6 Unforgettable Sports Card Lines From The 1990s

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90s Sports Cards

If you ask me when the best era for sports cards was, the 1990s would certainly be up there, particularly the late 90s.

It was a magical time for the hobby which had notable events like the end of the Junk Wax Era, and the release of the first-ever relic cards.

Some of the most awesome cards were released, and a few are among the most valuable sports cards of all time.

So, if you were around collecting sports cards in the 90s, get ready for a big hit of nostalgia, as I’ve listed 6 unforgettable sports card lines from that decade, below.

Skybox Precious Metal Gems

Debut Year: 1997

Kobe Bryant Precious Metal Gems
Derek Jeter Precious Metal Gems

The Precious Metal Gems (PMG) parallels of the late 90s are some of the most popular sports cards ever released.

I, like many others, absolutely love these cards.

Skybox first released PMG parallels in the 1997-98 Metal Universe Basketball and 1997 Metal Universe Football sets.

It’s fair to say those first basketball PMGs are the most popular and valuable of the lot.

They were limited to only 100 copies per player, with the first 10 in green foil, and the remaining 90 in red foil; The etched foil design is so visually appealing, but it made them a nightmare to keep in top condition.

Unsurprisingly, it’s Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s 97-98 Precious Metal Gems cards that are the most notable; They’re among the most valuable sports cards released during the 1990s.

For the ‘97 Football PMG cards, it was the same popular design, but the cards were numbered to 150 copies (15 Green & 135 Red), with notable names like Brett Favre and Jerry Rice included.

PMG parallels returned for basketball and football collectors in 1998, and debuted for baseball, albeit with a totally different design, but entries from Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter are also worth a mention.

Skybox Dunk ’N Go-Nuts

Debut Year: 1998

Skybox’s Dunk ‘N Go-Nuts line is one of my favorite inserts from the 1990s, and they’re popular cards, which continued to be a chase years after their release.

The one-time release of the Dunk ‘N Go-Nuts cards came in the 1998-99 E-X Century Basketball card set, and the checklist featured 20 of the NBA’s best dunkers at the time, showcasing their dunking prowess.

Along with the obvious word play, the Dunkin’ Donuts font and colors are featured on the side of the iconic acetate cards.

They fell at 1 per 36 packs, which meant a pull rate of around every other box.

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s Dunk ‘N Go-Nuts cards are the most sought-after and valuable of the set, and they’re not easy to find today.

Upper Deck Game Jersey

Debut Year: 1996

Now for some of the most recognizable cards of the 1990s: Upper Deck’s Game Jersey cards.

While memorabilia cards are commonplace in the sports card hobby today, they certainly weren’t when UD first released their Game Jersey cards in 1996; They were one of a few card manufacturers to release relic sports cards for the first time in that year.

The first Game Jersey cards featured football and hockey stars at the time, and the concept of a piece of game-worn jersey, from the player featured, resonated well with collectors.

GJ cards returned in 1997, and debuted for basketball and baseball. Again unsurprisingly, Michael Jordan’s 1997 Game Jersey card is the most coveted and valuable.

In fact, there’s a regular version of the Jordan card, which is expensive itself, but also a hard-signed and hand-numbered version, which is limited to only 23 copies, and is actually the most expensive sports card from the whole decade; In 2021, a BGS 8 graded copy sold for $2.7 million.

Another notable mention, among others, is the iconic 1997 Ken Griffey Jr. Game Jersey card, which is one of his most popular ever; The baseball cards had a different design to the basketball, but followed the same popular concept.

Upper Deck’s Game Jersey cards no doubt played a role in changing the hobby, and they’re definitely some of the most cherished cards from their era.

Skybox Star Rubies

Debut Year: 1997

Peyton Manning Star Rubies

Skybox’s Star Rubies parallel cards are another grail of sports cards from the 1990s; They remain very popular today, and for good reason – They’re awesome.

The 1996-97 Skybox Premium Basketball set was the first to have them, although at that point they were known as just Rubies; They replaced the gold colored foil of the base cards with ruby colored foil.

The 1997-98 Skybox Premium set is when they changed to Star Rubies, and they really upped the game; The exciting, shiny cards again featured the ruby colored foil, but the designs were very popular, and they were serial-numbered to only 50 copies.

More Star Rubies releases followed, across multiple sports; Aside from the obviously notable Star Rubies Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant cards, other big entries come from the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Rice, Ken Griffey Jr. and Derek Jeter.

There’s no doubt that the Star Rubies parallels of the late 90s have a special place in the heart of many collectors from that era, including me.

Skybox Essential Credentials

Debut Year: 1997

Yes, another parallel line from Skybox, and yes, another set of very popular and iconic sports cards from the late 1990s.

The low-numbered cards featured a lot of color and foil, with exciting and well-liked designs that are still desired by collectors today.

The Essential Credentials parallels were released across multiple sports, starting in 1997, but it’s the 1997-98 Skybox E-X2001 Basketball EC cards that are the most coveted and recognizable.

Each player had a total of 81 Essential Credentials cards from the set, split into “Future” and “Now”. The green themed Now parallels had a print run matching the player’s actual card number in the set, and the pink themed Future parallels numbering takes the remainder of the 81.

The rarity and popularity of Essential Credentials parallels help make them valuable cards in the hobby today.

Fleer Masterpiece 1-of-1s

Debut Year: 1997

Who can forget the 1-of-1 Masterpiece cards from Fleer in the late 90s.

Fleer changed the game after the release of the first Masterpiece cards in 1997; They were the first true 1-of-1 parallel sports cards.

The concept of 1/1 cards was a success, and they’re a sports card staple now, but it all started with these Fleer inserts, from their Flair Showcase and Ultra releases, across baseball, basketball and football.

The unmistakable shine and the allure of the ultimate rarity made them so popular, and they continue to be sought-after today.

It’s quite rare to see one come up for sale these days, and I’ve not been fortunate enough to own one of these beauties, but never say never.

Picture of Jason Clarke

Jason Clarke

Jason is a lifelong sports fanatic and a huge fan of the NBA and NFL. He's long been a collector of sports cards - For over 20 years in fact. He collects various different sports, as well as some non-sport cards. He has a particular soft spot for 90s basketball inserts. Find Jason on X (Twitter): @jason_clarke91.
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