Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Power Rankings

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The Kobe Bryant Rookie Card checklist represents some of the most popular of the modern era. But he wasn’t always an icon. Bryant entered the NBA in 1996-97 fresh out of high school and thrust into the bright spotlight that comes with playing in Los Angeles.

Between scoring titles, 18 All-Star selections and five NBA Championships, Bryant firmly established his legacy both as a player, a leader and in the hobby. He truly is a cultural icon across the globe who continues to influence basketball, business, leadership and more, even after his tragic passing.

Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Overview

Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards came out at a time when most sets drew value from inserts. Serial numbered base sets didn’t start to become more common until a couple years down the road. Autographed rookies were further still. As a result, there’s not a lot of complexity in what’s out there. Parallels add another layer, but there isn’t near the quantity of different versions like there are today.

Kobe Bryant is part of strong first-year class that also includes Allen Iverson, Steve Nash and Ray Allen.

Curious about what Kobe Bryant Rookie Card is the most valuable? What’s the most affordable? We’ve ranked them all.

Most Valuable Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Rankings

Rankings were determined using the Beckett Basketball Card Price Guide. Only base cards with the RC tag are listed, not inserts or parallels.

1. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #138

When it comes to value, the 1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant rookie card is in a class of itself. The vast majority of his other cards with the RC tag are still very afford despite his accomplishments and status as a basketball icon. Topps Chrome is an entirely different beast. The product was designed with retail distribution in mind. It became an instant hit. That appeal has never failed. Centering is tough in this set so this is considered to be a condition-sensitive card.

Adding to the card’s mystique is the Refractor parallel, one of the most desirable basketball cards of all-time. A Black Label BGS 10 sold for $58,100 a couple of months before Bryant’s retirement. However, it has soared in the years since. The same exact card is slated to close at auction in March, 2021 for over $1 million.

One thing to watch for if you’re shopping for a Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant rookie on eBay, several sellers list the base Topps NBA at 50 foil parallel with Chrome in the title to get more search hits. These cards are very different in both price and desirability.

Parallels: Refractors

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1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

2. 1996-97 E-X2000 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #30

1996-97 E-X2000 was unlike any other basketball cards at the time. Etched foil borders give way to a glossy die-cut player image and an acetate backdrop. Why clouds? Who knows, but it sure looks cool. The borders are prone to dings, so finding copies in top condition isn’t the easiest task. The Credentials parallel, which is numbered to 499, comes with a massive price tag when they come up for sale.

Parallels: Credential (/499)

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1996-97 E-X2000 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

2. 1996-97 Bowman’s Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #R23

Topps and chromium go together. And there was a time when Bowman’s Best was considered the top of such releases from the card maker. It was a small window relegated primarily to baseball but it was that approach Topps appeared to be taking with 1996-97 Bowman’s Best. Although numbered differently, rookies are considered to be part of the base set. Bryant’s card comes with Refractor and Atomic Refractor parallels, both of which carry significantly more value.

As the rise in both chrome-style cards and the Bowman name, this Kobe Bryant Rookie Card has made tremendous gains and leapfrogged several of his other key cards in value.

Parallels: Refractors, Atomic Refractors

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4. 1996-97 Topps Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #138

Don’t discount the history of the Topps flagship brand, even in basketball. Bryant’s base card hangs in the thick of things despite not having much in the way of premium elements. Perhaps it’s that past or maybe it has something to do with a certain chromium Kobe that’s led to the relative popularity of this card.

In addition to the basic version, there’s a foil NBA at 50 parallel.

Parallels: NBA at 50

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1996-97 Topps Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

5. 1996-97 Finest Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #74

For its first couple of seasons on the hardwood, Finest was the premium Topps basketball brand. And if it weren’t for a late release that caused a major stir in the hobby, this would have remained the case with 1996-97 Finest Basketball. Like Flair, the main checklist has a tiered structure. Rather than Rows, Finest took a common, uncommon and rare approach (also referred to as bronze, silver and gold). Bryant’s rookie card in the product is part of the Series 1 Apprentices subset. Bryant also appears in Series 2 on a separate rare card. It’s the more valuable of the two. Both have Refractor parallels.

1996-97 Finest Basketball cards originally came with a protective film. Whether it’s still on or not doesn’t have any major impact on the value.

Parallels: Refractors

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1996-97 Finest Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

6. 1996-97 Flair Showcase Row 2 Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #31

It’s tough to argue against the beauty of 1996-97 Flair Showcase Basketball. The rainbow foil, multiple player shots and flow fonts make for a design that’s elegant and distinct. It also has a tiered structure with three “Rows.” Row 2 is the most common and, as such, is considered the base version. Row 1 and Row 0 come with separate designs. All three cards have Legacy parallels serial numbered to 150. These are some of the most coveted of all 1996-97 Kobe Bryant cards.

Parallels: Legacy Collection (/150)

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7. 1996-97 SkyBox Premium Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #55

Just because this card has “premium” in its name, it doesn’t make it so. That said, it manages to be distinct without going too far over the top. Bryant is shown from a unique angle against a backdrop that’s reminiscent of the moon. It’s almost like a tame Costacos Brothers poster. And while somewhat glossy, the card, which is found in Series 1 packs, comes on fairly thin stock.

Parallels: Rubies

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8. 1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant RC #19

It’s too bad that UD3 never really found its footing as a brand. Despite being one of the more up-scale Kobe Bryant rookie cards, it’s value is more in the median range. Looking beyond the fact that it has a cool Bryant leaning up against a brick wall, there’s a fair bit going on here. The card lives up to its Hardwood Prospects subset with a textured stock that resembles wood. It’s clearly more glossy, but it still has that tactile aspect. It’s balanced against the rainbow foil shot of Bryant for some added pop.

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9. 1996-97 Ultra Kobe Bryant RC #52

Here’s some of that intensity. At this point, Ultra had firmly established itself as a set for great photos and a glossy feel. The 1996-97 Ultra Kobe Bryant Rookie Card has both of those, showcasing a young star-in-the-making locked in and focused.

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10. 1996-97 Metal Kobe Bryant RC #137

Let’s put those quaint design aside for a bit. The 1996-97 Metal Kobe Bryant Rookie Card is anything but. From its foil stock to the loud “Fresh Foundation” font, this one screams 1990s. And let’s not forget Bryant’s cap. Those were the days. The photo comes from the press conference after the Lakers acquired Bryant not long after the 1996 NBA Draft from the Charlotte Hornets.

The Metal name has gained some larger recognition over the years, but that’s more because of its next evolution, Metal Universe, and the ensuing Precious Metal Gems.

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11. 1996-97 SP Kobe Bryant RC #134

The Upper Deck basketball portfolio wasn’t very big in 1996-97. SP was as premium as it got. However, the brand was still a couple of years away from adding serial numbers to rookies and adopting the full SP Authentic name. As a result, this card is still very much on the affordable side despite its higher quality.

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12. 1996-97 Z-Force Kobe Bryant RC #142

1996-97 Z-Force might not be the most valuable Kobe Bryant Rookie Card, but it certainly wins for having the busiest design. It’s tough to know where to start between the many colors, handful of fonts and shredded curtain background. And what’s up with Bryant? It’s almost as though he’s getting ready to go Hulk Hogan and rip his jersey in half. Although not exactly the same, 1997 Circa Baseball has a similar design.

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13. 1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant RC #58

Here’s a rare card that shows a softer side to Bryant that’s not often shown. Even as a teenager there was an intensity about him that would only grow as time went on. Upper Deck is always dependable for a slick base set that emphasizes photos over everything else. A nice touch on the 1996-97 set was the dated photos that add a layer of meaning.

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1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

14. 1996-97 Hoops Kobe Bryant RC #281

Another simple card, the Hoops Kobe Bryant Rookie Card has a little bit going on, but most of the focus is on the largely full-bleed design. There are a couple of foil highlights with the name and somewhat large “Rookie” logo. As a base-level card, prices remain soft and this card can be had for about what you’d pay for lunch at a fast food restaurant.

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1996-97 Hoops Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

15. 1996-97 Fleer Kobe Bryant RC #203

Today, when we look back on Fleer’s basketball sets from the 1990s, we think more about the wild sets that came out in the latter part of the decade once they were joined by SkyBox. While base Fleer basketball does have a history, much of that dates back to the 1980s with the landmark 1986-87 set. The Fleer Kobe Bryant Rookie Card doesn’t have nearly the same lasting appeal as Michael Jordan’s. Still, it offers a simple design that’s clean.

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16. 1996-97 Collector’s Choice Kobe Bryant Rookie Card #267

Like so many of the Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards, this one is very much affordable. While it doesn’t have a premium feel to it, the look of Collector’s Choice isn’t bad. The photo has a lot more action than most of his other rookies. That said, the entry-level product has never been driven by value, which is apparent here.

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1996-97 Collector's Choice Kobe Bryant Rookie Card

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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34 comments

  1. RJ 12 April, 2016 at 17:06

    Man, I remember walking into a Target across the street from where I worked back in the day, and they had two boxes’ worth of 1996-97 Chrome packs. I passed on them, thinking they were just a weird ripoff of the base set. My thinking was, I could afford more of the regular packs!

  2. Steve Ortega 15 April, 2016 at 16:50

    I found an uncut Topps sheet of several NBA rookies that got drafted ahead of Kobe,like Iverson,Marbury,Kittles,etc.What might it be worth?I have had it framed hoping to get his autograph,which will never happen.

  3. mike mcclain jr 16 August, 2016 at 19:42

    were are pictures of the ex 2000 but the rare different border. i still cant tell if it was the rare one or normal one #30 dont email. just tip

  4. Randy 22 February, 2017 at 18:47

    It drives me nuts to see these cards, I had around 300 Kobe cards mostly rookies. When I was younger my card collection came up missing. Also had a ton of shaq rookies and everyone you can think of. Those cards was prolly My chance at getting a payday and investing into something to make a living on. Still can’t believe it.

  5. JASON 3 May, 2018 at 21:55

    The 1996 Ultra has 2 Parallels gold and platinum
    Just FyI it says the following —— Unlike a lot of other Ultra sets, this one doesn’t have any parallels.

  6. Aaron 29 May, 2018 at 03:50

    I had all those cards and was a huge basketball card collector in middle and my p.e. Teacher opened my locker and stole all of it

  7. Ron 8 February, 2019 at 01:00

    You wouldnt be eable to get rich off of these cards even if autographed by Kobe. Make some good money yes but there are litreally probably 100 cards or less in the world that you could get rich from. Most are baseball cards from 1910 to mid 1900s and the Michel Jordan rookie cards .

  8. Joseph Broadbent 17 November, 2019 at 11:45

    I have a 1998-99 SPx Finite Kobe Bryant Spectrum card #08/75 and noone on earth knows anything about it. I would like to know if you could tell me why and maybe the value of it.

  9. Raven Rose 28 January, 2020 at 18:43

    i have three of his card don’t know what year they are but they are in good condition for them just siting in my closet for about a year but was vary surprised to find three i thought i only had one.

  10. david 5 February, 2020 at 22:05

    Hello,
    iam david i have a 1996 score bord kobe bryant ppf gold card is there any one out there who can tell me if it’s a money car ?

  11. Angella Myers 13 February, 2020 at 18:57

    I had bought like 12 boxes of topps chrome back n the day before too expensive my brother stole my entire collection moved to another state and bought himself another house

  12. Ryan 20 February, 2020 at 14:28

    I have a misprint rookie Kobe Bryant number 52 Fleer and it has a Kobe Bryant this it where it says Los Angeles Lakers it says Boston Celtics over the top of Los Angeles Lakers just wondering maybe you could help me out on it and tell me what it’s worth or if there’s any more of them or I’ll send a picture thank you

  13. Drew 17 March, 2020 at 04:44

    I’m curious why the Skybox 96-97 New Editions #3 rookie card doesn’t get as much love on these lists. Can you help me better understand your thoughts and opinion please?

  14. Johnny 30 March, 2020 at 05:18

    I have a brand new fresh clean no doubt in my mind will grade a 10 if I sent it off but its the kobe rookie card thats most wanted except not the chrome version its got troops in gold letters in right too corner. im trying to sell this for financial issues and dont know what to sell it for but its never been out of the plastic. then it’s inside a hard plastic case. any info on where I could sell it at?

  15. Wendell Williams 20 April, 2020 at 23:27

    Where does the 1996 Score Board Basketball Kobe Bryant ROOKIE RC AUTO /390 #15 BGS 9.5 stand in this conversation??? Was think to buy this or the Kobe Topps Chrome Base??? Which one should I go with…

  16. Oscar Roman 24 May, 2020 at 19:31

    I have a kobe brian ex2000 23kt gold card. I’ve noticed similar cards on ebay are numbered on numbers up to 4000. My card has a number of 0512/ 1996. Does that help the value of the card?

  17. Robin cummings 4 July, 2020 at 13:06

    Ryan I have a large number of hand signed Kobe Bryant cards, including a few rookies. Who should I have grade and authenticate the signatures?
    Robin

  18. david 2 August, 2020 at 02:50

    I’ve noticed a lot of eBay listings for the Topps chrome reprint but the card itself that’s listed looks like the original. When did the reprint happen!

  19. Johnny 29 August, 2020 at 09:04

    @Ryan, could you help to answer when the Topps Chrome reprint of Kobe happened and which set it’s out of? I recently picked up the refractor version, but cannot find any info when searching online or through my beckett price guide subscription. Thank you in advance

    • Ryan Cracknell 31 August, 2020 at 11:00

      @Johnny – I am not personally familiar with the card you’re referring to. There is likely a year in the copyright, even if it’s a reprint. If you use the search bar at the top of Beckett.com it should also pop up. Even if you search “Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome” there will be lots of results but likely manageable, especially if there’s a copyright year.

  20. Billy 6 November, 2020 at 00:17

    Just was looking online and reading about the Kobe cards. Only thing I’ve ever collected and saved
    I have at least 10 rookie cards.

  21. Emcap 5 March, 2021 at 12:44

    1996 Topps 50th foil parallel Kobe is so rare and just now getting some from the hobby. Lucky I bought me a psa 9 for $200 2 years ago and it now commanding up to 7-12k

  22. clay008 23 March, 2021 at 11:15

    What about the 1996 Topps Finest Kobe Gold Heirs RC #269?! Its waaay more rare and worth a lot more than Kobe’s regular 1996 Topps Finest RC #74…

    • Ryan Cracknell 23 March, 2021 at 12:38

      @clay008 – Are you referring to the one that’s mentioned in the article alongside his Finest RC? The bronze is the most common and first so it gets the RC tag.

  23. Justin 6 June, 2021 at 16:49

    Hey there I have a 2001b2002 honor roll gab floor autographed Kobe Bryant in grading right now. Was unable to find any online sales to compare and give a price. Can anyone help? I see MJ on line Ebay in a 9 for 33,000.

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