King of cards: LeBron rookie card goes for $1.8M

A 2003-04 LeBron James Upper Deck rookie Patch Parallel card sold at auction for $1.845 million on Sunday at Goldin Auctions to CEO Leore Avidar.

The price tag on the rare card sets a record for modern-day cards (recognized as cards produced in 1980 or later) and is the most any basketball card has ever sold for.

“If we were talking about a T206 [Honus] Wagner, or a 1952 [Mickey] Mantle, it probably wouldn’t be that much news,” said Ken Goldin, founder of Goldin Auctions. “But when you’re talking about a card that was literally produced 17 years ago and is for a guy still playing in the NBA, it’s just shocking news to a lot of people. It’s really where my particular industry has been going for several years.”

The record sale surpassed a previous record set in May when the same auction house sold a gem mint Bowman Draft Chrome Red Refractor Mike Trout signed rookie card for $922,500. The Trout card was one of only five produced and the highest graded.

The auction house has now helped break three modern card records this year alone when it sold a 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Logoman card featuring LeBron James and Michael Jordan for $900,000, the Trout card in May and the James card that was sold Sunday.

The Upper Deck rookie Patch Autograph set typically produced only 99 of each card, which included a patch of jersey from the player’s rookie season and an autograph on the card. This particular James card, however, was part of the Patch Autograph Parallel set that only produced the same number of cards corresponding to the number on the player’s jersey.

With James wearing No. 23, there were only 23 of this card produced, and since it was graded as a 9.5 mint gem by Beckett grading service, it was one of only two of these particular cards graded that high.

“There are only two of them, one of them is in private hands and the other was up for auction,” Goldin said. “So this really was the single best LeBron card that somebody could have hoped to get. It was very active bidding, a lot of bidders, and we’re happy with the results.”

The market for basketball cards has been steadily rising over the years, with more and more modern card sales taking place.

“At the present time, I would say that basketball in some cases is stronger than baseball and in other cases is neck-and-neck with baseball,” Goldin said. “I have a tremendous amount of overseas bidders from China; we’ve had bidders from the Middle East, bidders from Australia and from Europe. With baseball, it’s completely North American; it’s 99% from North America. With basketball, it could be as much as 50 to 60% overseas bidding because it’s more of a worldwide sport.

“It’s growing, and I believe potentially could have more growth than baseball in the collectability aspect of it.”

The same lot also sold a pair of Michael Jordan rookie-season, game-used shoes from 1984-85 for $369,000, as well as a Patch Parallel Autographed LeBron James card from 2004-05 for $246,000.

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