The ’90s were a classic era, and arguably the best time to be a fan of basketball aside from the modern-day.
Everyone likes to talk about the physicality of the game, as well as the dominance of a certain Chicago Bulls team led by Michael Jordan, but it’s not just nostalgia talking.
The sport was on the road to recovery following a lack of interest worldwide, helped by Jordan, Space Jam, and a host of emerging talent like Kobe and Shaq. The renewed attention led to increased numbers of collectors and investors taking an interest in cards from the era, and now they’re some of the most valuable options that money can buy.
We’ve put together a list with 10 of the most expensive 90’s basketball cards, with lots of info about each one, including how and why they cost so much.
10 Most Expensive Basketball Cards from the 90s
We’ve combed through recent auction data to bring you a list with ten of the most expensive basketball cards from the 1990s.
As you might expect, the list is dominated by a few major players from the era, (cough, Michael Jordan) but there are a couple of cards that may have gone under your radar. The list is in order of year of release.
Related: Most Valuable Basketball Cards 2020
1992 Shaquille O’Neal Classic 4 Sport Auto #1 (buy on eBay)
As the modern-day big man, it’s no surprise to see one of Shaq’s rookie cards making the list. Given his height, almost every Shaq RC features him soaring towards the backboard, and this card is no different.
Classic Games were a pre-rookie/prospect card company that managed to get the temporary exclusive rights to produce Shaq cards during his time at LSU, and the player was already becoming a major celebrity because of his size and skills.
Many of the cards were hand-signed by the man himself, making it one of the very first pieces of autographed Shaq memorabilia. It’s the main reason why the card makes the list.
One small flaw is the relative darkness on the upper half of the card. Somewhat ironically, ‘Classic’ doesn’t live up to its name as a brand, but it’s worth making an exception for Shaq.
1992 Shaquille O’Neal Stadium Club BEAM TEAM #21 (buy on eBay)
The second Shaq RC to make our list, the 1992 Beam Team insert features an image of the giant dominating the defense as he reaches high above the rim of the net. He’s in his Orlando Magic jersey, as he was their number one pick in the 1992 NBA Draft.
The crazy electric style background is one of the main reasons why it’s so hard to find a decent copy of this card, as it tends to show any chipping or damage straight away. The background is supposed to resemble the popular laser halftime show during the 1992-93 season, and it definitely makes it stand out from the crowd.
It also comes with a ’Members Only’ parallel, which can be distinguished by a faint watermark. However, it’s a bit of a misnomer, as it was easier to get a Members Only Beam Teams than a standard pack-pulled Beam Teams.
1993 Michael Jordan Finest Refractor #1 (buy on eBay)
The First MJ card to make the list is his Finest Refractor from 1993. It features a diagonal image of Jordan with a basketball clutched in one hand, with a gold background and a multicolored border. In other words, if you like shiny things, there’s nothing better than this Topps refractor!
As with the majority of rare Jordan cards from the era, it’s tough to locate in high-grade and is also extremely popular among collectors and investors following the release of The Last Dance.
The colors and the edging make it susceptible to chips and wear, which is another reason why it’s valued highly. Despite the lack of an autograph, it’s a solid piece of Jordan merch which is sure to retain value in the next decade or so.
1993 Michael Jordan Ultra Scoring Kings #5 (buy on eBay)
Released in the same year, the Ultra Scoring Kings is one of the most iconic MJ cards that money can buy. The deep-etched image sees Jordan leaping through the air, with purple lightning exploding across the background, lighting up the night sky.
The lightning is made of foil which helps to make Jordan appear to jump out of the card, but it means that the card is in danger of chipping, both on the front and the back.
The ’90s are known for a number of popular Jordan cards, but few match up to the Ultra Scoring Kings when you hold them up side by side. Of course, you’ll need to be careful because of the condition-sensitive nature, but it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most expensive cards from the era.
1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Refractor #138 (buy on eBay)
Okay, this is where it gets even more interesting. A passing of the torch from the MJ years, Kobe’s RCs are clearly some of the most popular you’ll find at auction today. (Especially considering his untimely death following a helicopter crash in January 2020.)
His 1996 Topps Chrome is his most coveted rookie card by a fair margin, as the phenom was already viewed as an extreme talent by anyone who had seen him on the court for any amount of time.
As a high-gloss, chrome card, it’s very susceptible to surface scratching and wearing, which is another reason why gem mint copies are valued so high compared to the norm.
Kobe was always going to make any list with the most expensive 1990’s cards, and the 1996-97 Topps set has one of the strongest rookie classes of all time. Refractor parallels were released in a ratio of 1:12.
1996 Kobe Bryant Flair Showcase Legacy Row 0 #10 (buy on eBay)
Card company Flair made its debut a few years before, but 1996 was their best release to date. As well as MJ, they secured rookie cards for the likes of Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Ray Allen. Bryant’s card is one of 90 in the base set, while each has a further three tiers or Rows.
Row 2, the base set, is known as “Style.” The next batch of cards goes by Row 1 or “Grace.” Row 0, the rarest cards in the base set, is called “Showcase.”
You’ll be able to tell the difference by checking out the image on the front, as each Row has a different pair of pictures. (For example, the Row 0 version features a hilarious image of Kobe watching himself dribble.)
The rarity of the Row 0 ensures that it makes the list of expensive 1990’s basketball cards.
1997 Kobe Bryant Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems #81 (buy on eBay)
What I wouldn’t give to have one of these in my personal collection! The 1997 PMG cards are one of the most exciting base sets of the decade and come with a couple of expensive parallels to pick from. They’ll always make a list of valuable 90’s memorabilia, for a number of reasons which soon become apparent.
The cards are wrapped in colored foil, which is highly susceptible to chips or wears and tear. Given the deep background, any flaw is readily apparent, so high grades are costly to buy. They also had a low print run in comparison to other sets from the time, with just 100 cards overall.
Kobe’s card is the one to make our list, although there are lots of interesting options like Tim Duncan and Tracy McGrady RCs, as well as an MJ version to look out for. The Kobe version also features a basketball and a look of concentration on the face of the Lakers’ star.
Parallels: Red PMG (/90), Green PMG (/10)
1997 Michael Jordan UD Game Jerseys #GJ13 (buy on eBay)
A real piece of history, the ‘97 Upper Deck Game Jersey helped to kickstart the beginning of the Jersey Patch craze and set the precedent for future productions. Exceedingly rare, the odds of pulling a Jordan were 1 in 55,000 packs, which goes some way to explaining why it’s so expensive.
As well as a player worn patch from the biggest name in the sport, the added bonus of a signature from Jordan is enough to make it one of the most expensive jersey patches of all-time, never mind the decade. (However, most signatures are aftermarket examples.)
It’s slightly basic compared to modern player patches, but that’s understandable given it’s one of the first to be released. The Jordan name is one reason why the card makes the list, but he also wore the jersey in question during the 1992-93 NBA All-Star game. (You’ll be able to tell, as the back notes where the swatch is from.)
1998 Michael Jordan SP Authentic Sign of Times Gold Die-Cut #MJ
Yet another Jordan card to make the list, his 1998 SP Authentic Sign of Times is a tiered release. SP serial numbered their base cards to 3,500 and released a few noteworthy subsets such as this one.
The Sign of the Times inserts which were all die-cut autos, issued in Bronze, Silver, and Gold versions. The Gold featured only the most desired names, including MJ and Allen Iverson.
What makes this card so expensive, given the range of premium MJ cards we’ve seen over the years? An on-card auto is one of the main reasons why it makes the list. With a third of the card dedicated to his signature, it’s one of the best pieces of signed Jordan merchandise you’ll be able to buy from the 1990s.
1999 Michael Jordan Upper Deck MJ’s Final Floor #FF2A
The second Jordan player patch to make our list, the 1999 UD MJ’s Final Floor is another great option that celebrates the phenom’s career. Just twenty-three examples of this particular card were autographed, making them far rarer than the unsigned editions.
The image features Jordan with the ball in his hands, barking orders at his teammates while he’s in his iconic Red Bulls jersey. The background has a wooden effect, fitting in with the ‘Final Floor’ theme.
As well as a signature on some versions, the card has a piece of game floor attached, with the location and game noted on the front of the card. It’s a chance to own a piece of basketball history, and it’s something different compared to the average 90’s card.
Top 100 most valuable basketball cards? Coming soon to Gold Card Auctions… we will update this post.