REMEMBERING ELGIN — If your passion for the NBA started around the time Magic and Bird were running the floor, or around the time Michael began his Air Jordan act, do yourself a favor. Go to YouTube and look at highlight films featuring the first hoop superstar who legitimately could go by one name: Elgin. 

L.A. Lakers legend Elgin Baylor died on March 22, 2021, and when his name landed in the news, it was accompanied by dazzling footage of the man’s innovative play.

A do-it-all forward, Baylor had a potent arsenal — smooth-as-silk jump shot, powerful drive to the hoop, sneaky finger roll, fading bank shot moving away from the hoop and, of course, eye-popping hang time before hang time was a thing.

And the numbers—Baylor had stats few NBA stars could match. He averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game and made 11 All-Star teams. Yet Baylor was a tad underappreciated, overshadowed by 7-footers Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Celtics dynasty leader Bill Russell and “The Big O,” Oscar Robertson. Since his retirement, a parade of marquee names—from Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James—have pushed Baylor a little more into the background.

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Collectors also undervalue Baylor. True, his rookie card—part of Fleer’s 1961-62 set—can command five-figure prices. Just days before Baylor died, we saw a PSA 8 example of his Fleer rookie sell for $23,811 on 59 bids at eBay. The same day, a PSA 7 example of the card brought $10,950 on 45 bids.

Elgin Baylor's 1961 Fleer rookie card.

Elgin Baylor's 1961 Fleer rookie card.

Otherwise, the phrase “budget-friendly” describes Baylor memorabilia more than “red-hot.” With so few Baylor cards printed during his playing days (there’s a gap in basketball card manufacturing between Fleer’s 1961-62 set and Topps’s 1969-70 set), you’d think anything with his picture would command top dollar. But it’s not so. Consider:

Topps’ 1969-70: This “tall boy” set features a Baylor card that can be had for startlingly low prices, even if in top condition. To wit: A PSA 8-graded specimen sold for $471 on eBay in March, and three PSA 6 examples got away for $104, $76 and $75.

Topps 1970-71: Another tall-boy set, this one again gives us Baylor, but in a recycled photo; Topps re-used the image from the previous year. This one is also easy on the wallet. In March, a PSA 6-graded Baylor card sold on eBay for $295. A PSA 7 example somehow sold for even less: $77. Baylor also appeared on an All-Star card in this set; you can find it for $50 to $75, even in 8 condition.

Topps’ 1971-72: His final player card finds Baylor in a free-throw pose. Again, it’s collector-friendly even at higher grades. Examples in March: Two PSA 9s sold for $406 and $231, and two PSA 8s sold for $300 and $250.

Baylor autographs also are steals. Before his passing, we saw a Baylor-signed Lakers jersey (with PSA/DNA authentication) sell for $280 on 55 bids. We also saw a host of autographed 8 x 10 photos going for $50 to $100. (Do consider, as always, whether they’re authenticated, and by whom, before you buy.)

Baylor signed for a number of card manufacturers, so you’ll find a decent supply of autographed cards. They occasionally sell in the $100 to $150 range, but most are well under $100. Example: An ungraded 2016-17 Upper Deck Supreme Hardcourt card (from an edition of 99) got away for $56 on 27 bids.

A nice option for a Baylor sig is an autographed copy of his book Hang Time: My Life in Basketball. We saw two examples sell for prices of $60 and $75.

The presence of another hoops star can raise the ante. In February, a 2019-20 Immaculate Dual card signed by Baylor and teammate Jerry West sold for $579 on 54 bids.

A signed card of Lakers teammates Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.

A Dual card signed by Lakers teammates Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. 

Baylor, by the way, had an attractive sig—it was left-leaning and very legible. It looks as classy as the man himself was known to be.

More: Memory Lane sets auction record 

EVERGREEN JACKIE — You’d think Jackie Robinson had a hot spring training. In January, we saw a Robinson 1949 Bowman graded PSA 8 sell for $24,322. In mid-March, another PSA 8 specimen of the card came up, and this time, it brought $57,700.

A Jackie Robinson 1949 Bowman.

A 1949 Bowman card of Jackie Robinson recently sold for $57,700. 

We’re kidding about the hot spring training; that serious jump in value likely has more to do with the hobby’s momentum. That’s not to discount Robinson’s impact. He’s among our most enduring heroes, as reflected in these prices paid at recent auctions:

$65,700 on 41 bids for a Mint PSA 9 example of his 1956 Topps card.

$30,100 on 57 bids for a rare 1947 Bond Bread portrait card graded PSA 6

$17,201 on 40 bids for a 1950 Bowman card graded PSA 7.

WANDERING BACK TO THE MINORS (FOR NOW) — Wander Franco is one eagerly awaited rookie. At spring training, Tampa Bay’s prized prospect fueled the hopes of Rays fans and speculative collectors alike—collectors who are paying thousands for his autographed insert cards. A tape-measure home run Franco hit in early March (estimated at 550 feet by team officials who tracked it) only heightened anticipation of his rookie season.

Alas, Tampa sent Franco to the minors to start the season. But keep your eyes on the 20-year-old; it’s not a matter of “if” he gets called up, but “when.”

Collectors are all in on the switch-hitting shortstop, who’s batting .336 in his brief minor-league career. Recent prices paid:

$5,001 on 41 bids for a signed 2019 Bowman Chrome Atomic Refractor. One of only 100 made, it was graded BGS 9.5

$4,950 on 42 bids for an ungraded 2019 Bowman Sterling signed Atomic Refractor, one of only 10 made.

$4,605 on 27 bids for a Gem-Mint (PSA 10) autographed 2019 Bowman Chrome Speckle Refractor. It was one of 299 issued.

More than a dozen other Franco cards from 2019 Chrome insert sets brought prices between $3,000 and $4,500 in recent auctions.

More: Clean Sweep offers rare, affordable collectibles 

The cynics among us might rather wait for his first major-league at-bat before we start paying thousands for his cards. On the other hand, if Franco turns out anywhere close to the promise of his skill set, those four-figure expenditures might be good investments.

TOP 10 CHART

3/21/21

  1. $456,455 on 255 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
  2. $200,200 on 105 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Refractor (BGS 10)
  3. $155,201 on 65 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Sticker Michael Jordan (PSA 10)
  4. $126,300 on 107 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Basketball complete set with stickers (all cards and stickers PSA 9)
  5. $125,100 on 102 bids: 2009-10 Upper Deck Exquisite Michael Jordan Rookie Flashback, 1 of 23, auto patch (BGS 8.5)
  6. $101,700 on 75 bids: 1954 Topps Hank Aaron (SGC 8.5)
  7. $100,101 on 59 bids: 2007-08 Topps Chrome Kevin Durant Orange Refractor, #13/199 (PSA 10)
  8. $98,100 on 39 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Refractor (CGS 9.5)
  9. $83,433 on 87 bids: 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson (SGC 10)
  10. $82,100 on 70 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN — Per our lead item, the fact that an Elgin Baylor rookie card sold for $23,811 is impressive. But the price feels light compared to March sales of rookie cards featuring other NBA legends. For example, a 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Magic Johnson card graded PSA 9 fetched $59,700 on 75 bids. A 1957-58 Topps Bill Russell card graded PSA 6 brought $63,013 on 54 bids.

And, a 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor graded PSA 8 reeled in $75,101 on 140 bids. The figure was enough to put the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on our “next 10” list. Other highlights that didn’t quite make our Top 10 chart:

$80,199 on 86 bids: 2016 Bowman Chrome Juan Soto Gold Refractor, #/50, auto (BGS 9.5, auto 10)

$77,100 on 144 bids: 1984-85 Star Michael Jordan (BGS 9.5)

$75,101 on 140 bids: 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (PSA 8)

$75,101 on 46 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James Black Refractor, #395/500 (PSA 9)

$75,100 on 110 bids: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 3)

$74,995 on 1 bid: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 3.5)

$70,100 on 41 bids: 2003-04 Upper Deck SP Authentic LeBron James, #370/500, auto (PSA 9)

$68,989 on 55 bids: 2019-20 National Treasures Ja Morant, #83/99, auto patch (BGS 9.5)

$68,100 on 106 bids: 2003-04 Topps Chrome LeBron James (BGS 10)

$67,600 on 86 bids: 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan (PSA 9)

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