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I have a very specialized rating and grading system on how famous an athlete is. The mom test.
Basically, if my mom recognizes a player – they’re famous. If she knows who they are without me having to show her a photo – he’s super famous.
LeBron James fits into that second category.
LeBron is arguably the greatest player of all time, if unarguably in the top two or three (depending on your thoughts on Kareem). He also played in some big markets during his career too, along with being a well known figure in the general public.
So, his rookie card prices are as stacked as the top end on the 2003 NBA draft he was a part of.
P.S. Remember when ill-fitting suits were a thing? Weird
When looking at LeBron James rookie card value, there’s a lot of cards to consider. In this article, we’ll look at the best LeBron rookie cards on the market.
The Best LeBron James Rookie Card: Topps 2003 #221
It’s funny – a lot of the time, draft day cards that show the player in thier suit aren’t really collected that much in the hobby.
However, this LeBron card is different.
This card, for me, is the most accessable LeBron James rookie card option for the majority of collectors. The card isn’t super expensive (compared to others you’ll see in this list) and it’s pretty easy to find.
If you’re buying your first LeBron rookie card, then this is a good option.
Don’t get me wrong, this card won’t be a super high end one any time soon – like I said, there’s plenty more of those later in this article – but it’s a good start.
Other LeBron Rookie Card Options
Below we’ll deep dive into some of the key LeBron James rookie cards, and other early cards of the great man.
1. 2003 Exquisite Collection LeBron James Rookie Card Patch Auto
The 2003 Exquisite Collection LBJ rookie card is among the top 3 most expensive cards in the basketball card collecting world. Some would even say that it’s only behind some MJ cards in terms of popularity.
It was a revolutionary card in many ways when it came out back in 2003. It was sold in $500 packs which some collectors initially scoffed at… Today, we’d give everything just to be able to enter a time machine and transport us back just to buy that pack.
How times change…
And considering the players that were drafted in 2003, the pack represented incredible value, since you could also get a Carmelo Anthony card, as well as Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Oh, and one more thing: this card was numbered to 99 copies, so they’re increasingly hard to get nowadays.
It pains me to say but this card will only be obtainable for those with a massive budget.
2. 2003 Ultimate Collection LeBron James Rookie Auto #127
There is one general rule when it comes to early 2000s rookie cards, and that is the fact that autographed cards tend to go for far more than other general cards. And as always, the limited print runs are more expensive.
The Ultimate Collection card of LBJ from 2003 demonstrates both of those points nicely.
It was one of the first cards to sell just one pack per box, and what you got was always of the very highest quality. Many card companies followed suit, but UD were one of the first companies that started this “premium” approach.
The result is this beauty with an on-card signature and a limited print run of 250. Those two factors alone are enough to justify the monstrous prices the card goes for (often more than $100.000).
But there’s another “feature” of this card that needs mentioning, and it’s the back of the card. It doesn’t have an LBJ biography on it, which was the norm for most LeBron James rookie cards – but rather a congratulations from the CEO of the card company.
And you know you’ve received something special when that happens!
3. 2003 Ultimate Collection Ultimate Logos Signature 1/1
I prefer to show you only cards with enough printed cards that you’ll be able to get one yourself, but I’m willing to make an exception with this one…
The 2003 Ultimate Collection Ultimate Logos Signature card only had one copy to it, and it last sold in 2016 for a whopping $312.000.
It might be worth even more today which makes it one of the most, if not the most, valuable LBJ rookie card.
The problem, of course, is that it won’t be available to your average card collector. It’s bound to become a card that gets bought by a millionaire or a Hollywood star, so unless you have half a million or something like that to spare… Forget about it.
4. 2003 Topps Chrome & Topps Chrome Refractors LeBron James RC #111
The norm in the card collecting world is that rare or autographed cards always sell for more than the mass-sold cards.
Well, the Topps Chrome card defies that theory, because the base Topps Chrome LBJ rookie card is among the most valuable rookie cards you can get. Of course, the refractors will sell for much more than the base card.
Topps Chrome has just become such a staple for rookie cards that when I think about a LeBron James rookie card, this card instantly pops out in my mind.
So it’s fair to say that investing into one of these is as solid an investment as they get. If you were to pick one single safest
LeBron rookie card to invest in, this is the one I would recommend. The base card sells for five-figure sums but the refractors tend to go for much more than that.
Most Refractors go for six-figure amounts while the Gold and Black refractors might reach even higher values than that.
5. 2003 SP Authentic LeBron James RC #148
Again, the SP Authentic cards show us that rarity is not always king when it comes to cards. There’s a few reasons as to why this card keeps its enormous price tag (at least $50.000).
Firstly, it’s a LeBron rookie card which in itself means that the card will go for crazy amounts (you might have noticed a pattern so far – LeBron James rookie cards will keep their value and will be expensive no matter what).
Secondly, the card has an autograph, which only increases the value.
Besides, SP as a card company has a good reputation with rookie card collectors and set builders, and is seen as one of the first premium card companies overall, and the 2003 LBJ rookie card spearheads this reputation.
Again, this is a card that almost guarantees that it will keep its value if not increase in value as years roll on, so it presents a solid investment if you can afford it.
6. 2003 SP Inkredible Inkscriptions LeBron James
This card sells for well over $100.000 and might only increase in value with years. Considering the tradition of SP cards, it’s highly likely this card will only keep getting more and more valuable.
There were only 25 copies originally of this card so finding it on the marketplace might be a struggle.
It’s one of those cards that don’t pop up very often because they’re unique in their own right and many collectors tend to keep it for themselves.
However, those who invest in it when it does come available will almost certainly get their money’s worth – if not immediately, then in a couple of years’ time.
7. 2003 SPx LeBron James RC #151
This SPx card is yet another indicator of the process that cards went through in the early 2000s, where many card companies started following the “premium” approach with their cards.
It’s got everything you’d expect on a premium card, even by today’s standards: an autograph, a jersey patch, and a limited print run – although this print run is not nearly as limited as of some other premium cards.
The only downside of this card as compared to other autographed cards is that the autographed is not on the card itself, but it’s rather entrapped in this small piece that’s attached to the card.
It’s still nice, though.
Even for the 8.5 BGS rating that you can see above, the card is selling for just north of $30.000, which just goes to show how valuable it can get.
Again, another card for the premium collectors.
8. 2003 Finest LeBron James Rookie Card #133
With a limited print run of 999, the Finest LBJ rookie card is among the rarest cards from one of the largest card companies out there.
Finest cards have always been known for dabbling with a more premium design but still staying relevant and accessible enough for the average collector.
At least the base card.
As for the refractors, you won’t be as lucky if you can only spare several thousand dollars. These refractors will cost north of $30.000 and potentially much more if found in the best conditions.
Not only do they look pretty, but they’re also rare and hard to find. For example, this Gold Refractor is among the most expensive Finest refractors. The most expensive refractor is the X-Fractor as there is just one copy of that card.
Here’s the gold refractor.
9. SkyBox LE LeBron James #118 /99
If you’re into die-cut cards, then this card will be right up your alley. While these cards are nice, the design is not the main reason as to why these cards sell so well and for so much.
Rather, it’s the fact that only 99 of these were ever made, meaning that it’s one of the rarest LeBron James rookie cards out there.
This means that when speaking about generally available cards in packs, this one is tied up with Exquisite in terms of rarity, as both had only 99 copies.
And you know that rarity dictates a higher price, and that’s the case with this SkyBox LE card here. It will cost you well into five figures if you can find one in decent condition, that is.
10. 2003 Upper Deck Finite LeBron James RC #242 /200
From here on, you’ll see the scarcity in full action again. The rarer the card is, the more it will cost, which is a given.
This Upper Deck card confirms that. While it isn’t the prettiest of LBJ cards by any means, it can still cost into five figures mainly because there were only 200 of these ever made.
It was still meant as a more premium release, though. So if you’ve got the bucks to pay the bills, you’d be able to buy this one. Otherwise, it’s best to scroll further down the list and look for some budget cards I’ll talk about later on.
11. UD Glass LeBron James RC #100 /250
Normally with cards, you see them made out of cardboard or other materials, but this one is different.
UD went for the plexiglass approach with this card, and it means that the card will be much thicker and beefier than most cardboard cards. It’s also different when you touch it and much sturdier, which is why these cards tend to age quite well.
But they’re also scarce because 250 of these copies were made originally. For this reason, it will cost more than $10.000, although it’s a great investment since you can be sure this card will age more gracefully than most other cards on this list.
12. 2003 Fleer Ultra LeBron James RC #171 /500
We don’t usually see Ultra cards as premium, expensive cards, but this one’s a little bit different…
This particular card was included in the Lucky 13 umbrella of cards, which were limited to 500 copies. The Lucky 13 card was different from the main Ultra LBJ rookie card, which was not as limited and also had a hummer to go with the card.
This Lucky 13 card is much more expensive, it has the numbers on the card, and has the Lucky 13 sign. It’s more of a premium card and thus more expensive, as it will cost anywhere between $10.000 and $40.000.
You can go for the base Ultra card if you’re in for a more budget option, though.
13. 2003 Bowman Chrome LeBron James RC #123
Next up is the Bowman Chrome LBJ rookie card. This card was the preferred choice initially for those collectors who collected from large print sets, such as Bowman Chrome.
Today, these cards are not as easily available as they were initially. The interesting thing here is that this card belongs to the lower tier of LeBron James rookie cards, but it can still cost more than $10.000 if it’s rated a PSA 10 like this particular card here.
I’ve seen most listings with bids that were just shy of that mark, although there’s a lot of lower graded cards, so you might be able to find some value there.
Overall, this still remains one of the hottest cards in the basketball collecting world and it’s a sound investment if you’re looking for a solid, steady LeBron James card to invest in that won’t lose value anytime soon.
However, if you want something a bit more premium-feeling, there’s always the refractors you can go for. For example, one of the most popular refractors is the gold refractor that will cost anywhere between $15.000 to $20.000, again, depending on its condition.
And it looks beautiful, doesn’t it?
14. 2003 SP Game Used LeBron James Rookie Card Exclusive
Here’s another SP card that has a very premium feel to it. This Rookie Exclusives card has only 100 copies to its name, making it suitable for those who want to have something that’s rare and premium.
There’s also the autograph, but it’s not directly on the card, which is a slight shame. The autograph is attached to the card on a small piece of sticker, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but an autographed card is still much more valuable than a card without one.
And I’ve seen the prices for this card vary wildly. Some of the best graded cards were listed on eBay for more than $30.000, while lower graded cards can only get to around $20.000 and perhaps even less if there’s a bidding war going on.
So make your pick and go for this card if you want something that feels exclusive and premium.
15. 2003 E-X Jambalaya LeBron James RC
Jambalaya cards were seen in the end of the 90s and early 2000s as one of the more premium types of basketball cards. Some of the greatest stars had one, such as Kobe and now LBJ.
This card has one of the more unique designs out of all the cards we’ve seen so far, too. It’s slightly different from most Jambalaya cards of the previous years, which featured colors anywhere from green to orange.
This one has red and dark-blue on it, and the golden elements on the card only improve its look.
Besides, this card is rare and near impossible to get at a sensible price. The only listing I’ve found on eBay for this card went for $75.000, and that’s the sort of price you can expect for this card.
Value LeBron James Rookie Cards – Can You Buy a LeBron James Rookie Card for Under $1000?
Now, most of us don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in a sports card; even if it’s LeBron – if you do though, here’s my eBay affiliate link again.
Instead, I’ve tried to find other rookie LeBron cards that you can buy at a lower price that’ll increase in value over time.
For this, I’m only looking at the sales price of graded cards too. Graded cards have a way better resale value and will sell for more than non-graded cards (assuming the graded is good). Graded cards also give you way more guarantee as the buyer. If you buy a PSA 10 or BGS 9.5, you know you’re buying a top quality card.
These cards might increase in value in the future, though.
2003 Upper Deck Phenomenal Beginning LeBron James RC #20
This card is a little different compared to others. For starters, it has LeBron posing in front of an American flag – because America!
Anyway, this card is worth the shot if you’re looking for something that won’t blow your entire budget away. Some of these were listed below the $1000 mark, although the base card will probably go for even less than that.
Sure, it’s not the most premium LBJ card in the world… But, there’s some good potential with this card.
It might have a good resale value a few years down the line and if you’re willing to wait, you might get yourself a good deal for it.
And since the price tag for this card is relatively low, you can’t go wrong with it.
2003 Upper Deck City Heights LeBron James RC
Here’s another great card to invest in if you don’t want to spend your entire budget on just one card.
It’s actually a cool-looking card as it has a nice background and is just different from the rest of the cards. It’s still a card from Upper Deck though, and you probably know by now that this card company has a good reputation when it comes to basketball rookie cards.
It’s one for the future perhaps and these cards sell for amazingly low prices. Some of these cards go for less than $200, although the better graded cards will go above that mark.
It’s still one of the cheapest LeBron James rookie cards that you can invest into and hope for a good return in the future. This card will definitely go into the “hold for later” pile if you ever decide to get it, but you’ll have to be patient and wait for it to bear fruits.
What Is LeBron James Rookie Card Worth?
LeBron James rookie cards are some of the most expensive rookie cards in the basketball card collecting world. I’d say they’re right behind some MJ rookie cards and perhaps Kobe’s cards also come close, but apart from that, it’s hard to find more expensive cards.
Some of the best LeBron James rookie cards will go for $100.000 and potentially much more if they’re rare and well preserved. Most rookie cards will sell for anywhere between $20.000 to $100.000 though, especially if they’re on the rarer sides.
You might be able to find some budget rookie cards that will sell for $1000 or less, and these might be a great investment for the future since more and more people will be looking towards these cards.
How Many Rookie Cards Does LeBron James Have?
LeBron James has more than 15 rookie cards, as you might have seen from this list. Only 6 of them are autographed, and the rest of them are made by some of the most popular card companies in the world.
There are more than what we’ve covered though, although those cards tend to be refractors or less valuable cards. Still, there’s a great deal of choice when it comes to LBJ rookie cards, as long as you have the budget to buy them.
Are LeBron James Rookie Cards a Good Investment?
As far as cards go, LeBron is as safe as houses. The same is Michael Jordan cards are still safe these days. There are people who make good money buying cheap junk wax boxes from the early 90s by taking out the Jordan cards, getting the best ones graded and flipping them for a few hundred each. They can turn a $20 box into $400 – $600 or even up to $1,000 if it’s a good box.
And that’s not MJ’s rookie cards – that’s just some random year from his career.
I see LeBron being like that for the hobby. I think LeBron cards will always hold value and they’ll be collector items for a long time.
The only difference is that now with card grading existing for the entirety of LeBron’s career, there are a lot more cards that’ll stay in top condition – as opposed to Jordans. Still, the point stands. LeBron James rookie cards will be worth money for a long time.
What Is the Most Expensive LeBron James Rookie Card?
The 2003 Exquisite Collection LeBron James rookie card is the most expensive LBJ rookie card, followed by the Ultimate Collection cards, Topps Chrome & its refractors, and then the SP Authentic and autographed cards.
The truth is that LeBron James rookie cards are extremely expensive and among the most valuable rookie cards in the business, so only those with the budget will be able to afford the most expensive ones.
Most of the cards will be worth anywhere between $10.000 and $100.000, although the most expensive cards will probably go above the $100.000, which might only increase in the future. For your information, the most expensive LBJ rookie card up to now was sold in 2016 for $312.000 in an auction (2003 Ultimate Collection Ultimate Logos Signature).
LeBron James rookie cards are a must-have for any basketball card collector. Love him or hate him, nobody can deny LeBron’s impact on the sport.