The Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards: Full Guide With Top Picks

This site contains some affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, at no extra cost to you.

This site contains some affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, at no extra cost to you.

It’ll come as no surprise that Kobe Bryant has some of the most sought-after sports cards in existence. His rookie cards, released in the 90s, are prized possessions for many of the collectors who are lucky enough to have them.

In my opinion, his best rookie card is the 1996-97 Topps Chrome card, and he has some other great options; I’ve covered all the top picks below, and answered the frequently asked questions.

There are plenty of notable Kobe Bryant rookie cards out there – let’s take a look at some of his most expensive and popular cards.

Table of Contents

Quick Summary: Top 3 Picks

Here’s a quick look at the 3 best and most expensive Kobe Bryant rookie cards:

  1. 1996-97 Topps Chrome #138 (Refractor parallel)
  2. 1996-97 Skybox E-X2000 #30 (Credentials parallel)
  3. 1996-97 Flair Showcase Row 0 #31 (Legacy Collection parallel)

The Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards

1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant #138

1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant #138

If you ask most collectors in the basketball card hobby, they’ll likely say this Topps Chrome card is the holy grail of Kobe Bryant rookie cards – it’s one of Kobe’s most desirable cards, and one of the most sought-after basketball cards in general.

The Topps chrome product was instantly popular, and that’s only grown over time – It’s become one of the key sets in the basketball card hobby.

While the base card holds value, and is a card most aim for, it’s the Refractor parallel version which is the big hitter. The Refractor sells for huge money in auction, with prices skyrocketing in recent times.

A BGS 10 Black Label graded copy of the Refractor parallel sold for $1.8 million in 2021, which makes it one of the most expensive sports cards of the 1990s.

It’s easily one of the best Kobe rookies to collect.

1996-97 Skybox E-X2000 Kobe Bryant #30

The Skybox E-X2000 Kobe Bryant rookie card is a bit of a different and unique card – it has quite a premium look to it.

In my opinion it’s one of the nicest Kobe cards, with the foil borders and slightly random, but cool looking sky background, behind a great image of Kobe in action.

The foil border is prone to damage with nicks and scratches, so it’s not the easiest card to find in good condition.

The card has a Credentials parallel (/499) which fetches big money when they come up for sale – A copy sold for as much as $360k before.

It’s a highly desired Kobe Bryant rookie card, and one of the most valuable options.

1996-97 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant #74

1996-97 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant #74

Topps Finest cards were some of the most popular in the basketball card hobby – but the late release of the 1996-97 set caused a bit of a stir in the hobby.

However, the Finest Kobe Bryant rookie card is still a good option for collectors, and is still popular.

The parallels of this card hold the big values, particularly the Gold Refractor, which is the most scarce and desirable, and therefore the most valuable.

These Topps Finest cards originally came with a protective film to, well… protect the card. It doesn’t really have a big impact on value if it does or does not still have the protective film, however it’s likely those with the protective film will be in better condition, and that obviously will impact the value.

1996-97 Flair Showcase Kobe Bryant #31

1996-97 Flair Showcase Kobe Bryant #31

The Flair Showcase 1996 basketball cards have a distinct look to them, with a font which makes them feel quite premium.

There’s 3 different base cards for Kobe Bryant in this set, with a tiered structure of rarity. The ‘Row 2’ card is the most common, with the ‘Row 1’ card being less common, and finally the ‘Row 0’ card which is rare, and the most valuable.

The more scarce Row 1 and Row 0 cards also have separate designs, but all 3 rows come with a ‘Legacy Collection’ parallel numbered /150 – these are highly sought-after and hold a lot of value.

1996-97 Bowman’s Best Kobe Bryant #R23

1996-97 Bowman’s Best Kobe Bryant #R23

The Bowman’s Kobe rookie card is more of a classic looking basketball card, but with a chromium finish, which has become so popular in recent times.

With the rise of chrome style cards, this one already holds value but should also do well going forward. 

The base card is valuable but there’s the Refractor and Atomic Refractor parallels, both of which carry significantly more value than the base.

1996-97 Ultra Kobe Bryant #52

This 1996 Kobe rookie card entry from Ultra has a slick design and a 90’s feel to it with the fonts they used – It shows a great photo of a young Bryant in action for the Lakers.

The base card does have some value, but the rare gold medallion, and even more rare platinum medallion, parallels (distinguished by the text style and finish) fetch bigger money.

1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant #19

1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant RC #19

While UD3 never really established itself as a brand within the hobby, the UD3 Kobe Bryant rookie card still holds value, although it’s not one of the more valuable Kobe rookies.

This card offers something different in the way of design from the other 1996 Kobe Bryant cards, with a wood style frame and a young Kobe leaning against a brick wall, it’s a cool card to add to a collection.

A PSA 10 copy sells for on average $200-$400, so it’s a great, affordable, Kobe Bryant rookie option.

1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant #58

1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant

The 1996 Upper Deck card is a rare Kobe rookie card, which also offers something different in the design.

The main image shows Kobe Bryant outside the Basketball world, with a less intense side of him than what fans were used to seeing on the court.

The scarcity of the card helps gives it a bit more value, but it’s certainly one of the more affordable Kobe rookie cards.

Like the UD3 rookie, this one sells for on average $200-$400 in a PSA 10 grade, so it’s another one of his best lower-budget rookie cards.

When Was Kobe’s Rookie Season?

1996-97 was Kobe Bryant’s rookie season – At the time, he was the second-youngest player ever to play in an NBA game and also the youngest NBA starter.

What Are Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Worth

There are a lot of variables that determine the value of a Kobe rookie card, such as its condition and grade and which of his rookie cards it is.

Most high graded Kobe rookie cards sell for at least $1,000 – $2,000, with some of the more rare and premium cards selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What Is The Most Valuable Kobe Bryant Rookie Card?

The current most valuable Kobe Bryant rookie card is the Topps Chrome #138 Refractor parallel, which is considered one of the most valuable basketball cards in existence.

The card sold at auction in March 2021 for just under $1.8 million, which at the time was a record sale for a Kobe Bryant card. The 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald Kobe Bryant card did sell for more ($2 million) in February 2022, however that card is not from his rookie season, and therefore is not considered a Kobe Bryant rookie card.

How Many Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Are There?

There’s 16 different Kobe Bryant rookie cards from the 1996-97 NBA season, from various different manufacturers.

Are Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards A Good Investment?

Kobe Bryant is one of the NBA’s GOATs – His cards are in high demand, and I can’t see that changing over time. As his cards become harder to buy and get hold of, their values are likely to increase. While Kobe rookie cards are already valuable and pricey, I see them doing well long term.

Will Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards Go Up In Value?

Kobe’s rookie cards have steadily risen over time, which has accelerated in more recent times. 

Long term, Kobe Bryant rookies should do well in terms of value – he’s a hugely popular icon of the sport, and basketball collectors will always have a demand for his rookie cards. 

Some of Kobe’s rookie cards are still very much affordable compared to the current most valuable cards, like the Topps Chrome Refractor for example – as collectors get priced out of those cards, they’ll look to the alternatives.

What Is The Most Expensive Kobe Bryant Basketball Card?

In February 2022, one of Kobe Bryant’s rarest cards, the 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald card, sold for around $2 million, which is a record sale for a Kobe card, despite not being a rookie, and makes it his most expensive basketball card.

The BGS 8.5 rated card is one of just 10 in existence, and 1 of 2 in that grade – there’s none currently graded higher.

Kobe’s basketball cards have become some of the most popular in modern sports card collecting, and that’s led to some big values on them.

Kobe Bryant: A Background

Kobe is rightly regarded as one of Basketball’s all-time greats – many consider him as the NBA’s main man during the 2000s.

The legendary guard is a 5-time NBA champion with the LA Lakers, with his first coming in 2000, playing alongside Shaquille O’Neal, and last in 2010 in a career that spanned 20 years.

“Black Mamba” is the all-time leading scorer in Lakers history, and was the first guard in NBA history to play 20 seasons – He also has the most consecutive appearances as a starter. Kobe’s four NBA All-Star Game MVP Awards are the joint most in NBA history and his 18 All-Star designations are the second most of all time.

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.
Shopping Cart