The 10 Most Valuable Sports Cards Missing From Your Collection

The most valuable sports cards are often a result of rarity, quality, and player prestige. Find out which ones are commanding million-dollar price tags.

The 10 Most Valuable Sports Cards Missing From Your Collection
most valuable sports c

Prices have surged over the past few years thanks to private sales and auctions — see which cards top the list.

The hobby of collecting sports cards is as much an institution as the games they celebrate. Some people collect cards to own physical artifacts of their favorite players; others invest in a chance to strike it rich with a rare card of a big-name athlete, often getting the card appraised to cement its status as a high-quality, must-have prize.

Whatever the motivations, there’s no denying the allure the string of headlines generates, touting multi-million dollar sales of the most elusive cards ever. And while baseball cards have historically been the most valuable sports cards to collect, recent sales of NBA, NFL, and NHL cards have risen to match in recent years. Read on to find out which cards are shattering sales records — and discover a few slightly more attainable cards worth snagging now.

Jump to a section…

Top Ten Most Valuable Sports Cards

#10: Kobe Bryant, 1997 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems - Green

#9: Tom Brady, 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket Autograph #144

#8: Wayne Gretzky, 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18

#7: Mike Trout, 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor Autograph

#6: Babe Ruth, 1933 Goudey #53

#5: Patrick Mahomes, 2017 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph Platinum

#4: Luka Dončić, 2018 Panini National Treasures Logoman Autograph

#2 (Tie): LeBron James, 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Rookie Parallel #78

#2 (Tie): Mickey Mantle, 1952 Topps #311

#1 Most Valuable Sports Card: Honus Wagner, 1911 T206

Ja Morant

Joe Burrow

Juan Soto
New call-to-action

Top Ten Most Valuable Sports Cards

#10: Kobe Bryant, 1997 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems - Green

Considered one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived and the “Air Apparent” to Michael Jordan’s legacy, Kobe Bryant’s influence is still felt years after his untimely passing. Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA Championships during his 20-year career and held second place behind Wilt Chamberlain for most points scored in a single game.

It’s no surprise, then, that his trading cards would end up worth a pretty penny. In February 2022, a BGS-graded NM-MT+ 8.5 version of his 1997 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems card sold in a private transaction for $2 million, breaking the previous $1.795 million record for a Kobe Bryant card. Interestingly, this isn’t a rookie card, which often fetch higher prices — instead, this card is an Emerald variant of the 1997-1998 Metal Universe run. There are only 100 total cards in this series, and only ten sport the emerald green coloring, so finding a copy of this card in good condition is exceedingly rare.

#9: Tom Brady, 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket Autograph #144

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Tom Brady sports one of the most impressive resumes in NFL history. His career is a laundry list of accolades, with seven Super Bowl wins (six with the Patriots and one with the Buccaneers). He also holds league records for most passing yards, completions, and career quarterback wins.

Brady’s rookie card — specifically, an autographed 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket card — continues to rocket in value each time it’s listed. Most recently, a BGS-graded 9 mint version of the card (with an autograph sub-grade of 10) sold during Lelands’ Mid-Spring Classic 2021 auction for $3.1 million.

#8: Wayne Gretzky, 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18

Few names are synonymous with sports quite like Wayne Gretzky — even if you don’t follow hockey, there’s a good chance you know who The Great One is. By the time he retired in 1999, Gretzky had held 61 NHL records (including scoring over 200 points in a season four times in his career), won four Stanley Cups, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame that same year.

A PSA-graded GEM MT 10 copy of his 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18 rookie card for the Edmonton Oilers holds the record for most valuable hockey card, selling for $3.75 million in a private sale in May 2021. This particular card is notable because Topps originally produced the card and worked with Canadian trading card manufacturer O-Pee-Chee to distribute it in Canada. Because of the subtle differences between the two, these Canadian vintage sports cards tend to garner higher prices than their US equivalents.

#7: Mike Trout, 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor Autograph

The Los Angeles Angels drafted Mike Trout in 2009 but he didn’t make an in-game appearance until 2011. Trout became a regular player for the Angels in 2012 and rapidly rose to greatness, becoming the youngest player in MLB history to join the 30-30 club and eventually winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He has since gone on to lead the league in runs for multiple seasons, achieving the highest career slugging percentage out of all active players and the second-largest contract in North American sports history.

Trout’s rookie card commands similarly impressive value. A signed, one-of-a-kind BGS-graded 9 Mint 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor card sold for $3.936 million in August 2020, ranking it among the most valuable baseball cards in history.  Five “Red Refractor” variants of this card also exist and fetch a high price, selling for nearly $1 million back in 2020.

#6: Babe Ruth, 1933 Goudey #53

A man of many nicknames and a legend in his own right, Babe Ruth hardly needs an introduction. Debuting with the Boston Red Sox, the franchise traded him to the Yankees, which cursed the Red Sox to an 86-year championship drought (if you believe in that sort of thing). His trademark swing led to him smashing home run records and multiple World Series championships, ushering in the “live-ball” era of the sport.

He’s also smashing up price charts as three Babe Ruth cards were auctioned off at Memory Lane Inc. in July 2021, with one soaring as high as $4.2 million after the buyer’s premium. The 1933 Goudey #53 card commands such a high price because its yellow background discolors easily, making it extremely difficult to grade — it’s the only card of its kind ever to receive a PSA Mint 9 grade. The other cards were in similar condition, netting over $1 million apiece.

#5: Patrick Mahomes, 2017 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph Platinum

Patrick Mahomes is one of the fastest rising stars in the NFL — in five seasons, he’s taken his Kansas City Chiefs to the Super Bowl twice, won once (during the team’s first appearance in 50 years, no less), and is the youngest player in the league to receive the Super Bowl MVP.

The value of his rookie card has seen a similar meteoric rise, brokering a $4.3 million private sale through the PWCC Marketplace, making it the most expensive football card at the moment. This 2017 National Treasures Rookie card is the only one in existence and features a BGS grade of NM-MT+ 8.5 (with a 10 for the signature) and an NFL shield logo instead of the standard patch found on other versions of the card.

#4: Luka Dončić, 2018 Panini National Treasures Logoman Autograph

Dončić got his start in youth leagues in his home country of Slovenia before joining Real Madrid and was only 19 years old when he guided them to the 2018 EuroLeague championship. Shortly after his stunning win, he joined the Dallas Mavericks, earning NBA Rookie of the Year his first year and joining the NBA All-Star Game during his second. Even after numerous awards and accolades, it’s clear Dončić hasn’t reached his full potential yet, and time will tell if he can help secure an NBA Championship for his team.

The same year Dončić won his first division title, his rookie card sold for $4.6 million in a private sale — a sale made public on Luka’s birthday, no less. Like Patrick Mahomes’ card, this 2018 Panini National Treasures Logoman Autograph is signed, features an NBA logo instead of the standard jersey patch, and is the only one of its kind. Perhaps the most shocking part of this sale is that the card itself is ungraded. Like Luka’s career, there’s a good chance this card’s value hasn’t reached its peak quite yet.

#2 (Tie): LeBron James, 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Rookie Parallel #78

It’s fitting that the most valuable basketball card in existence belongs to one of the greatest current players of the game. LeBron James’ career is long and storied, starting with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 before becoming a free agent and announcing his decision to join the Miami Heat on a live-televised special. There, he would help the team win two championship titles; end up back on the Cavs to win a championship there, breaking the long-running Cleveland Curse; and finally settle with the Lakers to win yet another championship. Oh, and star in a new Space Jam movie.

In April 2021, a signed BGS 9 Mint edition of the 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Rookie Parallel sold for a cool $5.2 million in a private sale. Even in a public auction, this card commands a high value, with another, slightly lesser-graded version of this card selling for $2.4 million just a few months later.

#2 (Tie): Mickey Mantle, 1952 Topps #311

Mickey Mantle cemented his legacy in Major League Baseball as the greatest switch hitter to play the game. He’s the only player in league history to score 150 home runs both left- and right-handed. Like Babe Ruth before him, Mickey Mantle is an icon of the game, and his name is synonymous with the New York Yankees and baseball as a whole.

An iconic player deserves an equally iconic card, and his 1952 Topps card has become the second-most valuable baseball card in existence. This card isn’t scarce (though legend says thousands were taken out of circulation when accidentally dumped into the Atlantic Ocean), but finding one in excellent condition these days is. A PSA-graded Mint 9 version of this card previously sold for $2.8 million in April 2018 but was recently re-sold in a private sale for $5.2 million. Three PSA Gem Mint 10 cards do exist, so we could see an even higher price tag on this one in the future.

#1 Most Valuable Sports Card: Honus Wagner, 1911 T206

The title for most valuable sports card has jockeyed back and forth for a few years now, but for the longest time, the 1911 T206 Honus Wagner card was considered the leader of the pack. As of August 2021, Wagner has reclaimed his title with a $6.6 million sale (including buyer’s premium) through Robert Edward Auctions.

The Honus Wagner card is a perfect storm for collectors: rarity, condition, and player prestige. There are only 60 known copies in existence, and since they’re over a century old at this point, finding one in decent condition is even harder. Combined with Wagner’s status as one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game, the card has become a collectible “white whale” for many. The previous record for this card hit $3.75 million for a PSA Good 2. This particular sale is graded at an SGC VG 3, making it the most pristine copy ever sold. Only four exist with higher grades, so look forward to this card once again breaking records if their owners ever decide to sell.

Most (Attainably) Valuable Sports Cards

While it’s fun reading about these rare and highly-valuable sports cards, they’re also out of reach for all but the most cash-flush collectors. If you’re looking to bulk up your card collection for a reasonable amount of money while investing in a potential future payoff, consider seeking out the rookie cards of recently drafted rising stars and hang onto them for a few years. Here are a few players with cards worth looking into:

Ja Morant

Drafted to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019, Ja Morant was named Rookie of the Year that season, brought his team to the playoffs his second season, and achieved a career-high of 46 points in a game in his third. He’s rapidly become one of the most exciting players to watch, and rookie card prices are starting to reflect that. More attainable cards include Clearly Donruss or Hoops, while the autographed Panini National Patch card is already starting to fetch astronomical prices. Check out Beckett’s guide for a full list.

Joe Burrow

Joe Burrow has only played professionally for two years, and he’s already led his Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance — the team’s first since 1988. Burrow’s rise as a player has cemented him as one to watch in the coming years, and he has already become one of the most popular picks on the NFL’s merchandise sales list. His rookie card prices have shot up, with a signed Immaculate Collection Patch card selling for $534,000 in February 2022. His Rookies & Stars or Panini Legacy cards are far less likely to break the bank. Check out Beckett's ranked list for a full breakdown of available rookie cards.

Juan Soto

Juan Soto’s career took off almost immediately, leading his Washington Nationals to their first World Series championship in his second season. He’s consistently topped “young stars to watch” lists, and his rookie cards command values commensurate with his stature. More affordable cards include the Donruss Optic or the Panini Prism, and cards like the signed Topps Dynasty Patch will be ones to watch for higher prices in the future. Beckett’s full guide offers a rundown of everything available.

If you want to own a slice of some of history’s most valuable sports cards without spending an arm and a leg, we can help. Dibbs offers the only real-time 24/7 fractional collectible market, letting you own a piece of your favorite sports legends — or list your own collection and make it available to fans all over the world. Sign up for an account to learn more, and get started trading today.