What’s the Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Card to Invest In?

Kobe's 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 card fetched $1.8 million. Get the jump on the competition and see which Kobe Bryant rookie card to invest in now.

Updated Jul 17, 2023

Many companies on MoneyMade advertise with us. Opinions are our own, but compensation and in-depth research determine where and how companies may appear.

Sports Cards


Long Term Growth

Kobe Bryant's untimely passing has rekindled interest in his rookie cards. Let's face it, Kobe had it all—the skill, the looks, and let's not forget the iconic fashion choices. The man left a legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time and even drew comparisons to the legendary Michael Jordan. What basketball enthusiast would not love to get their hands on any of his rookie cards?

The 1996 Flair Showcase Legacy Collection Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #31 (ROW 0)...sold for a cool $97,200 in April 2022. Another went for a healthy $233,700 in May 2021, closely followed by a stupendously pricey $264,000 in April 2021.

When Kobe Bryant's card collections hit the market, the value was derived mostly from insert cards, not serial-numbered base sets as they were unavailable at that time. Autographed rookie cards were even rarer. Despite the absence of complexity as we see with different versions of other cards that are available today, some of Kobe's rookie cards do have parallel versions.

If you're looking to get the jump on the competition, allow us to take you on a ride as we explore the most valuable Kobe Bryant rookie cards.

Who is Kobe Bryant?

Kobe Bryant is the 18-time All-Star who won an astonishing five NBA championships and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of his generation over two exceptional decades with the Los Angeles Lakers.

A helicopter crash on January 26, 2020, tragically took the life of the 41-year-old basketballer alongside his beloved 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other individuals.

Kobe made his mark in the basketball universe with a record four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards, the 2008-09 season MVP accolade, two-time NBA scoring champion, and 12 honors of the All-Defensive selection—are you on board yet? 

He and Shaquille O'Neal were a powerhouse collaboration who brought three NBA crowns to the Lakers in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Later with Pau Gasol, Kobe grazed two more majestic titles in 2009 and 2010—what an overachiever.

After notching up an unbelievable 60 points in his last NBA game and collecting two gold Olympic medals for the U.S., Kobe retreated from the court in 2016. In December of 2017, the Lakers ceremonially hoisted banners in the Staples Center to retire Kobe's Number 8 and 24 jersey numbers—a glorious double honor.

The Bryant family, succeeded by Vanessa, was thankful for the outpouring of sympathy and respect. At her request, Vanessa established a fund to support the other families affected by the tragedy.

On February 7th, 2020, Kobe and Gianna were laid to rest near the family's Southern California residence. A public memorial in Kobe's honor took place on February 24, 2020.

Most valuable Kobe Bryant rookie cards to invest in

Kobe rookie card fever hit an all-time high when the 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 card sold for almost $1.8 million at an online auction held by Goldin, making it one of the priciest basketball cards in existence. In addition to the mind-boggling price tag, the card was bestowed with the honor of "black label" recognition, making it quite the collectible.

Kobe is a legendary basketball player whose impressive career and undeniable talent have made for quite the selection of rookie cards. So whether you're looking for the classic base card, a fancy parallel, or a clean auto, Kobe Bryant rookie cards have something for everyone.

So lace up your basketball shoes and join us as we dribble through the top 8 most sought-after Kobe Bryant rookie cards.

1. 1996 Upper Deck UD3 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #43 

  • Price Range: $10 to $575
  • Highest Sale Price: $2,075
  • PSA 10 Supply: 171
  • Brand: Upper Deck UD3

The 1996 UD3 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #43 is fairly priced between $10 and $1,000 but can easily see higher prices of $2,000 and above in the future.
Source: psacard.com

The 1996 UD3 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #43 is an upscale rookie card that captures a moment of basketball greatness—an electrifying one-handed dunk.

While this is a seemingly middle-value card, don't be fooled. We've seen some pretty amazing sale prices. The highest one to date was on eBay where it sold for a cool $2,075 in February 2021. That's some good cash for a single card.

If you're looking to get your hands on this iconic piece of hoops history and you know what you're doing, PSA 10s are not too hard to find. As of now, one hundred and seventy-one gem mint cards exist in the wild, according to PSA records.

Prices for PSA 10s have varied recently, ranging from $400 up to $1000. But on a broader scale and depending on the grade, expect to spend anywhere from $10 to $575 to get one of these cards. If you're feeling lucky, grab one for yourself and watch the magic unfold. With some careful collecting, hoarding, and maneuvering, you could score one huge payout.

2. 1996 SkyBox Premium Kobe Bryant (Rubies) Rookie Card #55 

  • Price Range: $1,000 to $10,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $19,200
  • Supply: 18
  • Brand: SkyBox Premium

Only 18 copies of Kobe's Rubies parallel from the 1996 SkyBox Premium set are PSA-graded gem mint.
Source: psacard.com

The 1996 SkyBox Premium card features an angle of Kobe that you rarely get in cards with a sleek backdrop reminiscent of the moon. With the card's thin stock and glossy finish, you can tell it was meant to stand out. The Kobe Bryant Rubies parallel has only been graded gem mint 18 times by PSA.

The value of this card is no joke, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. So, if you’re a collector with deep pockets, this may be the one for you. The highest sale price of the card was $19,200 at Goldin Auctions, which is a serious chunk of change. We can only imagine how great the lucky buyer must feel to have copped this one.

But if you aren't quite ready to spend that much, you can always hope to grab one for less. Some high-grade copies have sold for $7,980 and $13,200 in 2022. So, with its unique appeal and loyal fandom, this is just one Kobe Bryant card that true collectors should take seriously.

3. 1996 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant Refractor Rookie Card #74 

  • Price Range: $1,100 to $30,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $50,000
  • PSA 10 Supply: 8
  • Brand: Topps Finest

n August 2020, A PSA 10 1996-97 Kobe Bryant Finest Refractor #74 rookie card sold for an all-time high of $50,000.
Source: psacard.com

Sports fans know the thrill of witnessing a rookie superstar take the court and turn their hoop dreams into reality. For Kobe Bryant, the 1996 Finest Basketball set marked his pro debut, and his Refractor rookie card continues to be a highly sought-after item among basketball card collectors.

The sleek design and strong scratch-resistant film make it the perfect addition to any basketball card collection. The card comes in different tiers (just like Flair) including bronze, silver, and gold versions, and is a part of the Finest Series 1 Apprentices subset.

Kobe's 1996 Finest Refractor rookie cards are worth anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000. One card even sold for a jaw-dropping $50,000 in August 2020. But if you're hoping to find one of these in mint condition, it might be tough since there are only eight PSA 10s in existence.

Though each card was initially issued with a protective film, some collectors chose to peel the film off to reveal the pristine card underneath. Film or no film, this is a card that has stood the test of time, with its aesthetic qualities, craftsmanship, and Kobe’s MVP status appealing to collectors.

4. 1996 Bowman’s Best Kobe Bryant Atomic Refractor Rookie Card #R23

  • Price Range: $2,000 to $25,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $62,730
  • PSA 10 Supply: 36
  • Brand: Bowman’s Best

While Kobe Bryant's 1996 Bowman's Best Atomic Refractor #R23 usually clocks in closer to $25,000, the prices can reach as high as $55,000 to $65,000.
Source: psacard.com

Kobe Bryant was a one-of-a-kind kind of player, so it's not surprising that he had a special card release to match. Enter the 1996 Bowman's Best Atomic Refractor Rookie Card #R23. This one’s as brilliant as Bryant's career, featuring a chrome look that’s truly out of this world.

Despite its stunning look, it'll only run you around $2,000 to $25,000 depending on the grade. Its highest-ever sale price was $62,730 in April 2021.

Almost 10,000 base cards have been PSA graded, with a gem mint costing around $1,000. But, if you're looking for something more exclusive, the refractor and atomic refractor parallels will do the trick. They're highly sought-after with only 412 PSA-graded Refractors and 268 PSA-graded Atomic Refractors currently on record.

A PSA 10 Refractor should cost you around $17,000, while the Atomic Refractor usually clocks in closer to $25,000. The Kobe Bryant Atomic Refractor Rookie Card should be on your radar as it's a great move for long-term collectors or short-term flippers.

5. 1996 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant Gold Refractor Rookie Card #269

  • Price Range: $15,000 to $70,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $206,400
  • Brand: Topps Finest

Gold cards from the 1996 Topps Finest set are extremely rare, and the sale of Kobe’s Topps Finest Gold Refractor Rookie card for over $206,000 proves its value.
Source: goldinauctions.com

The two-series 1996-97 Topps set comes in bronze, silver, and gold card variations. Bronze cards are considered common, silver cards are uncommon, and gold cards are the rarest, with just one included per box.

The 1996 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant Gold Refractor Rookie Card #269 has some serious hype, and getting your hands on one is a definite score. This rare card has caused a lot of buzz and is worth between $15,000 and $70,000, with a Pristine BGS 10 fetching the highest sale price of $206,400.

The gold refractor card showcases Bryant's NBA debut with a vibrant yellow border that perfectly matches the Los Angeles Lakers' signature gold. Kobe looks like he's floating above the fabulous background and ready to make his mark on the basketball world. It's a mesmerizing artwork that's sure to make any collector's heart skip a beat.

6. 1996 Flair Showcase Legacy Collection Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #31 (ROW 0) 

  • Price Range: $17,000 to $97,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $430,500
  • PSA 10 Supply: 7
  • Brand: Flair Showcase Legacy Collection

Kobe Bryant's Rookie card #008 sold for $430,500 in May 2021.
Source: goldinauctions.com

The 1996 Flair Showcase Legacy Collection Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #31 (ROW 0) is a rare beauty that boasts an astoundingly limited 150 copies—and it most definitely commands premium prices. The current range is anywhere between $17,000 to $97,000.

But isn't that a lot of money for a rookie card? Well, apparently not, as one collector purchased a Pristine BGS 10 in May 2021 for the overwhelming $430,500. That’s not a typo. The card purchased was #008 of 150, which is not-so-coincidentally the same number as Bryant's jersey, possibly explaining the premium price.

But that expensive copy isn't the only one. There are seven PSA 10s, and they don't come cheap. For instance, one copy sold for a cool $97,200 in April 2022, and another went for a healthy $264,000 in April 2021 closely followed by a stupendously pricey $233,700 card that sold in May 2021. It's safe to say it isn’t the last dance for Flair Showcase Row 0 Kobe Bryant rookie cards.

7. 1996 Skybox E-X2000 Credentials Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #30

  • Price Range: $1,700 to $370,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $617,460
  • PSA 10 Supply: 4
  • Brand: Skybox E-X2000 Credentials 

$617,460 is the price a 1996 Skybox E-X2000 Credentials Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #30 sold for in October 2021.
Source: psacard.com

You wanna talk standout? Then the 1996 Skybox E-X2000 collection is the conversation. It's like nothing you've ever seen before. With bright colors and an acetate finish, the 1996 SkyBox E-X2000 Credentials Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #30 is unlike any other card out there. Oh, and there are only four PSA 10s you can get your hands on.

If you have the means to invest in a PSA-graded mint gem card, then you'll be shelling out anywhere between $1,700 to $370,000. But don't get too excited—there are only 499 Credentials parallels complete with a pearl foil border and the word "Credentials" in fancy font.

You'll want to steal this one because its highest sale price at an auction reached $617,000 in October 2021, so who knows just how much it'll cost you. If you're looking for something unique, get this card before it disappears.

8. 1996 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Refractor Rookie Card #138

  • Price Range: $30,000 to $156,000
  • Highest Sale Price: $1,795,800
  • PSA 10 Supply: 63
  • Brand: Topps Chrome Refractor

This iconic Kobe Bryant rookie card is an NBA card collector’s dream come true. With a valuation range of $30,000 to $156,000, Kobe's 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractor Rookie Card #138 is the most popular rookie card of the most devastating offensive and defensive machine since Michael Jordan.

As a condition-sensitive card, the centering on this one is rough, adding to its mystique. The vast majority of his other cards with the RC tag are still very affordable, but the Chrome version is an entirely different story.

A BGS 10 Pristine Black Label card ranks as the most expensive Kobe Bryant rookie card ever sold, fetching almost $1.8 million in March 2021—talk about record-setting.

What's intriguing is how a Black Label BGS 10 sold for a measly $58,000 just a couple of months before Bryant's retirement. The jump in value is wild, and it's no wonder the sale was talked about all around the world.

When it comes to basketball icons, Kobe Bryant is right there at the top. Fans and collectors everywhere are excited to get their hands on a prized 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractor Rookie Card #138. And with a price tag like that, you know it's worth every penny.

Are Kobe Bryant's rookie cards a good investment?

Kobe cards have seen a dramatic increase in value since his untimely passing in January 2020, ultimately representing an unexpected financial benefit for collectors—albeit from tragic circumstances.

Another thing is that with Kobe's death, the quantity of autographed cards is now capped, which makes them scarce and increasingly valuable to basketball card collectors. It may seem strange that Kobe's death has financial implications, but his legend lives on and makes his cards and memorabilia all the more coveted.

Find your next investment