LeBron rookie card sells for record $5.2 million

    Hajducky is a reporter/researcher for ESPN The Magazine. He has an MFA in creative writing from Fairfield University and vehemently believes there was room for Jack on the door.

It’s good to be King.

Even amid the longest injured stretch of his Hall of Fame career, somehow LeBron James still managed to rewrite record books.

A 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection RPA (rookie patch autograph) parallel LeBron James card, numbered out of 23, was sold privately for $5.2 million with PWCC Marketplace. The Beckett Grading Services-graded 9 card (with a perfect 10 signature) claims the throne for most expensive basketball card, knocking off the $4.6 million one-of-one 2018-19 Panini National Treasures Luka Doncic Logoman RPA sold in March.

The sale ties the all-time record for any card with the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card purchased by Rob Gough this past January, also through PWCC.

It’s fitting that a LeBron RPA usurped Doncic’s. In February 2020 and then July 2020, respectively, more than one LeBron card held the record for most expensive basketball card: first a LeBron/Michael Jordan dual Logoman ($900,000) and another version of the same record-breaking LeBron parallel — albeit with a 9.5 BGS grade — both from the 2003-04 Exquisite Collection.

That 9.5 James, one of two ever graded that high by Beckett, sold for $1.85 million and was briefly the world’s most expensive sports card, until the famed 2009 Mike Trout Bowman Chrome Superfractor obliterated the record with its $3.94 million price tag in August.

The jump from $1.85 million to $5.2 million for essentially the same card speaks to how ascendant LeBron’s hobby stock still is, particularly his RPAs. It also speaks to the motivation of this particular buyer — who remains anonymous — and the UK-based seller.

“Exquisite was a revolutionary product when it came out in 2003,” said Jesse Craig, PWCC’s director of business development. “It was the most expensive retail product that had ever been released at $500 a box, and they were only made from 2003 to 2009; the rarity of those assets carries a lot of weight for collectors and investors today.”

Most owners of James’ rarest cards simply don’t want to part with them. At least not yet.

“The majority don’t want to sell,” Craig said. “There are a select few that want to capitalize on the rise of the market, but it has to be kind of the perfect storm for someone to release a card of this magnitude.”

One who’s not parting with his? Collector Aaron Davis. He was profiled by the New York Times in February for two of his James cards: a one-of-one 2003-04 Ultimate Collection LeBron Logoman RPA and, of course, a 9.5 BGS-graded version of the James record-breaking card.

He equated having the James one-of-one as having nabbed “LeBron’s whale” and has “no immediate plans to sell” yet.

“There are LeBron cards [still] out there, I would say, worth over $10 million,” Craig said. “And let’s be clear: There are three Mantle PSA 10s that, whenever they transact, will break every record there is. But, as a market, there are so many desirable cards that haven’t sold yet publicly.”

“It really helps when sales like these happen,” Craig continued. “It just instills confidence that there are really high-end buyers out there. And these cards are starting to get recognition as the pieces of fine art that they [are].”

As news reverberated through the industry on Monday, Craig’s phone pinged relentlessly, a flurry of texts from those who’ve patiently vaulted their LeBrons.

The overwhelming sentiment: Thanks for that.

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