Top 15 Basketball Rookie Cards of the 1990s

Top 15 Basketball Rookie Cards of the 1990s

The 1990's were an interesting period for sports cards in general, but especially for basketball cards. The influx of talent in the 1980's led to considerable growth for the NBA. In the 1990's, Michael Jordan was the main name for fans and collectors, and he helped carry the league to new heights during the decade. But the period also saw the emergence of several young players and a whole new collecting world.

Basketball rookie cards from the 1990's have it all - current and future Hall of Fame players, perennial All-Stars and the hobby elite. This period was also part of the collecting revolution that eventually resulted in a hobby geared more to the high-end. New technology and rare inserts transformed the industry and the way people collected. Autograph and memorabilia cards became much more common and even rookie cards were treated as inserts.

However, the decade started off with a whimper, as the "junk wax era" carryover from the 1980's combined with only a few top rookie players. The end result is that there are tons of early-1990's cards and generally low values across the board. The early-to-mid-1990's saw the move to higher quality cards and brands, but the decade began to shift dramatically in 1996-97 products based on a loaded rookie class and popular new products. From there, more young talent added to the mix and ended with serial numbered base rookie cards.

Another new development was the increased number of brands and basketball card products. Previously, collectors were lucky if just one major card company covered the NBA each season. But in the 1990's, most new players had anywhere from three to 20 different rookie cards. This variety allowed collectors many newfound options for building their collections.

The following list includes the top 15 basketball rookie cards from the 1990's. The many parallels and inserts from this time produce some of the highest values, but to simplify things, the list only includes one card from each player and only features base rookie options. While only the top card from this list would be considered an elite rookie card, the list includes many big names and several players that are still relevant today.

Think we missed one? Add it in the comments.

Top Basketball Rookie Cards of the 1990s

15 (tie). 1993-94 Finest Anfernee Hardaway RC #189 / 1993-94 Finest Chris Webber RC #212

Finest rookie cards for Anfernee Hardaway and Chris Webber can be had for a few dollars now, but these were some big rookie cards in their heyday. 1993-94 Finest was the first basketball release for the product and the bright colors and shiny finish made for an intriguing card design. While neither player lived up to their respective expectations, they enjoyed on-court success, with multiple All-Star games between the two, and a Rookie of the Year award for Webber. Off the court, Anfernee Hardaway, or "Penny," has one of the most popular basketball shoe lines of all-time, and Chris Webber has found a spot as an NBA analyst in his post-basketball career.

1993 94 Finest Anfernee Hardaway RC 189 213x300 Image Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 6.32.21 PM 211x300 Image

14. 1990-91 Fleer Update Gary Payton RC #U92

The first Hall of Fame player from the bunch, Gary Payton made his debut in the era of plain cards and overproduction. He has three rookie cards, but they can all be easily found for just a few dollars. The 1990-91 Fleer Update rookie offers the most classic design, but all three are solid options.

1990 91 Fleer Update Gary Payton RC U92 218x300 Image

13. 1992-93 Upper Deck Shaquille O’Neal RC #1

Shaq was responsible for one of the biggest rookie chases from the 1990's. His on-court dominance and off-court personality made for a dynamic combination, and his rookie cards were responsible for moving a ton of product. Over time, prices came down a lot and now most can be found for reasonable amounts. The 1992-93 Upper Deck Shaquille O'Neal rookie card is arguably his best because it is a short print.

1992 93 Upper Deck Shaquille O’Neal RC 1 215x300 Image

12. 1994-95 Finest Grant Hill RC #240

While injuries kept him from being so much more, Grant Hill remains a hobby favorite and his 1994-95 Finest rookie card is one of his best. Shown below with the protective covering still on, the colorful design helped cement Finest as an appealing product for rookie collectors.

1994 95 Topps Finest Basketball Grant Hill RC 216x300 Image

11. 1994-95 Finest Jason Kidd RC #286

Like Grant Hill, Jason Kidd enjoyed a long NBA career. The two players shared the Rookie of the Year award during their first season and both retired following the 2012-13 season. Kidd would immediately go on to become the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. His Finest rookie card below is shown without the protective coating. The base card won't break the bank, but the Refractor parallels (1:12 packs) yield a decent bump in value.

1994 95 Topps Finest Basketball Jason Kidd RC 215x300 Image

10. 1995-96 Finest Kevin Garnett RC #115

Known for his surly demeanor and intense play, the wide smile of a young Kevin Garnett on his Finest rookie card is incredibly misleading. The teenage rookie was the first high school player drafted straight to the NBA since 1975. It would start a trend of high school draftees that would continue until the rules were altered to force high school graduates to wait one year before they could enter the draft. Although the vivid colors remained, the card design saw a considerable update from 1994-95.

1995 96 Topps Finest Basketball Kevin Garnett RC 212x300 Image

9. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Ray Allen RC #217

The 1996 NBA Draft was a draft for the ages. It included a handful of All-Star players and that list is kicked off by Jesus Shuttlesworth himself, Ray Allen. Most known for his time with the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, Allen began his career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle SuperSonics. The rookie card shown below is from the inaugural edition of Topps Chrome Basketball. This release would help usher-in Chrome-mania for basketball cards and become one of the top options for rookie collectors.

1996 97 Topps Chrome 217 Ray Allen RC 216x300 Image

8. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Steve Nash RC #182

Next in line from the historic 1996 NBA Draft, Steve Nash is one of the top point guards from the past 20 years. His skills have diminished and injuries are causing him issues, but the former two-time NBA MVP can still make things happen on the court. His Topps Chrome rookie card is the top Steve Nash rookie card available. Refractor parallels fall 1:12 packs, on average, and command significant premiums.

1996 97 Topps Chrome Basketball Steve Nash 211x300 Image

7. 1997-98 Topps Chrome Tracy McGrady RC #125

It already seems like an eternity ago, but Tracy McGrady was the face of the NBA for several seasons. Although he came up short in his quest for NBA greatness, McGrady still maintains a devoted following, even in retirement. The design for his 1997-98 Topps Chrome rookie card is even more low-key than the previous season.

1997 98 Topps Chrome Tracy McGrady RC 125 214x300 Image

6. 1998-99 SPx Finite Vince Carter RC #215 #/2500

The 1998-99 product line saw the first inclusion of serial numbered base basketball rookie cards. SPx Finite was one of those brands and offered a card design that exudes pure class. A print run of 2,500 seems incredibly high today, but it was noteworthy at the time. Vince Carter was also noteworthy at this time, and he won the Rookie of the Year award in his first season. His highlight reel dunks and incredible athleticism had him on the short list for NBA greatness, but his teams could never deliver postseason success. Radiance (#/1500)  and Spectrum (#/25) parallels add to the appeal of this ornate rookie card design.

1998 99 SPx Finite Vince Carter RC 214x300 Image

5. 1998-99 SP Authentic Paul Pierce RC #100 #/3500

Despite featuring a slightly higher print run, 1998-99 SP Authentic rookie cards generally hold more value with collectors than their SPx Finite counterparts. The design is both simple and complex and includes the serial numbering on the front, printed directly on the card like a receipt. Paul Pierce was one of the biggest stars to emerge from this rookie class, and "The Truth" continues to be a popular player in the collecting world.

1998 99 SP Authentic Paul Pierce RC 210x300 Image

4. 1998-99 SP Authentic Dirk Nowitzki RC #99 #/3500

During the 2010-11 season, Dirk Nowitzki finally prevailed as an NBA Champion, escaping the reputation as a player who could not win when it counted. The German superstar's top rookie is found in SP Authentic and he can easily be higher on the list if he has one more deep playoff run in him.

1998 99 SP Authentic Dirk Nowitzki 3500 Image

3. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Allen Iverson RC #171

While Kobe Bryant has surpassed him, Allen Iverson was long considered to be the top player from the 1996 NBA Draft class. A lack of titles and a unceremonious end to his career  kept him from that elusive top group, but Iverson was a fan and hobby favorite for many years. His 1996-97 Topps Chrome rookie perfectly showcases the intensity and emotion that carried him to NBA success.

1996 97 Topps Chrome Allen Iverson RC 171 212x300 Image

2. 1997-98 Topps Chrome Tim Duncan RC #115

Without any flash or ego, Tim Duncan thrived as a member of the Spurs. It took a majority of his career before his greatness was recognized, but collectors eventually came around to the dominant player. His rookie card is second only to Kobe Bryant.

1997 98 Topps Chrome Tim Duncan RC 115 212x300 Image

1. 1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant RC #138

With Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant at the top, one thing is clear, open-mouthed photos and Topps Chrome cards are an unbeatable combination. Kobe Bryant's Topps Chrome rookie card is the one big rookie on the list and even ungraded cards sell for hundreds.

1996 97 Topps Chrome Basketball Kobe Bryant 208x300 Image

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1996 Topps 171 Allen Iverson NBA 50th PSA 9 Mint RC Foil
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Shaquille O'Neal Oversized 8x10 UDA 1992 Rookie card 1B #4303 5000
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1992-93 Ultra RC #328 Shaquille O'Neal BGS 9.0
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1995-96 Fleer Metal #167 Kevin Garnett Rookie SGC 98 FHOF
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1996 SkyBox Premium Rookie Prevue, #R9 Allen Iverson, PSA 8.5 NM-MT+ (1818)
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Pacific Power Basketball 1996 Pacific Collection Kobe RC
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Shaquille ONeal Rookie of The Year 1993 Autographed Basketball
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1997-98 sp aunthentic profiles 1 #p37 TIM DUNCAN rookie BGS 9 (9.5 9.5 9 8.5)
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78 Jason Kidd Basketball Cards (49 unique) SN RC MEM
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1996 sb autographed pure performance #pp14 KOBE BRYANT rookie BGS BCCG 10
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(3) Kobe Bryant Pau Gasol Rookie Cards Best SPx PSA 10
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Trey Treutel

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Trey Treutel is an Ole Miss grad and a lifelong sports fanatic. He is a huge fan of the NBA and NFL, as well as soccer, college basketball and college football. As a kid, he collected football and basketball cards. As an adult, he started collecting basketball cards again on a whim and has since expanded to other sports and entertainment options. Find Trey on Twitter at @datreute.

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