The Ming Dynasty! Top Yao Ming Basketball Cards, Rookie Cards

The Ming Dynasty! Top Yao Ming Basketball Cards, Rookie Cards

While his promising career was ultimately cut short by the burden his large frame (7'6" and over 300 pounds) put on his legs, Yao Ming was a consistent All-Star and true ambassador of the NBA to the now-massive Chinese audience. Check out the key Yao Ming cards below, including a look at his many top rookie cards.

After several seasons playing for the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), Yao Ming was selected first overall in the 2002 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets. When healthy, Ming was a strong performer for Rockets, averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds per game over his career. However, injuries were problematic and frequent for the big man and he missed the equivalent of three whole seasons during his nine years in the NBA.

Shop for Yao Ming Autograph Cards on eBay.

Buoyed by the support of a massive country, Yao Ming became a basketball sensation and helped pave the way for a whole new segment of fans. While his eight All-Star appearances and five All-NBA selections are nothing to look down on, his biggest contribution took place off the court and this is a huge reason for his Hall of Fame induction.

Yao Ming basketball cards were first released in 1999 but really blew up once he made his NBA debut during the 2002-03 season. Although values have cooled since his heyday in the 2000s, these early cards are still his most popular and valuable and should enjoy an uptick in interest now that he has been selected for the HOF.

The following list looks at the key Yao Ming cards for collectors to track down with an emphasis on his rookies and autographs.

Top Yao Ming Basketball Cards

Click on the images or listings to shop for cards on eBay. 

1999 Omni CBA Yao Ming #32

Featuring a young image of The Great Wall of Yao, the very first card for Ming is part of a Chinese release from Omni. Values are relatively low, but true rookies always get an extended look from collectors and that is case for this basic card.

1999 Omni CBA Yao Ming #32

2002-03 Bowman Signature Edition Yao Ming RC #SE-YM Autograph #/999

The first of several official rookie autographs for Yao Ming, Bowman Signature Edition delivers with an on-card autograph and moderate print run. There is also a more limited parallel that cuts the total number to 99 copies.

2002-03 Bowman Signature Edition Yao Ming RC Autograph

2002-03 Finest Yao Ming RC #169 Autograph #/999

As one of the most eye-catching designs, this 2002-03 Finest card is further enhanced with a hard-signed autograph and several Refractor parallels of increasing rarity.

2002-03 Finest Yao Ming RC #169 Autograph Refractor

2002-03 SP Authentic Yao Ming RC #143 Autograph #/1,500

Anytime a dark signing area is used, it can make it a bit harder to pick out the signature. This is clear with the green background for Yao Ming's SP Authentic rookie. Despite this, it still is a solid option for collectors. As one of the more plentiful autographs out there at 1,500 copies, this is also the easiest to find and prices are still reasonable. A Limited version brings that number down to 50 and bumps the value up.

2002-03 SP Authentic Yao Ming RC #143 Autograph

2002-03 SPx Yao Ming RC #132 Autograph Jersey #/999

One could argue this is the worst of the Yao Ming rookie cards based on the choppy design and awkward trapped autograph. While this is certainly not ideal, it is still a signed rookie and the added jersey piece sets it apart from the other Ming rookie autographs. Collectors not impressed by the print run of 999 copies can try to locate the Gold Spectrum parallel that is numbered to just 25.

2002-03 SPx Yao Ming RC #132 Autograph

2002-03 Topps Chrome Yao Ming RC #146

There are actually two different versions of the 2002-03 Topps Chrome rookie card for Yao Ming. The first is a regular base card that is inexpensive and plentiful. The other option is the more limited Chinese variation that replaces nearly all the English text on the front and back with Ming's native language. Both versions also come as various Refractor parallels. The standard card shown below is the base Refractor while the variation is the White Border version.

2002-03 Topps Chrome Yao Ming RC #146 Refractor2002-03 Topps Chrome Yao Ming RC #146 Variation White Refractor

2002-03 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Yao Ming RC #79 Autographs #/250

Arguably the top overall option for Ming, Ultimate Collection combines a large on-card signature, strong design and limited run to make an impressive rookie card. With just 250 cards for Yao, these rarely seem to surface. He also has another appealing autograph in the product that is part of the Ultimate Signatures insert.

2002-03 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Yao Ming RC #79 Autographs2002-03 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Signatures Yao Ming

2002-03 Upper Deck Inspirations Yao Ming RC #132 Autograph w/ Wang Zhizhi #/275

While the two did not experience the same NBA success, Yao Ming is paired with Wang Zhizhi, a fellow seven-footer from China. The Dual Signatures card is part of the UD Inspirations brand and features on-card autographs for both. The low print run of 275 copies keeps available options to a minimum.

2002-03 Upper Deck Inspirations Yao Ming RC #132 Autograph Wang Zhizhi

High-End Yao Ming Autographs

In addition to his rookie autograph options, Yao Ming collectors can also find many premium choices for the Chinese legend. Given the huge increase in high-end brands, there are multiple autographs for Ming that include on-card signatures, premium designs, low prints runs and impressive patch pieces.

2014-15 Immaculate Collection Autograph Patch Yao Ming

2005-06 Exquisite Collection Emblems of Endorsements Yao Ming

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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. 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+.

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