The ‘GOAT’ is always going to be subjective, to an extent. The best we can do is stick to a tried and tested formula, and attempt to agree on a few players, while allowing for new stars to enter the conversation if they manage to match up.
For example, I’d be happy to argue that my favorite player has characteristics that allow him to be amongst the GOAT’s for his position, but there’s no way he matches up to the very best that history has to offer.
We’ve come up with a list of the best RC’s for the certified GOAT of four major sports, with the NBA, NFL, soccer, and baseball covered.
Who makes the list, and which is their best rookie card overall? Carry on reading to find out if they’re a good investment in 2020.
What is a ‘GOAT’?
GOAT, used in reference to the “Greatest of All Time,” has its origin in an expected place: Muhammad Ali.
It makes sense in a zero-sum game such as boxing, as it’s often easier to tell if one fighter is better than another. They tend to win a lot as ‘The Greatest’ did. Even then, weight categories make it more difficult, which is why casual fans love the power of heavyweights.
It’s even more blurred when it comes to team sports given the different positions and roles, but in recent years, ‘The GOAT’ has been used for many sports, while it’s often bandied about with little regard for any real criteria.
Most sports fans will have heard friends overrating the most average of players, while few can truly be considered in the GOAT conversation.
However, there are generally one or two who manage to rise above, with the unavoidable truth being no matter the circumstances or the strength of their teammates, they’re the ones who manage to find another gear.
The Best RCs for Every Sport
We’ve taken the time to identify the player who is widely accepted to be the GOAT of each sport, with info about their career and their RC below.
It’s true that each has a number of rivals for the throne, but there can only be one.
NBA – Michael Jordan – 1986 Fleer RC #57 (buy on eBay)
Michael Jordan is undeniably the greatest basketball player ever, with a legacy that stretches far beyond the court. Sneakers, movies, clothing; his silhouette alone is immensely valuable to this day.
The stats are on his side, while his accomplishments are almost endless. Jordan captained the Red Bulls to a couple of NBA Championship three-peats through the 1990s, while the team hasn’t returned to the Finals since he left.
He helped to popularise the sport for a new legion of fans in the 1980s and the ‘90s, while movies and documentaries are still being released in 2020, celebrating his illustrious career.
Jordan’s 1986 Fleer is his premier rookie option, regularly making the news as prices for PSA 10 grades continue to increase with each passing year. A hot commodity, it’s the GOAT basketball rookie.
The colorful card features Jordan using his impressive athleticism to dunk in an impressive action shot, with a strong red, white, and blue design.
Don’t let the lack of a signature hold you back, as it’ll still fetch a mean price in good condition. It’s not exactly scarce, but the prices of mint Jordans have doubled since 2014.
NFL – Tom Brady – 2000 SP Authentic RC #118 /1250 (buy on eBay)
A national icon and a legend worldwide, Tom Brady spent 20 seasons with the New England Patriots, playing in nine Super Bowls and winning six (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI, and LIII), both of which are NFL records.
The Patriots survived a couple of cheating scandals along the way, but it only helped to cement Brady’s status as the GOAT, as he became the record holder for the most Super Bowl wins ever, and the oldest QB to win a Super Bowl at the age of 41.
He’s now at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reunited with formally retired ex-Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski.
His 2000 SP Authentic doesn’t have an autograph, while a print run of 1,250 copies isn’t the smallest by any stretch of the imagination. However, it’s still seen as Brady’s definitive RC for the majority of collectors.
The power of the SP brand is one of the reasons why it’s so valuable, It’s one of the most sought after rookie cards in the sport and an iconic piece of memorabilia. The serial number is located on the right, with an image of Brady with a football clutched in his hands.
It’s not the most expensive baseball RC by any means, but Brady’s achievements and the slick design make it the one collectors want.
Soccer – Lionel Messi – 2004 Panini Mega Cracks #71 (buy on eBay)
Lionel Messi is a ridiculous talent, and it’s not outlandish for him to be ranked as the best soccer player of all time. (Just don’t tell Cristiano Ronaldo!)
Stats are one thing, but his feet are probably more dexterous than my hands, and he’s a record six-time Ballon d’Or winner, more than the likes of Pele or Diego Maradona.
10 La Liga wins and four Champions League trophies with Barcelona are the pick of his many achievements, and he’s still going strong heading into 2020.
The 2004 Panini Mega Cracks is seen as his definitive RC. The card shows a young Messi in his iconic Barca kit, dribbling with the ball at his feet.
High grades are reasonably expensive and have risen rapidly in recent years, while Messi has hinted that he’s coming to the end of his career, which is sure to provide a further boost when he retires.
MLB – Mike Trout – 2011 Topps Update RC #US175 (buy on eBay)
Last, but by no means least we have Mike Trout. Stats-wise, it’s easy to make a case for Trout being the best baseball player ever, and he’s certainly the best current MLB star by a wide margin.
An eight-time All-Star and three-time AL MVP, he’s a 5-tool player that is aggressively competent in every aspect.
The best thing is, Trout still has the capability to improve, while analysts hope he’ll be able to continue playing until he’s 40. That’s another decade for the prices of his RC to rise, and for the player to keep breaking records.
The eight-time All-Star signed a 12-year deal in 2019 worth $426m. It’s the most expensive contract in the history of North American sports, so they clearly have faith in his longevity.
Trout’s 2011 Topps Update is a simple RC, featuring an image of the player mid-swing. It’s a good action shot, but a range of parallels are where the big money is, with 15 versions of the card altogether.
It’s clear that if you’re looking for the GOAT’s RC, you’ll have to pay a premium price to add a copy to your collection.
Of course, some are worth more than others, and it’s typically relative to the sport itself, and how they’re viewed by collectors.
American Football is the most popular sport in the US, while soccer is watched by over 4 billion people worldwide. So why is a Messi RC worth half of the value compared to Trout’s 2011 Topps Update?
The majority of collectors reside in the US and Canada, and prices don’t always correlate to the number of fans a sport actually has. It’s not a fair comparison in terms of talents or prestige, but it’s how the collectible hobby works.
In recent years, rookie card prices have continued to rise, especially when looking at the widely accepted GOAT in each sport.
Will you be kicking yourself for failing to invest in a decade or so, or will the bubble burst as prices continue to rise until they reach breaking point?
Supply is never likely to outweigh demand when it comes to the GOAT RC’s, so we’d advise investing in a decent copy if your budget allows. Likewise, if you think a certified new GOAT is on the horizon, it’s better to buy in sooner rather than later.