As the offspring of the 2003 NBA Draft continue to make an indelible impression on the game and basketball hobby, the question on the curious lips of most fans is whether this class is emerging as the greatest in the league's draft history.
With six players already All-Stars in just four years, the compelling argument is that LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade are riding a very fast horse to the Hall of Fame. The practical argument says Josh Howard, Chris Bosh, Kirk Hinrich and T.J. Ford are developing into mainstay players. And the mystery question is whether Leandro Barbosa, Luke Ridnour, Chris Kamon, Mo Williams or a mix of several others can embellish this class along the way.
Of course, greatness cannot be bestowed until greatness is achieved. And greatness is measured in longevity, consistency and foremost, championships.
That why the draft classes of 1984, '96 and '70 stand above - for now.
To date, Wade is the lone member of the Class of '03 to win a title. He was the most valuable player of the Miami Heat's drive in 2005-06. Yet there's no bigger spotlight than the one that follows Cleveland's James, the class'
No. 1 overall pick and, rightfully, the game's current king.
No matter what James accomplishes statistically in his career he will ultimately be measured by championships. Magic Johnson won his first title at 20, Kobe Bryant at 22 and Tim Duncan at 23.
Is James' clock ticking at the ripe, old age of 22?
That's why this year's NBA playoffs should be so interesting. With the great debate of history's best draft class alive and well, who among the Class of '03 might win a title and vault themselves - and the class - further into hallowed territory?
A closer look at the key members of the class and how they compare historically and with collectors:
LeBRON JAMES, Cavaliers
Pick: No. 1 overall
Skinny: Rookie of the Year, All-Star, first-team All-NBA, Olympian and the league's most marketable player since Michael Jordan. King James has lived up to every bit of the hype.
Skill: All-around court presence and prolific scorer, but what most often amazes people is his amazing ball-handling for a 6-8 player.
Comparison: Magic Johnson
Collectibility: One of the hobby leaders and by far the most desirable of NBA players. His signature is perhaps the most sought-after of active athletes and his card market is quickly becoming among the best of any athlete in history. Never in the history of the hobby has an active player had card issues reach five figures. If he wins a championship and has a long, clean, healthy career, James' collectibility will be in the same breath of Jordan, Tiger and Ripken - with only Mantle above him.
Card to Collect: 2003-04 UD Exquisite Rookie Patch Parallel #78, $13,000 and climbing.
CARMELO ANTHONY, Nuggets
Pick: No. 3
Skinny: Good friend with James and the star of Syracuse's NCAA championship run as a freshman in 2003, Anthony has quickly become one of the league's best-scoring small forwards.
Skill: Terrific natural scorer and underrated rebounder, but where he shows equal promise is as a natural leader.
Comparison: Dominique Wilkins
Collectibility: Rode a high after winning the NCAA title and being taken so high in the draft, but being on a low-profile Denver sqaud, which hasn't been a championship contender since the old ABA days, tempers the collectors. Not that he doesn't have a following or market, but we have seen what a title and big market have done for Wade.
Card to Collect: 2003-04 UD Exquisite Rookie Patch Parallel #76, $3,500 and climbing.
CHRIS BOSH, Raptors
Pick: No. 4
Skinny: Classic nickname of his initials and jersey number, CB4 is another of the modern athletic big men like Amare Stoudemire whose inside game is complemented by a decent outside attack. An accomplished shot blocker and defender, he's getting better by the year. Once his body fills out, he might be the next Moses Malone.
Skill: Quick and athletic with strength to the basket
Comparison: Kevin McHale
Collectibility: Players on Canadian teams rarely make much of a dent in the U.S. hobby, but for two years now, Bosh has been climbing, climbing, climbing. His card values are showing escalations up to 400 percent on some issues and his autograph prices soared once he reached his first All-Star Game in 2006. Extremely popular and likable player whose philanthropy is expected to take him home to Dallas when he becomes a free agent. There, his collectibility could soar off the charts.
Card to Collect: 2003-04 UD Exquisite Rookie Patch Parallel #75, $3,000 and climbing.
DWYANE WADE, Heat
Pick: No. 5
Skinny: Flash has quickly become one of the league's most accomplished players while also being Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. The kind of player fans love, evidenced by his jersey being the No. 1 seller for two straight years. Last year's championship and NBA Finals MVP award have lifted him to pre-legend status.
Skill: Using his speed and leaping ability for the drive and dish when he isn't sealing the deal himself. He's also amazingly poised and competitive.
Comparison: Clyde Drexler
Collectibility: Generating plenty of Heat almost since his first day in the league thanks in great part to his team's big man, Shaq, and their success on the floor. Being MVP of last year's championship run was a boon to his market, which was already escalating. So some leveling remains to be expected but it hasn't happened much. Supply of his authentically signed materials continues to lag behind demand and even his cheaper cards aren't so cheap. Look for that value to dip just a bit if the Heat fails to defend their title.
Card to Collect: 2003-04 UD Exquisite Rookie Patch Parallel #74, $7,500 and climbing.
CHRIS KAMAN, Clippers
Skinny: Terrific story of a Wyoming kid with severe ADHD who rose from Central Michigan to be an important part of the Clippers' rise. At 7-0, he runs the floor and has a really nice jump hook. But he continues to be a work in progress and appears destined to be a cult-figure, complementary part of his teams.
Skill: 6-foot-11 wingspan
Comparison: The Geico "Caveman"
Collectibility: Starting to move as the Clippers continue to build a solid and interesting team that won't always be overshaded by the Lakers. Obviously, part of his appeal is the lanky, Bill Walton-ish approach to the game. But collectors have a history of being attracted to character athletes such as Kaman (see Rodman, Charboneau, etc.) and if the Clips ever make a title run, watch out.
Card to Collect: 2003-04 UD Exquisite Rookie Patch Parallel #72, $200 and climbing.
JOSH HOWARD, Mavericks
Skinny: Living proof that scouts, combines and tryouts can't measure the heart of the player. Passed over until the last pick of the first round, Howard, at 6-7, has proven to be the perfect complementary player who scores when needed, rebounds, passes and fills gaps.
Skill: Well-rounded player who is a relentless defender. Does whatever he's asked, and does it well.
Comparison: Scottie Pippen
Collectibility: After battling nagging injuries early in his career, a very quick turn on the collector market the past few months as the Mavs have rolled off the victories and appear to be championship contenders. His memorabilia cards have taken some notable leaps, but his autograph market remains significantly small. H is market is still reacting to him making his first All-Star team this past winter. Look for huge climbs if the Mavs win the title.
Card to Collect: 2003-04 UD Exquisite Rookie Patch Parallel #53, $450 and climbing.
Regular contributor Dennis Tuttle is a master of the pick and roll and has been slugging out stories for Tuff Stuff since 1993. While he doesn't believe in making deadlines, few can question his ability from beyond the arc.
Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the May 2007 issue of Tuff Stuff magazine, a sister publication of Sports Collectors Digest. To see what
else Tuff Stuff has to offer go to www.tuffstuff.com