Complete Guide to Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards

Complete Guide to Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards

With his Hall of Fame career over, Kobe Bryant rookie cards have taken on added significance as more collectors begin to revisit his earliest cardboard. The following guide offers a look at the official Kobe Bryant rookie card lineup.

It is easy to wonder what might have been when discussing Kobe Bryant and his original drafting by the Charlotte Hornets. However, we will never know since he was soon traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and the rest is history.

Collectors can find Kobe Bryant rookie cards in several 1996-97 NBA products. However, other brands, including Collector's Edge, Pacific, Press Pass and Score Board, contain additional Kobe Bryant options that feature high school images.

Shop for Kobe Bryant Rookie Cards on eBay.

Each of the 16 primary rookie cards for Kobe Bryant can be seen below. They are all traditional base offerings as autographed or serial numbered cards had not become common with rookie cards yet. When available, parallels are referenced for the rookies. While these cards are hardly vintage, given the age of the products and the popularity of Bryant, high grades for nearly any Kobe Bryant rookie card on the list can yield a significant premium.

For more collecting information, check out our Kobe Bryant player profile. We also count down some of the best Kobe Bryant cards and highlight the most popular Kobe Bryant cards on eBay.

Kobe Bryant Rookie Card Gallery

Click on the images listings to shop for cards on eBay. Linked sets in the text go straight to detailed profiles or guides. 

1996-97 Bowman's Best Kobe Bryant RC #R23

Definitely one of the more modern-looking Kobe Bryant rookie cards, 1996-97 Bowman's Best features a quality design and Atomic Refractor parallels that command big prices. The base rookie Refractor parallel for Kobe Bryant is shown below.

1996-97 Bowman's Best Kobe Bryant RC #R23 refractor

1996-97 E-X2000 Kobe Bryant RC #30

Showcasing one of the most unique designs in the history of the hobby, 1996-97 E-X2000 is as condition sensitive as it is attractive. Outside of the Chrome rookie, this is the favorite for top Kobe Bryant rookie card. Although a print run of 499 is not likely to cause much excitement today, the Credentials parallel features a pearl border and values can reach into the four-figure range for top grades.

1996-97 E-X2000 Kobe Bryant RC #30

1996-97 Finest Kobe Bryant RC #74

A basketball staple for many years, Finest Basketball is no longer around but collectors still gravitate to the earlier options like this Finest Kobe Bryant rookie card. Showcasing the typical loud design that is expected from the brand, the bronze Apprentices subset card in 1996-97 Finest is the most common, but there is also a gold Heir version, as well as Refractor parallels.

1996-97 Topps Finest Kobe Bryant RC1996-97 Finest Gold Heirs Kobe Bryant #269

1996-97 Flair Showcase Row 2 Kobe Bryant RC #31

Arguably the most refined Kobe Bryant rookie card for collectors, 1996-97 Flair Showcase is similar to Finest in that it also has tiered rookie cards with increasing rarity. Flair Showcase breaks things down with Rows, and the Row 2 version is the most common and shown first. Row 1 and Row 0 add to the mix, while Legacy Collection parallels are available for each level. These rare parallels are each numbered to 150 copies.

1996-97 Flair Showcase Basketball Row 2 Kobe Bryant1996-97 Flair Showcase Basketball Row 1 Kobe Bryant1996-97 Flair Showcase Basketball Row 0 Kobe Bryant

1996-97 Fleer Kobe Bryant RC #203

One of the cheapest rookie options for Kobe Bryant, Fleer presents a simple base card that can still be found for a few dollars today. While it is not the most impressive example, the price is hard to beat for an official Bryant rookie.

1996-97 Fleer Kobe Bryant RC #203

1996-97 Fleer Metal Kobe Bryant RC #137

Since Metal would not debut the popular Precious Metal Gems until the following year, 1996-97 Metal is not as big as it could have been. Regardless, the metal-themed product still offers an appealing first-year option. Kobe Bryant's main rookie is part of the "Fresh Foundation" subset and includes a draft day image following the trade from Charlotte. There is also an action base card for Bryant in Series 2. A subtle Precious Metal parallel is available for both cards.

1996-97 Fleer Metal Kobe Bryant RC #1371996-97 Metal Kobe Bryant #181

1996-97 Fleer Ultra Kobe Bryant RC #52

Sensitive to chipping on the edges, 1996-97 Ultra brings a fun text and common rookie image of Kobe, lifting the ball toward the basket. Gold Medallion and Platinum Medallion parallels continue to see strong interest.

1996-97 Fleer Ultra Kobe Bryant RC #52

1996-97 NBA Hoops Kobe Bryant RC #281

Another low-end option, Hoops is not going to bring big values, but it is a great choice for those who just want a simple Kobe Bryant rookie card.

1996-97 NBA Hoops Kobe Bryant RC #281

1996-97 SkyBox Premium Kobe Bryant RC #55

Like the name indicates, 1996-97 Skybox Premium is a product with a little more quality. In addition, the limited Rubies parallel replaces the base gold foil with red and has proven to be quite valuable.

1996-97 SkyBox Premium Kobe Bryant RC #55

1996-97 Skybox Z-Force Kobe Bryant RC #142

A loud and colorful budget card with the same gold foil logo as Hoops, 1996-97 Z-Force holds the distinction of having one of the most awkward rookie images of Kobe Bryant. The real draw for many collectors involves the wild inserts in the set.

1996-97 Skybox Z-Force Kobe Bryant RC #142

1996-97 SP Kobe Bryant RC #134

With an intense stare, this Kobe Bryant rookie card from 1996-97 SP might be one of the more captivating images of Bryant but the blue stripe on the side is a bit distracting. It is also good to note that these cards are prone to chipping.

1996-97 SP Basketball Kobe Bryant RC

1996-97 Topps Kobe Bryant RC #138

The base 1996-97 Topps Basketball rookie card for Kobe Bryant offers what it does in most years and there is really not much value for this low-end card. The "NBA at 50" parallel goes with a Chrome-like foil finish and can be confused with the much more popular (and valuable) Chrome rookie card if you are not paying attention.

1996-97 Topps Kobe Bryant RC #138

1996-97 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant RC #138

The undisputed king amongst Kobe Bryant rookie cards, 1996-97 Topps Chrome was a retail-only release that ushered in a strong run for NBA rookie collectors. Like most Chrome sets, the cards are prone to smudges. While the base rookies themselves are very valuable, Refractor parallel prices are even stronger.

1996-97 UD Collector's Choice Kobe Bryant RC #267

Long a low-end favorite from Upper Deck, Collector's Choice is really more about the collecting value versus the monetary value. This is one of the cheapest ways to add a Kobe Bryant rookie to your collection.

1996-97 UD Collector's Choice Kobe Bryant RC #267

1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant RC #19

Part of the "Hardwood Prospects" subset, the KB card in UD3 goes with a faux court design. Despite the more high-end look, this Kobe Bryant rookie card can still be found for reasonable amounts.

1996-97 UD3 Kobe Bryant RC #19

1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant RC #58

Easily the most playful image of Bryant, the main release in 1996-97 Upper Deck NBA features a profile shot, complete with white sunglasses. The foil lining on the left side gives the card a bit more of a premium feel, but the large amount of text shown near the logo does not work as well.

1996-97 Upper Deck Kobe Bryant RC #58

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Trey Treutel

E-Mail Author | 
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. In more recent years, 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 or Google+.

User Comments

  1. Hey Trey… I was trying to find a person to give me a value on 4 Kobe High School cards (3 are signed)…and don’t really know where to look. Any suggestions.
    Thanks for your time.
    Ray

  2. ray Email me the specifics and I can try to help – trey@cardboardconnection.com

  3. Hi Trey, I’m trying to find the value of a
    1996-97 EX-2000 Kobe Bryant Rookie – Black 23K Gold WCG 10 GEM-MT.
    Also a SB-Score Board card of Kobe Bryant with the Lower Merrion jersey.

    Thanks,
    Ray

  4. When I click on the kobe bryant card links I get a php error…
    Parse error: syntax error, unexpected T_FUNCTION in /home/cardboar/public_html/wp-content/plugins/category-posts/cat-posts.php on line 58

  5. Corey Thanks, Corey! Should be fine now.

  6. Good afternoon Trey, I have been all over this site as well as several others trying to locate the price of a 97 Upper Deck SP#134 Kobe Bryant rookie card gem mint 10 by the ptg grading service, on the sites that show pictures of it, they talk about it but they never say how much it’s worth… I’ve been hanging on to that for 20 years just wanted to know if it was worth the time and effort ,anyways hit me back when you can thank you

  7. Steve Kiper Jr Hi Steve, email me at trey@cardboardconnection.com with scans of the front/back and I can check it out.

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