Empire Strikes Back: LeBron James Cards and the NBA Championship
He took his game to South Beach and now he's got an NBA Championship. Love him or hate him, LeBron James cards just became more desirable. After a dominant showing in the NBA Finals, Darth James is a World Champion. And right now, that might be the best thing for both the NBA and basketball cards.
Every good story needs a good villain. That's what LeBron James is. Think about Star Wars. If Darth Vader never sent Luke Skywalker screaming at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, would we have wanted to see him come back and lose a third time? Probably not. Where would Batman be without the Joker? Or Superman without Lex Luthor? Every now and again, the bad guys need to win. It keeps things interesting. It makes people more passionate. Villains force beloved heroes to be even better. In turn, they make the good guys look better in the end.
When the season started, there were questions as to how fans would react following the labor dispute between the NBA's owners and players. It looks as though basketball is doing just fine. And while Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder did their part in playing the heroes, LeBron James and his South Beach Empire struck back after losing out to the Mavericks last year.
And while King James will always have his detractors, they now have one less thing to hold against him. And with that, LeBron James cards and memorabilia may not see huge spikes in the short-term, they should grow over time. With an NBA Championship to his name, the LeBron legacy can now take shape. He's a proven winner and nobody can take that away from him.
James is the centerpiece of a loaded 2003-04 rookie class that also includes his teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The most valuable LeBron James rookie cards all come from Upper Deck products. The company quickly signed the star to an exclusive autograph deal that remains in place today. As a result, the only autographed LeBron James cards are from Upper Deck.
For those with extremely deep pockets, the 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James will always be his go-to card. Numbered to 99, the card also comes with a patch. Other high-end autographed LeBron James rookie cards include 2003-04 Ultimate Collection #/250, 2003-04 SP Authentic #/500, and 2003-04 SPx #/750.
One card that should see some movement comes from the largely ignored 2003-04 Topps Matrix. Taking a page from 1980-81 Topps Basketball, each card held a panel of three mini cards. 2003-04 Topps Matrix offered plenty of different combinations, which led to players having several rookie cards in the set. One of the LeBron James cards also had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Although all on different teams then, the card has lots of added significance now.
The exclusive Upper Deck autograph deal bodes well for the long-term value of his signature, particularly on cards. With Panini holding the NBA license and Upper Deck's autograph exclusive, the market hasn't been flooded in recent years with LeBron James autographs. In fact, he has no certified autograph cards in a Heat uniform yet. Collectors not willing to overlook Upper Deck's unlicensed autograph cards are left scrambling for a limited supply of Cavaliers cards. Should Upper Deck ever get an NBA license or James end his exclusive deal, it's likely this situation will change. But during the afterglow of his first NBA Championship, collectors will have to go back or opt for cards that aren't fully licensed. Either way, the long-term stability and growth of these cards is strong, even with the already high prices.
One day, the general public may fall for LeBron once again. There's no denying his skill or accomplishments. While many of us may not like to admit it, this championship solidifies his place as one of basketball's all-time greats. Yes, already. He also takes a page from history's greatest villains -- we get excited to root against him. James elicits a strong reaction. We watch because we either want to see him dominate or we want to see him lose. No matter which way you look at, that's exactly what basketball needs to bounce back and grow. The NBA needs LeBron James so that a new hero can rise up against him and the South Beach Empire. And when that new hero does rise, so too will the hobby as they rally around him.