A funny thing happened on my way to furthering my sports fandom…
Like it was 25 years ago, around the time the pandemic hit, I found myself contemplating: should I start collecting sports cards again?
Fueled by the tantalizing attributes of Zion Williamson and Ja Morant in their rookie years, it seemed like a good time to pick the hobby back up. But, in this new parallel universe of sports card collecting, up is down and down is up.
It costs more to buy a Jordan Love card than it does to buy most Michael Jordan cards. Yes, a man who literally took ZERO snaps in his NFL rookie season has more expensive cards than the GREATEST ATHLETE EVER!!! Let that sink in for a minute…
I stopped collecting sports cards in the middle of the 1990’s. So, the learning curve to get myself back into the hobby was steep. But, my curiosity led me to see how much value there was for cards of former Syracuse players. As you might expect, don’t go by career stats when considering value:
- Carmelo Anthony, the most decorated former Syracuse player still active in the NBA, has some value to his name. An average rookie card (rookies always carry more value than subsequent cards in a player’s career) of Anthony goes for $30-$50. Not bad. Now, if you have an Anthony rookie in good shape and you get it graded (for condition/appearance) and it gets a 9 (out of 10), well now that card is worth $175. If it scores a 10 out of 10? Well, now your card is over $1,000. Yes, honestly.
- Jerami Grant, the new Syracuse darling in the NBA, the possible Most Improved Player, has seen his cards’ stock rise this season. His Prizm (the most heralded brand of newer basketball cards) rookie card is going for anywhere between $15 and $20. But these days, cards come in “base” form (generic), silver prizms, green prizms, blue prizms, gold prizms…if there’s a color in the rainbow, there’s a prizm card made in that color. So, a Grant silver prizm card goes for $240 right now. A gold prizm? $500. And if you get the gold prizm where only 10 of those cards were made and it gets a grade of 10? Well, you have hit a nice little pay day, with that card having just sold in January for $1,400.
- Even the newest Syracuse alum to make it to the NBA, Elijah Hughes, is seeing his rookie cards from this season sell for a chunk of change. A Hughes rookie card in his Jazz jersey (cards with players in their NBA uniforms are worth more than those in their college uniforms, for the most part) with an autograph on there (the league, which has deals with the card manufacturers, will produce cards with autographs on them to ensure authenticity) just sold this week for $42. Yes…Elijah Hughes, he who possesses 16 career NBA points in six games thus far this season, has a rookie card worth more than some of Carmelo Anthony’s (who has scored 26,831 more points than Hughes in his NBA career). Absurd doesn’t even begin to describe it…
Newer is better. That’s the way of the world these days. What have you done for me lately? The strange thing is: like with stocks, a good game can increase a player’s card value, literally, over night. A bad game can have the reverse effect.
In the two months since I’ve started collecting cards again, it has brought back some nostalgia, memories of 25 years ago when cards were a nickel and came complete with a rock-hard stick of bubble gum in every pack.
It has piqued my adult desire to play the sports version of a stock market, buying many shares of players who seem to have potential to (or already have) punch their ticket to the Hall of Fame, while diversifying by investing in smaller amounts on other people’s cards with whom you hope have potential to turn into solid players.
And, just as I am typically found most days placing some kind of wager on the night’s games, it is a form of gambling to bet on a player’s potential. Can you find the next diamond in the rough, paying pennies for his cards that one day will turn into hundreds of dollars? Or do you spend wads of cash on a player, only to see him suffer a season-ending injury, making people forget he exists and sending the value of his cards plummeting?
In a nutshell: the sports cards industry (which has achieved record highs in sales throughout the pandemic) touches on every single one of my vices, much to the chagrin of my wife.
It has become a way to stroll down memory lane and reintroduce myself to some of Syracuse’s great players. Seeing cards of guys like Derrick Coleman, Etan Thomas, Billy Owens and more has made me remember some of the finer moments with them donning the Syracuse orange.
But, if you have some of their cards, just know this: Buddy Boeheim’s possible future son’s (and Jim Boeheim’s potential grandson’s) rookie card is already worth more than anyone who has ever put on a Syracuse basketball jersey…and it hasn’t even been made yet. Because in the world of sports cards, old is out and new is in, while left is right and right is now left.