When Leore Avidar got back into collecting sports cards in 2016, he started picking up as many Kobe Bryant and LeBron James cards as he could.
Avidar has amassed around 150 Bryant and 30 James cards, all top-notch and highly graded.
But when Goldin Auctions released the item list for its Summer Premium Auction last year, one card caught Avidar’s attention: a James 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Patch Parallel numbered 14/23. Graded BGS 9.5 and 10 autograph, Avidar set his sights squarely on the prize.
Avidar, along with a number of investors for their new company Alt, ended up winning the auction at a price tag of $1.8 million on July 18, 2020, which at the time was a record for a modern-day card. Though that record was soon eclipsed by a Giannis Antetokounmpo rookie card and then a Mike Trout rookie, it proved to be an excellent investment. In April, PWCC sold a grade-9 of the same card to a private collector for $5.2 million — a record for a basketball card and matching a 1952 Mickey Mantle for the highest-selling card of all-time.
“Pretty crazy,” Avidar told Sports Collectors Digest after the purchase last year. “A /99 just went for $1.1 million, so it’s definitely been a whirlwind since we bought it.”
Goldin Auctions CEO and founder Ken Goldin said 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite is the greatest set ever produced. The James card is the top card in the set and in excellent condition, hence the high price tag.
“LeBron is the most collectible name in basketball,” Goldin told Sports Collectors Digest. “People will say Jordan. However, LeBron has more of an international following and a high percentage of basketball collectors are international.”
Avidar, who is the CEO and co-founder of the startup technology company Lob, said he wanted to go after that specific James card for two reasons.
“One, it’s basically buying the market,” Avidar said. “I’m extremely bullish on the market. So, name a better basketball card than this LeBron James card? It’s like buying the Apple, if you believe in technology.
“Then the second one is, I’m a big Kobe and LeBron fan. So, anytime you get something that is such a monumental piece of history and a representation of the player, it really brings the nostalgia back. I have the most iconic rookie card in existence and the best quality.”
Since the James card is numbered to 23, there are still 22 of those cards out in the market. However, according to Avidar, his card is only one of two graded BGS 9.5. The grade-9 that sold for $5.2 million is believed to be the third-best version of the card, according to PWCC. Goldin also recently sold another grade-9 with a 10 autograph for $1.72 million.
Avidar also collects 1-of-1 cards of James and Bryant. But the 31-year-old enjoys the fact that there are other examples of his latest James card.
“I actually like sometimes that there’s more than one, because you can share it with a group of people,” Avidar said. “So, there’s these stories and you can talk to other people and hear how they got it. Also, the part that I love the best so far is after we bought the card, LeBron said, ‘I’ve got a couple of these.’ So, I’m like, ‘Does he have a couple of cards? Does he have a couple of LeBron cards? Does he have a couple of 2003 Exquisite cards? Or does he legitimately have two of these 23?’
“… It’s kind of cool, actually, if you think about it. These 23 pieces of this jersey are just such a representation of LeBron in his rookie year and his career and the history, all put into one piece.”
Trying to win the auction for the James card was an adventure. Avidar had a group of people at his California house and he was at his kitchen table in the final minutes of the auction trying to lock down the masterpiece. It became a mind strategy when it entered extended bidding time. Prior to the auction, Avidar had set his maximum bid amount at $1.5 million, and he was pushed to the limit.
“We got to a point where it was, if I remember correctly, at $1.4,” Avidar said, “and I told the team that I was with, I said, ‘Listen, I really only have one more bid in me. We can either be at $1.45. If you go a straight bid, a tie goes to the seller. Then we’ll have to do $1.5, or if we put $1.5 and we hope that the bidder was doing $1.45.’ Then we basically priced him or her out of that next bid. So, basically, we ended up doing the $1.5.
“I was saying, ‘This is the max that we can do.’ It went really quickly. Usually, people don’t generally wait until the last five minutes. It got close to the wire and we were definitely trying to pass the time. In the last two minutes, we were like, ‘Is this really ours?’ Then in the last minute, we were like, ‘OK, this is ours. No one’s going to submit in the last minute.’ Then we counted down the last 10 seconds.”
Avidar called Goldin Auctions afterward just to make sure he had landed the card. Rest assured, Avidar picked up his dream LeBron card.
“I could see this challenge the Trout Super(fractor) one day for most valuable modern card,” Goldin said at that time, a prediction that proved prophetic.
STARTING HIS COLLECTION EARLY
Avidar first started collecting cards when he was about 6 years old. That was his hobby for a few years before he picked it back up again when he became established in the working world and had some money to spend.
Avidar figures he has about 200 cards in his collection. Along with his impressive Bryant and James cards, Avidar has a couple Kevin Durant cards along with Paul George.
Avidar said he buys sports cards because it’s a fun hobby, but it also serves as an alternative investment option. However, he stressed he will never buy any card based solely for investment purposes.
“There are like some cards that I will never give up,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what the price is, and this is one of them.”
When Avidar jumped back into collecting four years ago, the first card he bought was a Bryant 1996-97 Skybox EX-2000. Getting that urge to buy Bryant cards keeps Avidar on the hunt.
Avidar’s most prized Bryant card to date is the 2008 Topps Chrome Superfractor graded PSA 10. It features Bryant being guarded by James. Avidar saw the card on eBay about a year and a half ago and then connected with the seller on Instagram.
“It’s the card I have that everyone always wants,” Avidar said. “But it’s less fun because no one else has it, so I can’t go and talk to somebody about it. ‘How did you go get yours?’ So, you can’t share stories. You can tell your story, but you can’t hear from somebody else and compare and contrast. I think part of that is part of the hobby that I actually enjoy. There’s actually, I think, too unique or too rare that it becomes less interesting.”
Avidar isn’t big into displaying his cards and keeps most of his collection, including his James Exquisite, at an offsite location. Not being able to physically touch and see his cards makes it hard to enjoy his collection.
“I have really high-quality images and sometimes you can even enjoy it a little bit more with the imagery,” Avidar said. “But nothing beats going to see the cards in person.”
As Avidar’s company continues to thrive, he loves having the ability to escape work and log onto eBay to look at cards. He has plans to keep buying cards that pique his interest.
“I like meeting new people in the hobby, so it’s just a way for me to decompress and I get a lot of enjoyment just looking at the cards,” Avidar said. “I don’t know what it is, I think it’s the stories. It’s the chase sometimes. How did I get this card? What did I have to do?”
ALT STARTS OUT STRONG
Alt, which was founded in July 2020 and officially launched on March 18, allows investors to manage trading cards and other alternative assets similarly to the way they manage more traditional assets like stocks and bonds.
“It’s going incredibly well,” Avidar said. “It’s been really great to see kind of the positive outpour from the community on the product, as well as people who maybe haven’t experienced cards in a while and were really interested in getting into alternative assets and just signed up for Alt and started playing around and buying some cards.”
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Alt isn’t divulging how many clients it works with, but Avidar said it’s in the “tens of thousands.”
The company makes buying and selling sports cards flawless. Avidar related it to a brokerage account where a client has to upload money into their account and once money is in there, it can be spent.
“If you think about custody, we already have the dollars and we already have the card. What we’re just doing is we’re flip-flopping it between the buyer and the seller,” Avidar said.
This eliminates fraud elements that happen on eBay and other marketplaces where a buyer might not send payment for purchase or a seller sells a card it actually doesn’t own. Every card that is involved in the exchange has to be stored at Alt’s vaults in either California or Delaware.
Avidar said Alt’s clients are enjoying the experience.
“I think there’s not a lot of venture-backed companies who really understand design and interaction. And so, the site is really clean and I think that people appreciate that we have a long-term vision for this space and it’s not short-sided,” he said. “Small things like, hey, we’re customer-first in terms of only charging 1.5 percent fees, compared to 12.5 percent on eBay or 20 percent on Goldin [Auctions]. Instant payment, so if you’re selling a card, you get the cash right then and there, then you can deposit it into your bank account as opposed to having to wait 60-plus days at all these auction houses and waiting for someone to actually pay you on eBay.
“I think the last part is everything, is in custody. You don’t even have to think or worry about fraud, which I know everyone is just really, really anxious about every time they do a sale on most platforms.”
The James card was the highest selling basketball card ever until Avidar and Alt purchased a Giannis Antetokounmpo 2013-14 National Treasures NBA Logoman Patch signed 1/1 of rookie for $1.857 million. Alt also picked up a Stephen Curry 2009-10 Panini National Treasures Century Gold patch autograph BGS 9.5 numbered 10/25 for $616,000 and a Kawhi Leonard 2012-13 Panini Prizm Prizms Gold BGS 9.5 numbered 5/10 for $100,100.
How do those high-buck cards fit into the mix with Alt?
“The company really is building the financial services for alternative assets, so when you think about the financial services space, one aspect is an exchange, which we’ve built, the other part that’s really important is to bring institutional investors to a new alternative asset class,” Avidar said.
Alt raised a $12 million fund called Alt Fund 1 where investors can invest in sports cards and gain exposure in the industry.
“They don’t really understand which cards to buy, right, [but] they know that I know how to do that,” he said. “What they want is exposure to an asset class that has higher returns and it’s not correlated to the stock market. So, we raised that $12 million fund and the LeBron was the first purchase in that fund.”
Those trading cards are attached to a 10-year fund. Avidar said that when that time frame has expired, the company can sell those cards or turn them into an exchange-traded fund (ETF).
“Ideally, we want to put together one of the best collections in the world,” Avidar said. “These are museum-type cards. We can actually go and create maybe pop-up museums for people to see it. We’re trying to do something special and different.”