When Upper Deck Exquisite Basketball debuted in 2003-04, many collectors gasped at the $500 per box price tag. However, the set also opened up a whole new market that has thrived. Upper Deck Exquisite rookie cards are among the most popular in the hobby. The best combine on-card autographs, patch swatches and low serial numbers. The brand recognition adds another layer of prestige as well. Before Upper Deck lost their NBA license, Exquisite was the benchmark against which all other basketball sets were compared. In fact, its influence reaches to all other major sports.
The massive price tags keep many of the top Upper Deck Exquisite basketball cards out of the reach of many collectors. But it's not like there's a massive supply to begin with. None are numbered to more than 225. However, most of the top players are limited to 99 copies.
So which Upper Deck Exquisite Basketball rookie cards are the best of the best? Here's our list of the top 10.
10 Best Upper Deck Exquisite Basketball Rookie Cards
For the most part, the top Exquisite rookie cards are those numbered to 99. Kevin Love is an exception, numbered to 225. But that isn't stopping this card's ascension. The power forward has come on strong over the past couple of seasons. He's emerged not only as a leader on the Timberwolves, but in the hobby as well.
Like Love, the 2008-09 Exquisite Russell Westbrook is numbered to 225. Playing alongside Kevin Durant, the point guard should continue to emerge in the hobby as the Thunder become perennial contenders.
Already a perennial All-Star, Chris Paul saw his notoriety grow when he was traded from the Hornets to the Clippers prior to the shortened 2011-12 season. Paired with Blake Griffin, this card could jump fast if LA's "other team" finds postseason success.
On almost any team in the league, Chris Bosh has the ability to dominate. However, with the Heat, he's often viewed as the third wheel behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. That still hasn't stopped his 2003-04 Exquisite rookie from being one of the top-selling basketball cards of the new millennium.
When Derrick Rose was named the NBA's MVP in 2011, he became the youngest player to do so. The key piece on a dangerous Chicago Bulls team, this card has some major upside despite its already high price. As one of basketball's most popular players, Rose's Exquisite rookie will like jump much closer to the top of this list should the Bulls find themselves in the NBA Finals.
Going from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers has put Dwight Howard's 2004-05 Upper Deck Exquisite rookie card in the spotlight once again. After bringing the circus to Orlando in his final season with the team, Howard finds himself in on big-market team, surrounded by several other superstars and ready to contend in a major way. The key to this card, besides wins, is whether Howard can keep the drama in check.
Consistently among the NBA's top scorers, Carmelo Anthony saw his profile rise when he was traded by Denver to the New York Knicks. Unfortunately, team success hasn't followed him so far. Anthony remains one of the game's most popular and recognized players. And while his Exquisite rookie will always command huge amounts, it could stumble if the Anthony doesn't find some postseason glory.
Having already won a pair of NBA Championships, Dwyane Wade's place in history is already cemented. Although a clutch performer, he seems content with taking a public backseat to his superstar teammates. Wade did so with Shaquille O'Neal and then with LeBron James. Wade simply lets his game speak for him. His Exquisite rookie hails from the landmark debut release and rarely shows up on the open market.
Kevin Durant has helped transform the Oklahoma City Thunder into one of basketball's top teams. In 2009-10, he became the youngest player to ever lead the NBA in scoring. In 2012, he led the Thunder to their first NBA Finals appearance since relocating from Seattle. Durant isn't only one of basketball's best players, he's also one of the most popular. Collectors have propelled his Exquisite rookie into the hobby's highest heights and made it one of the most valuable base cards of all-time.
Were you expecting anything different? The 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Basketball LeBron James rookie has been the undisputed centerpiece of the Exquisite line since its release. When James hoisted the NBA Championship, he cemented his legacy as one of the game's all-time greats. It's scary to think of what he could still accomplish in the years ahead as James is still so young.