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Rare Kobe Bryant card sets record with $2M sale

Kobe Bryant's legacy has pushed his basketball trading cards to new heights with a rare 1997-98 Kobe card selling for a record $2 million.

It’s been two years since the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, but his legacy still shines bright thanks, in part, to the soaring value of his trading cards.

Another example emerged last week when a rare 1997-98 Bryant card sold for $2 million — a record for a Kobe card and one of the highest-selling basketball cards of all time.

The private sale of the 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald card was brokered by PWCC Marketplace.

1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald Kobe Bryant #81 card that sold for a record $2 million.

1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald Kobe Bryant #81 card. 

Also See: Top 10 sports cards of all time 

The rare card, which features the special Emerald variation of the Precious Metal Gems issue, is one of only 10 in existence and one of only two graded BGS 8.5, the highest grade known to exist.

“This is arguably Kobe’s best card in existence,” said Jesse Craig, director of business development at PWCC. “It’s more desirable than even a Kobe Bryant rookie card or a Kobe Bryant autograph.”

The historic design of the card changed the way manufacturers created “insert” cards as an alternative to the base cards typically found in a pack or regular set of cards.

Back of 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald Kobe Bryant #81 card that sold for a record $2 million.

Back of 1997-98 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Emerald Kobe Bryant #81 card.

“These Precious Metal Gems variants are arguably the most desired insert card in the entire world,” Craig said. “These set the tone for the insert market going forward. It’s just incredibly difficult to find them in any condition, and because of their delicate nature, to find one in such good condition is incredibly rare.”

The sale places the Kobe card among the top-selling basketball cards of all time. The highest-selling basketball card is a 2003-04 LeBron James Exquisite Collection Rookie Parallel card. Numbered #7/23 and graded BGS 9, it sold last year for $5.2 million in a deal also brokered by PWCC. The card ranks second among the top 10 highest-selling sports cards of all time. A 2018-19 Panini National Treasures Logoman Luka Doncic Rookie Patch Auto card ranks second at $4.6 million.

An 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, Bryant’s legacy as one of the greatest players of all time continues to push his trading cards to another level.

“The buyer here collects only the best players, and this price is driven both by the quality of card and by the reverence for Kobe Bryant,” Craig said. “We’re now a few years removed from his tragic passing and people are starting to reflect on what he meant to the game and the culture of the sport.

“Simply put, he’s easily in the discussion for one of the greatest players of all-time and has a devoted following across the globe. His assets are likely to continue to see a rise in demand as people continue to seek a way to own a part of history and connect with one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen play the game.”