Kobe Bryant (1978-2020) was a shooting guard who spent his whole career with the LA Lakers. A five-time NBA champion who made 15 All-Star appearances, he retired in 2016, fourth on the league’s all-time regular-season scoring and postseason scoring lists.
He passed away in January 2020 following a helicopter crash in California at the age of 41.
Here’s a list with 10 of the best Kobe Bryant rookie cards you’ll find on the market, along with investment advice following his untimely passing.
There are 16 base Kobe Bryant RCs, and that’s without factoring in for the many parallels, inserts, and everything in between. We’ve picked out some of the very best options, produced by a variety of manufacturers.
They range from NBA licensed cards released by Topps to others produced by Collector’s Edge, Pacific, Press Pass, and Score Board.
1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Chrome Refractor RC #138
We’ll stick with one of the originals, and arguably the best overall if you’re looking at the refractor parallel. The 1996 Topps Chrome features a great action shot of Kobe on the court, in the process of leaping up towards the net with a ball held in both hands.
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As we’ve mentioned, the refractor parallel is the pick of the bunch in a legendary set which also includes Allen Iverson and Ray Allen rookies. It’s extremely valuable if you’re looking at PSA/BGS 10 graded copies.
1996 Topps Chrome Youthquake RC #YQ15
Part of a 15-card parallel set, this Topps card has a unique layered background and a chrome finish. Kobe is pictured in a defensive position, doubled over with a ball held close to his chest. There’s a massive Topps Chrome logo found at the top of the card, with a ‘Youthquake’ label along the side.
The chromium finish has led to this Topps card is extremely valuable when looking at versions that have managed to achieve a high grade from the likes of PSA.
1996 Topps Finest Refractor RC #74
The ‘96 Finest is another great Kobe RC, but we’re going to focus on the Atomic Refractor parallel for the purposes of this list. It has a chrome gold border, featuring an image of Bryant in his iconic Lakers jersey. His name is found at the bottom, and it’s from the “Heir” subset issue.
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Some copies have a protector on the front, although it makes no difference to the value if it has already been peeled.
1996 E-X2000 Rookie RC #30
Arguably the most popular Bryant RC overall, the 1996-97 E-X2000 is condition sensitive, and extremely valuable. It features an image of the player with a ball in both hands, with a blue sky background and a simple green border. The Credentials parallel features a pearl border and a print run of 499.
It’s not especially low compared to modern numbers, but it’s one of the rarer Bryant RCs you’ll find, and it’s priced accordingly.
1996 Skybox E-X2000 Star Date 2000 RC #3
This insert shows Bryant in a galaxy of his own, up amongst the stars with a number of rings around him. The clue is in the name for the StarDate, which is another unique design that probably got taken a bit too literally at the time.
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Once again, the lack of a traditional white border can lead to numerous issues relating to the overall condition, but it’s a conversation piece as one of the more outlandish Kobe RCs from the late 1990s.
1996 SkyBox Premium New Editions RC #3
I mean, what even is this card? The 1990s were a weird time in terms of design, especially when looking at examples like this 10-player insert set. This die-cut SkyBox option has a green background, with the addition of buttons that make it look like a shot from a video game.
A Kobe RC is a Kobe RC, so prices are relatively high when looking at gem mint versions. However, it’s an ugly card all around, especially compared to the option discussed above.
1996 SP Holoviews RC #PC18
If you want an affordable Bryant RC, look no further than the 1996 SP Holoviews. A blue card that is separated into a number of smaller segments, there are three images of Bryant found on the front. The bottom is the most interesting, as it’s a holographic image that changes depending on the angle that it’s viewed.
High grades receive a lot of attention at auction, while blue edges and a chrome finish helps to make them extremely valuable.
1996 Score Board Rookie Card
The lack of NBA/Lakers licensing holds this card back in some respects, featuring no logos or kits, and Bryant is in a white vest as he dunks the ball in a posed photo. There’s a large U.S. flag in the background, while the left side is devoted to a large on-card auto signed by the man himself. It’s finished with silver trim.
As a signed Kobe RC, it’s not a bad option by any means as long as you’re willing to look past the lack of Lakers logos.
1996 Kobe Bryant Topps Stadium Club Members Only 55 RC #52
The ‘Members Only 55’ is another chrome Bryant card, with a large action shot of the player as he moves along the court. The lined design is pretty distracting, and it isn’t the best option overall if you’re judging it purely on aesthetic appeal. The background is purple and gold, matching his Lakers jersey.
However, it’s another Kobe RC that is worth a fair amount when looking at gem mint copies, which is why it easily makes the list.
1996 SP Rookie Card #134
The final card is probably the most affordable overall when factoring in for graded versions.
The ‘96 SP has a close-up shot of the player as he rests his chin on a basketball. There’s a large blue tab on the left which notes that the card is one of the ‘Premier Prospects’, while Bryant’s name and the card logo have gold trim. With blue and orange corners, it’s not surprising to find that cards from this set are prone to chipping.
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- 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor RC #138
- 1996 Topps Chrome Youthquake RC #YQ15
- 1996 SP RC #134
- 1996 E-X2000 Rookie RC #30
- 1996 Topps Stadium Club Members Only 55 RC #52
- 1996 Score Board Rookie Card
- 1996 SP Holoviews RC #PC18
- 1996 SkyBox Premium New Editions RC #3
- 1996 Topps Finest Refractor RC #74
- 1996 Skybox Premium Rookie RC #55
- 1996 Bowman Best RC #R23
- 1996 Metal Cyber-Metal RC #5
- 1996 Ultra Basketball ROOKIE RC #52
- 1996 Skybox Z-Force ZEBUT RC #3
- 1996 Metal Fresh Foundations RC #137
- 1996 Ultra Gold Medallion #266
- 1996 Collector’s Edge Rookie Rage #6
We suspect the value of Kobe rookie cards is going to soar over the upcoming years due to a variety of reasons.
- Most Expensive Kobe Bryant Rookie Card: The 1996 Topps Finest Refractors Gold #269 and the 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor RC #138 are going to be the most valuable Kobe Bryant basketball cards
- Most Common Kobe Bryant RC via eBay Auctions: The 1996 Topps Chrome RC #138 is by far the most common Kobe RC found on eBay auctions and is available at pretty much anytime
Investment Rating: 9.9 out of 10
Best Kobe Bryant Rookie Card: 1996 Topps Chrome RC #138
Rookie Card Ramblings Ownership: None
A true icon, the world was shocked to hear of Bryant’s death at the start of a difficult year for many of us. He had only retired in 2016 and was posthumously elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in April 2020.
The values of his RCs were already beginning to rise following his retirement and we’re trending upwards steadily. His death has only accelerated the process, as collectors scramble to grab a piece of NBA history before prices rise to astronomical levels.
If you can afford to invest, now is likely the cheapest they’ll be for the foreseeable future, especially when compared to other GOATs of the sport and their best RC options.