Kobe Bryant Rookie Card (and Best Cards) Guide

Today, we’re shining the spotlight on a legend in the making, featuring the Kobe Bryant Rookie Card. Known for his incredible athleticism and competitive spirit, Kobe’s journey from a promising rookie to an NBA legend is captured in this iconic piece of sports memorabilia.

Bryant is celebrated as one of basketball’s all-time greats, securing five NBA titles and earning 18 All-Star selections. His illustrious career is highlighted by 15 All-NBA Team honors, 12 All-Defensive Team selections, the 2008 NBA MVP award, and two NBA Finals MVP accolades.

Kobe Bryant 2024

Recently, the Kobe Bryant Rookie Card has seen a surge in interest, thanks to a nostalgic wave among fans and collectors alike. As we celebrate the legacy of this basketball titan, keep an eye out for special editions and rare finds that are making their way into the market. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or new to the game, now is the perfect time to add a piece of sports history to your collection.

Find Kobe Bryant’s Cards on eBay

The Top 6 Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Value List

There are plenty of Kobe Bryant rookie cards out there, but here are my top six.

Also, it’s important to know that any prices mentioned are rough estimates and are based off prior sales data. Card prices have been rising steadily, so these prices may be somewhat off by the time you read this – but they’ll be in the ballpark. 


1996 Topps #138

The Topps rookie card is probably what people think of when they imagine a Kobe rookie card. The now iconic Topps Kobe Bryant rookie card shows a young Bryant attacking the rim, a move that NBA fans worldwide would get used to over the coming decades.

This card is one of the top cards of the 1990s and one that every basketball collector should have in their cabinet.

For your average collector, this would be the Kobe card to chase.

There are also a few other cool refractors and special editions of the card (like the NBA 50th-year set), but they all feature the iconic image of this card. So as long as you see this image of Kobe attacking some Minnesota Timberwolf at the rim, you’re in good stead.

I kid that this is the most essential Timberwolves card in the hobby (and I’m a fan!).

1996 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Refractor Rookie Card #138

The top-of-the-line when it comes to Kobe rookie cards is the Topps Chrome Refractor.

This is one of the most expensive cards in the hobby, and a refractor went for nearly $1.8 million at auction

So, you can say it’s a bit of a big deal.

Topps’ Chrome sets are loved among fans, and this retail-only set has become one of the critical sets in NBA collecting.

Chrome cards are prone to smudging and can be hard to grade at the highest level – even if you pull straight from the pack and send it to grading. There’s no guarantee that you’ll look at a 10 when the card’s graded.

This set also had the Youthquake insert, which for some reason, didn’t catch on like the base card.

1996 Finest Gold Atomic Refractor #269

If there’s two things I love, it’s amazing sports cards, and a cheesy play on words.

This Finest “Heir” cards cover both of those bases. The card is like a time machine, with the card art being very mid-90s. So you can image why it’s a collectors favorite these days.

The reverse slam that Kobe is throwing down on this card is also one of the best images used in all the Kobe rookie cards.

Being a Topps Finest card, it has the protective sleeve on it to protect the front of the card – the Topps Finest cards are incredibly sensitive, meaning that there aren’t as many mint cards out there as you’d think.

1996 Skybox E-X2000 Credentials #30

Coming in next here is this awesome card from Skybox. I don’t know what it is about Skybox, but I absolutely love their cards (you’ll probably notice me mention Skybox whenever I’m using an example on this blog).

To me, Skybox is peak 1990s.

Anyway, this parallel was limited to 499 and, sold on auction for over $20,000 in 2020 and the price will probably keep going up from here.

There aren’t too many of these cards in circulation with only four of them graded PSA 10, and another 20 rated PSA 9. So if you can get your hands on a PSA 10, odds are it’ll increase in value. Look for it on eBay and see if you can find any online.

There’s a few different Skybox Kobe rookies though, some at a lower price point.

1996 Score Board Silver Bryant Rookie Card

This might be my personal favorite card on this list. To me – this is cool. The pose. The dunk. And that auto is incredible.

(for those of you playing at home, an auto is an autograph)

There were only 325 of these cards made and I could only find four of those graded at a PSA 10. So, to me, that explains the price.

With the on-card auto, there’s an extra step with grading. I’ve seen a few BGS 9.5s with a 10 auto, which also went at around the 10k mark. However, there was a PSA 10 sold in 2020 for $17,000.

What sets this card back in the eye of some collectors is that it’s a prospect card, and not one with him at the Lakers. Along with that, the card is clearly from a photoshoot, which some collectors don’t like either.

It’s up to you though, I like the fact it’s different. I know others don’t though. And there’s no real right or wrong answer.

1996 Flair Showcase Legacy Row 0 #31 Bryant Rookie Card

I did a little homework on this card because – surprisingly, Flair’s 1996 offering isn’t in my wheelhouse.

They offered three stages of scarcity.

  • Row 2, which was the easiest to find
  • Row 1, which is a moderate level of scarcity
  • Row 0, which was the hardest to find

Or, as I’m going to call it- the Goldilocks approach to scarcity

Although, I guess the middle one isn’t “just right”.

Either way, if you can wrap your head around the tiered scarcity, there was still about 150 of these showcase cards in total. These were obviously outside the base card.

The card looks very 90s but still offers a design that’s different to many others that’ll feature today.

Honorable Mentions: Other Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards

Obviously, those cards are always going to be a pretty sound investment over time if that’s what you’re into. However, we all can’t afford 60k for a basketball card (no matter how cool it is).

So, I’ve done some homework for you, and I’ve found some other rookie cards that could be a good buy for those that don’t have a house deposit sitting in their back pocket.

To make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck, we’re only looking at cards that are graded on this list.

Sure, if you’re great at assessing a card’s value over the internet, you can buy ungraded cards and then grade them and make and increase their value. However, I’d much rather go with the certainty of buying graded cards – especially when you’re paying a decent price online.

I’ve seen too many people get cards damaged and whatnot in shipping.

If you’re new to this, you can read our beginners guide to card grading.

1996 Skybox E-X2000

This is the base version to the Skybox card that we mentioned earilier in the post. As you can see, there isn’t a whole lot different about this card. There’s a different color around the edges (green instead of white) and that’s about it.

One thing about these cards though, there seems to be an issue with them losing some of the shine and wearing on the edges – that means that there aren’t many that rate at a PSA 9 or 10. However, on the plus side, it does mean the the PSA 8s are a reasonable price and may actually hold some value – which doesn’t happen all the time.

1996 Bowmans Kobe Bryant Rookie #R23

The Bowmans Best card is a classic-looking basketball card which means it should get some carry-over value going forward.

One thing about the mid-90s card… some look a little too 90s. I don’t know if that’ll have an impact on re-sale going forward or not. It shouldn’t, but if it deters some buyers that will impact price.

This card on the other hand, should stand the test of time.

Full Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Checklist

All in all, there are nearly twenty different Kobe Bryant cards from his rookie season.

Here’s the list in no particular order.

  • 1996 Bowman’s Best Kobe Bryant RC #R23
  • 1996 Topps Stadium Club Kobe Bryant RC
  • 1996 Fleer Kobe Bryant RC #203
  • 1996 Hoops Kobe Bryant RC #281
  • 1996 Metal Kobe Bryant RC #137
  • 1996 UD3 Kobe Bryant RC #19
  • 1996 Collector’s Choice Kobe Bryant RC #267
  • 1996 E-X2000 Kobe Bryant RC #30
  • 1996 Finest Kobe Bryant RC #74
  • 1996 SkyBox Premium Kobe Bryant RC #55
  • 1996 Topps Draft Redemption Kobe Bryant RC #DP13
  • 1996 SP Kobe Bryant RC #134
  • 1996 Topps Kobe Bryant RC #138
  • 1996 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant RC #138
  • 1996 Flair Showcase Row 2 Kobe Bryant RC #31
  • 1996 Ultra Kobe Bryant RC #52
  • 1996 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant RC #58
  • 1996 Z-Force Kobe Bryant RC #142

Other Kobe Bryant Cards

So we’ve covered all of the Kobe rookie cards you can get, but perhaps you don’t want a rookie card because you can’t afford it, or you want something else from Kobe’s career.

There’s no doubt that Kobe’s career was full of milestones, and because of that, there’s an abundance of fantastic non-rookie cards that you can go for, too. These are some of the best ones you can find.

1997-98 E-X2001 Jambalaya Kobe Bryant #12

This might just be one of the flashiest cards you can get from the 1990s. Jambalaya is known as one of the biggest and most successful inserts into any of the sets in history. The success of this brand was further extended by the fact that it managed to cover both Kobe and Michael Jordan.

Along with the juicy colors, I like the action shot of Bryant on the card, which is just unique and different from anything else.

Of course, as you would expect from a Kobe Bryant card, this one can be expensive as hell. A big reason for that is because these Jambalaya cards pop up on a marketplace every full moon, so there’ll be many watchers and competitors and you’re going to have to spend big.

1997-98 Finest Gold Refractor Kobe Bryant #323

Did you know that Kobe is the first NBA player in history to have two of his numbers retired? That’s right, #8 and #24 are off the plate for any new Lakers player that might want to grab them.

Here on this 1997/98 Finest Gold Refractor card, you can find a Kobe still wearing his #8 jersey, which typified the first part of Black Mamba’s career.

There were only 289 of these Gold Refractors ever made, so that’s why I think this card is so expensive.

One thing you have to know when it comes to this Gold Refractor is that it will sell fast – and it will have watchers immediately. So even if you can afford it, you’re likely to face stiff competition from other bidders.

1997/98 Metal Kobe Bryant – Metal Universe and Precious Metal Gems #100/#81

Red or green?

I just want to let you know that there were 100 of these made in both colors, while the first 10 were made with the green foil, while the other 90 were made with the red foil.

Naturally, this means that the green one will be a bit more expensive and hard to find, but red foil can also command a relatively high price.

No matter which one you choose, you’ll have to keep a close eye on these because they don’t tend to age particularly well. Their single-colored foils can get scratched easily, and there might be a lot of counterfeit cards like this sold, so be careful with that.

Metal Universe were always one of the more popular card brands from the 1990s, and they have only increased their popularity over the years thanks to their scarcity. You might have a tough time finding one of these in an auction – but if you do, don’t expect them to come cheap!

There’s also the regular base Metal Universe from that year. You’ll never see these cards leading the lot numbers at the big auction houses, but they’re a lot of fun.

1998/99 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant Game Jerseys

Today, game jersey cards are as common as snow in the arctic, but back in the 90s, they were a completely new breed of cards.

Pulling one of these back in the day was like the ultimate prize… You would feel a big satisfaction knowing you have something that almost nobody else has. And if you could get a Bryant card with his jersey on, even better.

I still remember pulling my first jersey card – my hands were shaking and I think my heart definitely skipped a beat.

Look, this is one of the most legendary Kobe Bryant cards in history. It’s not his rookie card, but it’s still from an early part of his career and it’s fairly unique and progressive for its own time.

Upper Deck saw a tremendous opportunity to establish a market with game jerseys on their cards. And they succeeded first with the 1998/99 card, and then continued the success with this 1999/2000 game jersey card.

These were notorious back in the day because they were hard to get. You would get one of these every 7000 packs or so, which means only the lucky few got one of these.

Finding a listing will already prove to be a challenge on its own, but finding a GOOD listing even more so…

Because there are many un-graded cards that are going to cost you an arm and a leg, but you can’t really know what you’re buying so take caution with those listings.

These are rare as hell today…

So much so that you’ll need some luck even finding a listing for one of these, let alone buying it. For example, as soon as I saw a listing for one of these cards, it already had more than 50 watchers and the listing was relatively new.

This card is for the $15.000+ club only.

2000 UD Authentics Auto Kobe Bryant

Autographed Kobe cards are still some of his most popular cards. It adds a personal touch that makes your card feel special and different from the rest.

This Upper Deck Authentics card has a lot going for it. I quite like the wooden floor design going on in the background, as it just reminds me of a basketball court.

Then there’s the autograph, obviously. This is by far the most appealing factor for getting this card, and it’s getting a lot of love, even by today’s standards. Despite the fact that it’s a hard find, you’ll find dozens of watchers looking to steal this card from under your nose.

You just can’t go wrong with an autographed Kobe Bryant card.

2008-2009 Topps Chrome Xfractor #24 Kobe Bryant with Lebron James

Two basketball legends square off against each other on this card. There’s absolutely no doubt that this is Kobe’s most popular card from recent years by FAR.

It’s still selling like hot cakes, though. If you come across this card, there are two problems that you’ll have to come up against:

There are almost 200 watchers for this card (at least when I looked at one listing I found on eBay)
The card will cost more than $30.000, and in some cases, even more than that (I’m talking about gem-mint cards; lower graded cards might be a bit more friendly to your wallet)

So there will be challenges that you’ll have to go through to get this card.

If you’re willing to accept a lower graded card, then you’ll not need to pay as much. But if you’re something of a perfectionist, then you need to open up your purse widely or else you can just forget about this card.

2009/2010 National Treasures Notable Nicknames Kobe Bryant Auto

Again, it’s one of the most popular Kobe cards because it has an autograph, but it’s also the National Treasures brand which only increases its price.

In fact, almost any card by National Treasures of the Black Mamba will command a big price, and a big following, too. What’s more, these cards are limited to 99, so there will be a struggle for you to get your hands on one of these.

If you want to go even further, you can opt for the MVP variety of this card. However, that version was limited to only 35 copies and will be even more expensive than the already expensive base card.

But even if the card is not in everyone’s price range, you just can’t deny it looks superb.

It’s just so elegant and classy, which is a distinct feature of the National Treasures brand, of course. These cards are also notorious for being pricey as hell, and pair that with the fact that it has Kobe on it, and you’ll see this card sell for dizzying amounts.

2019/20 Impeccable Illustrious Ink Kobe Bryant Auto

The 2019/20 Impeccable card is super rare, as there were only 5 copies of the Illustrious Ink variation.

This variety is famous for its autograph and for the fact that it’s one of the last Kobe cards ever made.

If you don’t have at least $15.000 lying around somewhere, you can just forget about it.

There are almost 200 watchers at the time of writing, although these cards will only pop up every few months or even years. This card is perhaps his most famous card from recent years.

Other Kobe Bryant Cards to Consider

There are loads of other Kobe Bryant cards from various parts of his career that you can consider.

In general, these are some of the most sought-after cards that you can also go after:

  • Any National Treasures card. These tend to sell well but they’re on the high end of prices.
  • Flawless or Immaculate cards of Kobe are also hugely popular, but then again, they’re super rare and ultimately might be too expensive for most collectors.
  • Any autographed cards
  • Metal Universe cards if you want a Kobe Bryant card from the 90s. This was the most popular card company back in those days (or one of the most popular, anyway)

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Kobe Bryant Cards Good Investments?

I’m not one to really give investment advice when it comes to sports cards. However, Kobe cards are constantly some of the top-selling and for the highest price. He is one of those guys who was one of the biggest names in the game, and he has continued to grow in stature over time.

He was one of the biggest stars of his generation, and all the people who grew up watching him are now entering adulthood and can will be interested in his cards.
He’s also a Lakers legend, which certainly helps. A big name player who was the face of the biggest team in the NBA is always a solid investment choice.

Which Kobe Bryant Cards Are Worth Money?

Kobe rookie cards are probably the best bet for cards that are worth money. Like any player, rookie cards will be the best investment. No matter how many years someone plays in the league, they only have one rookie year. So that means they’re easily the hardest to find.

With that, limited print rookie cards are worth even more – these are cards that were only printed a few hundred times and over the years those cards were destroyed, were lost etc… Now, those cards are the ones that get top dollar.

How Do I Know if a Kobe Bryant Card is Fake?

It is not easy to tell if a sports card is fake. The only way to be sure is to have it checked by an expert. If you are not confident about a card, take it to a professional. There are however, some things that you can look for that may help determine if the sports card is fake or not.

One thing to look for is a glossy surface. Fake cards will have a matte surface and low-quality paper. Another thing to look for is a missing signature on the card or one that doesn’t match up with the other signatures that have been on other cards.

The more information that gets our there uncovering fake cards, and knowing what to look for, the better the fakes become. So it’s always a constantly evolving art.

Usually though, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to find a $10k Kobe card for $100 anywhere.

What is the Rarest Kobe Bryant Card?

There are plenty of very rare Kobe Bryant cards. These days, card companies create a short-print cards. There are plenty one-of-one Kobe Bryant cards over the years – by design these are the rarest card, with only one ever made.

How Many Different Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards are There?

16. There are sixteen key Kobe Bryant rookie cards. They are mostly all traditional base cards because the countless autographed or serial numbered cards we see today had not become the norm in cards.

What are Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Worth?

Kobe Bryant rookie cards can have a wide range of costs depending on the card, and the grade. I’ve seen a lot of great graded cars at the $1,000 – $2,000 mark. You can spend less if you like too if you want to buy ungraded or less valued cards. If you want the top end though, the sky is the limit when it comes to cards – with some selling for upwards of seven figures.

What is the Most Expensive Kobe Bryant Rookie Card?

The 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card is the most expensive rookie card. Topps Chrome are the peak of Topps cards, who had the rights at the time. This card has sold for well over a million dollars before. That sale made the card the most expensive basketball card ever sold at the time.

How Many Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Exist?

According to TCDB, there’s 101 different Kobe Bryant rookie card. That number includes all the different parallels and whatnot. When you consider that many of the base cards back then were printed in excess – there’d have been hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of Kobe rookie cards printed. However, the number of cards that exist today would obviously be fewer as general wear and tear happens over time.

Final Thoughts

Kobe Bryant rookie cards are a pricey, but great investment going forward. You may not be able to afford the 80k for the most expensive Kobe Bryant rookie card, but owning any  Kobe rookie card is an awesome addition to any basketball collection.

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  • Vince

    I'm a big time sports nerd, with soccer being my first true love. I've been collecting sports cards since I was a little kid, and now... well, not much has changed, but I write about it... and I have facial hair.

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