Rookie cards remain a prominent basis of the hobby because they mark the official beginning of a player's professional career. While many associate the inhabitants of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame with the more expensive rookie card options, there are actually quite a few modern Hall of Fame rookie cards that can be found for budget prices.
Modern basketball is a seemingly vague term, but in regards to card collecting, modern cards generally refers to the period from 1980 to the current. During that period, basketball saw an obvious increase in athleticism and mainstream interest. Clearly a portion of that new popularity can be attributed to superstars like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, but an impressive group of Hall of Fame players also emerged during that time.
The following guide includes the top 20 budget rookie card options among modern players who were inducted into the Hall of Fame. A few sets dominate the list, namely 1986-87 Fleer and 1988-89 Fleer. Whether because the players were overlooked, undervalued, or the cards were overproduced, every card on this list can regularly be found ungraded for less than $50, and most for under $20. Obviously, high grades can greatly exceed that amount.
Top Modern Hall of Fame Budget Rookie Cards
The cards are listed in chronological order. Click on the listings or images to shop for singles on eBay.
Although he is now building his reputation as the head coach for the Houston Rockets, Kevin McHale was a terrific player in his day. He formed one of the first "Big Three" units as a member of the Boston Celtics, alongside Larry Bird and Robert Parish, and was a seven-time All-Star. His 1981-82 rookie can be found for very little.
Oscar Schmidt is not normally the first name that comes to mind when talking about Hall of Fame basketball players, especially since he never played in the NBA. The Brazilian legend earned his spot in the Hall and on this list based on his international career. His first basketball card is found in 1986 Merchante Spanish and he also has a card in 1987-88 Panini Spanish. Both sticker cards remain relatively rare, but won't set you back too much when they surface.
His affable personality as an NBA analyst makes it easy to forget how competitive and dominant Chuck could be. His rookie is the first of many from the 1986-87 Fleer set and is one of the most valuable on this list. Charles Barkley is one of the greatest NBA players to never win a title.
Clyde "The Glide" Drexler got his start with Phi Slama Jam and the University of Houston, and would spend his NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets. Clyde Drexler is mostly known for his athletic ability, but was actually a very versatile player for much of his career and could fill up stat sheet.
Joe Dumars may have been quiet off the court, but his ability on the court spoke loudly. He helped the Detroit Piston "Bad Boys" win two titles and was the first winner of the the NBA Sportsmanship Award. The award was later named the Joe Dumars Award. After retiring, he remained involved with the Pistons' organization as an executive.
The Jamaican-born Ewing was a late-comer to basketball, but he caught up quickly. Although he never could never achieve the ultimate prize, Patrick Ewing was a National Champion in college with the Georgetown Hoyas.
Karl Malone joins Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing on the list of the best players to never win a title. Malone lost three different times in the NBA Finals during his career. Regardless, Karl Malone is one of the most decorated players in the modern era and one of the top power forwards in history.
Although he is a Hall of Fame player, Chris Mullin seems to regularly fall through the cracks in regards to discussion about NBA greats. Like many on this list, he was actually inducted in to the Hall of Fame two times. He was first inducted as a member of the 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" and then as an individual.
One of the most prolific names on the list, Hakeem Olajuwon is undervalued in the hobby. On a short list of the greatest centers in NBA history, Olajuwon's rookie card might be the best overall value of any player from this era.
As the first overall pick in 1983, Ralph Sampson got off to a fast start and won the Rookie of the Year Award. From there, his career never lived up to the early hype. Despite being a Hall of Fame player, his overall NBA accolades are a little on the weak side, which explains why his rookie card can be found for a few dollars.
One of the best guards in modern times, Isiah Thomas was an elite NBA player for many years. His reputation, reported issues with Michael Jordan, and questionable decisions as a head coach and executive have slightly weakened his legacy, but Thomas was a force in the NBA.
Dominique Wilkins said, "When you play the game above the rim, all the other stuff gets missed." Known to most for his dunking, Wilkins has perhaps been unfairly cast aside in discussions about the greats of the game, and his rookie card remains inexpensive.
"Big Game James" Worthy may have appeared to play second fiddle to both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, but he was a main contributor to the 1980's Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty and was the 1988 NBA Finals MVP. His card is the last of many current HOF rookies found in 1986-87 Fleer.
Without Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan might have been Karl Malone. I said might have been. Even though he was viewed as a sidekick, most still seemed to realize Pippen's importance. Ungraded versions can be found for cheap, while high grades (8, 8.5, 9) go for under $50.
A rebounding machine, Dennis Rodman is an outlandish athlete whose personality and actions tend to overshadow his achievements. In case you forgot, before he was best friends with Kim Jong-un, Rodman won five NBA titles and led the league in rebounding for seven consecutive years.
Always compared to his Hall of Fame sister, Cheryl Miler, Reggie could shoot the lights out. That did not translate to championships, but did make for some incredible performances, like when Reggie Miller scored eight points in less than nine seconds.
John Stockton is easily among the top point guards in NBA history. It's almost sad that PSA 10 Gem Mint versions of his rookie go for less than $100.
Firmly into the overproduction era of basketball cards, David Robinson mania pushed values for his sole rookie card very high. They have since come crashing back to earth and can be found for a few dollars.
Another casualty of the junk wax period, Gary Payton has three different rookies to pick from, and they are all cheap. Nicknamed "The Glove" based on his defensive prowess, Payton also has a Fleer Rookie Sensations insert from 1991-92 that is popular.
Lastly, there is Arvydas Sabonis. It took nearly a decade after he was drafted before he made the move to the NBA, and by then he was no longer the same player. His Hall of Fame recognition is based on his many years of terrific international play, which included a 1988 Gold Medal for the Soviet Union, and a Bronze Medal in 1992 and 1996 with Lithuania. Sabonis has 11 different rookie cards in 1995-96 products.