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The basketball card market is exploding right now, with boxes of 19-20 cards going at extreme premiums and specific variants outperforming the stock market at every level. The boom led to the most expensive basketball trading card ever sold last week, when an exclusive 2003-04 LeBron James Upper Deck signed rookie Patch Parallel card went for a cool $1.84mm USD at auction. 

So why are basketball cards so popular right now? And what do you need to know if you want to get into collecting? We've got answers to all your questions:

Why is it so popular right now?

It's a mix of things, really. Rookie cards will always be the most valuable in the hobby and the NBA has two different generational rookie talents this season, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. They both have an excellent opportunity to become global superstars and people are hungry to score debut cards featuring either player. And with certain rarities fetching five figures in some circumstances, it's elevated the gambling aspect of buying and opening packs to new heights.

Meanwhile, investor and social media personality Gary Vaynerchuck has been using his influence and passion for trading cards to pump up the investment opportunities through his various channels. "I expect to make millions in the next few years by flipping cards," he said in a recent video. 

And then there is the entire YouTube universe, where millions of people watch people do nothing but open packs of basketball cards. If you're interested in the hobby, it's a riveting showcase of twists and turns and raw human emotion but to the uninitiated, it's painfully boring. There is plenty of audience interaction as well, as most of the top creators participate in Group Breaks, where viewers purchase different portions of the box and receive everything in a specific pack or every card pertaining to a certain team.

Lastly, sneaker enthusiasts have largely become obsessed with the hobby. They're applying a lot of the same tactics they've developed when flipping rare Yeezys or Nikes to the trading card space.

Will I make any money from this?

Maybe. But probably not. We have no idea how the market will shift and change over the coming months and years. Only spend money you're OK to lose, much like you would on a cryptocurrency or speculative stock.

Screw it. I want to rip open some basketball cards. What should I buy?

First, you should always opt for boxes rather than individual packs, not only because it's a better overall value but because many boxes offer guarantees on at least one autographed card, for instance.

And second, you should always pay the premium for Hobby Boxes over Retail Boxes, which offer a much higher insert ratio for rare and special cards.

For both card design aesthetics and value, here are our favorite boxes to score right now:

Where is the best place to buy?

Call your local card shops and ask for pricing information on the Hobby Boxes laid out above. All will be selling at a premium but some more than others.

And if you're feeling lucky, try your local Target or Walmart. They sell Retail Boxes of basketball cards, which is less ideal, but at MSRP with no markup. If you don't want to open them yourself, you can generally flip them for 500% or more on eBay. 

Opening boxes feels too much like gambling. I'd rather buy individual cards. Who should I be targeting?

Rookie cards are almost always the right play. Outside of the obvious choices like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and modern legends like LeBron James, lots of money is flooding into Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson rookie cards right now. And at a slightly reduced cost, Trae Young and Ja Morant rookie cards are trending in the right direction. Of course, pricing ranges dramatically depending on card and rarity. Find a design you're passionate about with a price point you're comfortable with.

What do I need to know about grading?

There are a handful of different grading companies, each providing authentication on trading cards while offering a 0-10 score on condition. PSA is the biggest name in the space and tends to offer the highest return when flipping. SGC is a smaller name but their services are less expensive and arrive with a handsome tuxedo-style display case. They also operate on a speedier timetable, so your cards typically return home faster than with PSA. 

So, should I only buy graded cards online?

StockX only offers graded cards but eBay offers both graded and "raw" cards. Modern trading cards are far more difficult to replicate than vintage trading cards but regardless, graded is always the safer play and ensures no major flaws.

I think I pulled something special. How do I know how much the card is worth?

The easiest way is searching by "SOLD" rather than "CURRENT LISTINGS" on eBay, which takes the optimism out of some of the more aggressive asking prices. 

Are baseball and football cards next?

Maybe. But the NBA is the most popular league in the world with personality-driven stars. If you want to "get in early" with another sport, soccer (due to the global fandom) followed by baseball (due to the O.G. nature of baseball cards) would be our suggestions. Mike Trout and Christian Pulisic, in particular, feel like strong bets. Mookie Betts rookie cards have also been on the rise.