The 1990s was a golden era for basketball cards, with some of the most valuable cards around being produced. That’s no surprise considering the immense talent on the NBA courts during the 90s, including many players who began their careers in the mid-80s and hit their stride in the early 90s: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Karl Malone, just to name a few. Jordan was in his prime and that alone would make for a lot of valuable cards. Some notable up-and-coming players joined in the 90s, too, like Shaquile O’Neal, Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, and - of course - Kobe Bryant.
With all of that talent shooting hoops, it was a great time for high-value basketball cards. In this guide, we will take a look at the 10 most valuable basketball cards of the 1990s.
The Top 10 Most Valuable Basketball Cards from the 1990s
Considering that this era featured two of the greatest basketball players ever, it’s not surprising that they are dominant on this list. While Michael Jordan hit his stride in the 1990s, Kobe Bryant was just starting out. While his glory days were in the 2000s, Kobe Bryant rookie cards have increased in value massively after his untimely death in 2020
As distinguished as the rest of the 1990s NBA champs were, the value that their trading cards command pales in comparison to Air Jordan and the Black Mamba, so you won’t find too many more players on this list.
10. 1998-99 Metal Universe Championship Precious Metal Gems Kobe Bryant #86 - $144,000
Looking back, it’s hard not to imagine the Black Mamba not in some furious motion on the court. The Precious Metal Gems series continued to capture exceptional action shots with scarce populations, helping drive these cards to the highest values from the era. This airborne shot of Kobe Bryant perfectly captures his physicality and passion for the game, all backed up by a multicolor background that complements his gold and purple Lakers uniform. Back in April 2022, a BGS 9 copy sold for $144,000, adding yet another PMG card to our Top 10 list.
9. 1998-99 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Michael Jordan #1 - $192,000
The second year of the Precious Metal Gems series, with their intentional scarcity, produced more exceptional and valuable cards, but with new color variations and slightly larger populations. This thrilling shot of ‘his Airness’ towering over a hapless defender captured over a citrine background is surely part of the reason for this card selling for $192,000 in September 2022. Another big money sale for a card featuring the GOAT that evokes that golden era of basketball.
8. 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald Tim Duncan #66 - $218,400
Another high-value Precious Metal Gems card here, this time for the amazing power forward, Tim Duncan. Duncan spent his entire illustrious career on the San Antonio Spurs, winning five NBA Finals titles, and numerous scoring awards. This PMG card from early in his career is quite rare and it’s another exceptional card from this series. Duncan’s focused look while in motion is a great example of 1990s-style photography, which is all the more dazzling on the field of emerald common or the PMG series. In April of 2021, a BGS 8 Near Mint-Mint condition copy sold for over $200,000, landing him a rare spot on our list among cards from the other greats in 1990s basketball.
7. 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Kobe Bryant Autograph #31 - $403,664
This list has so many Precious Metal Gems cards on it that it almost feels like we should include the set’s name in the subtitle. Another exceptional Kobe Bryant card, the Black Mamba is in full motion set against the rich ruby background on this valuable card. While this copy, which sold in June 2021 for over $400,000 is a PSA 9 with an authenticated autograph, an unsigned copy sold the month before for more than $250,000. That gives us some idea of how much an autograph from the late superstar will add in value to a signed card.
6. 1996 Flair Showcase Legacy Row 0 #31 - $430,500
Fleer’s premium line, the Flair series, features arresting imagery with a quirky tiered system of rarity called Rows. Row 0, the Showcase level, was the rarest and most valuable. With only 150 copies of each card in the set, these cards are highly valued by collectors for both their scarcity and their unusual designs.
While prices for near mint and mint copies have fluctuated between five and six figures, a BGS 10 Pristine copy sold in May 2021 for $430,500. The other Rows of this card are also quite valuable and worth looking up.
5. 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems (Red) #23 Michael Jordan - $564,000
This exceptional card from the high-value Precious Metal Gems series of cards shows Michael Jordan as so many of us remember him - Airborne. The unstoppable Jordan is beautifully captured on top of a field of red in this limited edition series, invoking that final year with the Chicago Bulls where they’d fight to win one more NBA Finals.
While a few minty copies have sold in the last few years for between $230,000 and $480,000, we’re highlighting the July 2022 BGS 8.5 Near-Mint Mint+ copy sold for over half a million dollars. Keep in mind that this was the larger-sized set from this exclusive print run. Spoiler alert: The green version has yet to come on our list.
4. 1996-97 SkyBox Kobe Bryant E-X2000 Credentials #30 (#260/499) - $602,400
The 1996-1997 Skybox E-X2000 basketball cards were dynamic cards with awesome action photography. The "Credentials" variants were numbered to 499 and featured die cut images of the players along with off-white colored foil borders framing the dynamic action shots. This stellar card with a PSA Gem Mint 10 rating hit a $602,400 value in October 2021.
3. 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems #23 Michael Jordan - $915,000
On a list full of exceptional and expensive cards, including a ton from the super-limited Precious Metal Gems collection, this is the cream of the crop and valued at almost a million dollars. The same card just a couple of slots down, with a flying Michael Jordan about to score, is instead shown on the more limited field of green. The dark emerald color makes Jordan pop, but it’s a matter of opinion about whether the red shows off this monumental shot better or not. Regardless, the value of this card is higher due to the scarcity, with a PSA 10 authenticated copy selling in December 2020 for over $900,000.
2. 1996 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Kobe Bryant - $1,752,000
This 1996 Topps Chrome Refractors card is as good as it gets for Kobe Bryant fans. It’s Kobe in motion and this particular copy earned the coveted BGS 10 Pristine rating. This is unusual, especially with a 10 rating for all four sub-categories. That’s so rare that BGS notes that only two copies of this card have been awarded this ‘perfect’ rating. It’s no wonder that it fetched $1.75 million in March 2021, making it the most valuable Kobe Bryant rookie card.
While you’ve seen plenty of Kobe Bryant cards on this list, you can get a comprehensive look at the most expensive Kobe Bryant rookie cards on our blog here.
1. 1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey #GJ13 Michael Jordan Signed NBA All-Star Game Used Patch Card (#21/23) - $2,052,000
What’s not to love about this amazing Upper Deck card? The high value makes sense when you see its limited population, that it includes a All-Star game jersey piece, and it’s signed by the legendary Jordan himself. With that combo, it’s no surprise that a PSA 8 copy of this exceptional card sold for over $2 million dollars in May 2021.
The 1990s: A Great Era for Basketball and Valuable Basketball Cards
That concludes our list of the top 10 most valuable basketball cards from the golden 1990s era of basketball. While two particular players obviously dominated our list, there are plenty of cards from other brilliant players like Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and more with high value cards to round out your collection. Remember that cards from that era should be graded and sealed on a slab if you want to protect their value long-term.
Some would say that the design of sports cards took a big leap forward in the 1990s, with more dynamic action shots and use of color to frame cutout images. That passion for capturing the physical motion on the field surely helped drive up the value of cards from the 1990s. That commitment made it a great period for collectors to seek cards from, whether for investing in high value cards or just for fun. Happy collecting!