. Most of it was sold off in a garage sale though. :/
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 11.27.20 @ 05:24