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LeBron James

Summary & Career Highlights

Rookie Year: 2003-04

Iconic Rookie Card: 2003-04 Topps Chrome

Highest Public Sale2003-04 Exquisite Gold Rookie Parallels /23 for $5.2M

Similar Career Players: Karl Malone, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Julius Erving, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird

Players with Similar Cards to Check Out: Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh


Career Highlights

  • All Time NBA Point Leader

  • 4x NBA Champion (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)

  • 4x Finals MVP

  • 4x MVP (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)

  • 20x NBA All Star

  • 19x All NBA (13 First All NBA, 6 Second All NBA, 3 Third All NBA)

  • 6x All NBA Defense

  • 2004 Rookie of the Year

  • 3x Olympic Champion (2 Gold, 1 Bronze)

Iconic Cards

LeBron was an Upper Deck exclusive athlete for the majority of his playing career (2003-2023). However, the NBA awarded Panini with exclusive trading card rights in 2009, marking the end of licensed Topps and Upper Deck cards. For LeBron collectors, this meant that there was a limit on his licensed autographs, with Upper Deck LeBron autos released only between 2003-04 and 2009-10 products. We'll be exploring the "Eras" of LeBron's cards - The Topps/Upper Deck early years and the Panini era.


Icon Key

Prospective Card Cost:

💰 - Under $250

💰💰- Under $1,000

💰💰💰-  Under $5,000

💰💰💰💰-  Under $15,000

💰💰💰💰💰- Over $15,000


Rarity

💎 - Common & High Serial Number

💎💎- Serial Numbered or Pop Under 200

💎💎💎 - Serial Numbered or Pop Under 100

💎💎💎💎 - Serial Number or Pop Under 50

💎💎💎💎💎 - Does this card even exist? Serial Number or Pop under 10

2003-04 Bowman Chrome

#123 Refractor /300
1998 Metal Universe PMG Front
1998 Metal Universe PMG Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: 2003-04 Bowman Rookies and Stars was one of the few products Topps released during LeBron's rookie season. The Bowman brand is best known for its baseball releases, but that hasn't stopped collectors from picking up a copy. Bowman Chrome cards and its parallels were included alongside paper versions within Bowman Rookies and Stars packs. The sole paper parallel is non-numbered gold while the chrome version has Refractor /300, X-fractor /150, and Gold Refractor /50 parallels.

2003-04 E-X

#102 Essential Credentials Now /102
1999 Metal Universe PMG Front
1999 Metal Universe PMG Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎


About the Card: 2003-04 E-X basketball marked the brand's penultimate release before Fleer/Skybox declared bankruptcy in 2005. E-X and the Essential Credentials brand carry an incredible amount of goodwill with 90's collectors and the design of LeBron's rookie card incorporates many Skybox trademarks. Each base card has two parallels: The Essential Credentials Now and Future. Both are limited to 103 copies with the "Now" parallel serial numbered to the player's position in the checklist, while the "Future" parallel's quantity is 103 minus "Now" print run. 

2003-04 Exquisite Collection

Number Pieces Autograph #NP-LJ /23
1997 E-X2000 Credentials Front
1997 E-X2000 Credentials Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: We'll be covering most of LeBron's cards in 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite. James, who would go on to be one of the sport's most impactful players, was also a MAJOR reason for Exquisite's success which paved the way for ultra-high end basketball card collecting. LeBron's number pieces autograph is his rarest card (insert or not) within the product and features a jersey piece pulled from the numbers of one of LeBron's game used jerseys. These cards often feature beefy multi-colored patches from their rich spot on a player's uniform.

2003-04 Finest

#133 Gold Refractor /25
1998 E-X2001 Essential Credentials Now Front
1998 E-X2001 Essential Credentials Now Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: One of the more ambitious designs from Topps for LeBron's rookie year, this card polarizes collectors: you either love it or hate it. In addition to the base version, LeBron's Finest rookie was released in three parallels: A Refractor parallel numbered to 250, a Gold Refractor (pictured above) numbered 25, and a 1/1 X-Fractor. While its valuation trails slightly behind the Topps Chrome Gold Refractor, these cards rarely appear on the market, keeping their true market value somewhat elusive.

2003-04 SP Authentic

#148 Autograph /500
1999 E-X Century Essential Credentials Future Front
1999 E-X Century Essential Credentials Future Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: LeBron extensively signed for Upper Deck during his rookie year, with his autographs carefully spread across numerous products and parallels. The 2003-04 SPx Rookie Jersey Autograph, issued in 750 copies, was the highest printed of his rookie signatures. Close behind was the 2003-04 SP Authentic Rookie Authentics Autograph, limited to 500 copies. Although not inexpensive, it's relatively more accessible compared to other rookie autographs featured in this Player Profile. Additionally, a "Limited" parallel of this card, numbered to just 50 copies, was also released.

2003-04 Topps Chrome

#111 X-Fractor /220
1998 Fleer Brilliants 24-Karat Gold Front
1998 Fleer Brilliants 24-Karat Gold Front

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎


About the Card: 2003-04 Topps Chrome is the marquee Topps LeBron rookie. Typically Topps Chrome cards are identical to the paper Topps product, with the only difference being chrome vs. paper card stock. But for LeBron, Topps found an image of James taking a jumper to replace the awkward draft pick photo marking a significant improvement over the Flagship design decision. In addition to the base chrome design, Topps released Refractor, Black Refractor /500, X-Fractor /220 (Uncirculated), and Gold Refractor /50 parallels.

2003-04 Topps

#221 First Edition
1999 Skybox Premium Star Rubies Front
1999 Skybox Premium Star Rubies Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰-💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎


About the Card: 2003-04 Topps was one of LeBron's the earliest Topps rookies released. The infamous card depicts LeBron on draft day wearing an oversized white suit holding his now iconic #23 Cavaliers jersey. Topps basketball was a mass produced product for a broad audience. For collectors looking for a rarer chase, Topps also released a "First Edition" version that featured a limited print run and were signified by the "1st Edition" stamp on the front left of the card. The First Edition has a graded population about 1/25 of the Flagship Topps product. 

2003-04 Exquisite Collection

#78 Rookie Patch Autograph /99

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎


About the Card: Awarded as the 5th most Iconic Sports Card by PWCC, LeBron's Exquisite RPA is his most recognizable rookie card. Originally released at a cost of $500 per pack, the 78 card base set featured 42 base cards and 36 Exquisite Rookie Patch Autographs. Although this is a rare card (Limited to 99 copies, 23 for the Jersey # parallel, and 25 for the gold parallel), its not particularly scarce. Given its demand in the market and its stance as a "Holy Grail" to modern basketball collectors, this card frequently headlines major auction house catalogues. 

2003-04 Upper Deck Legends

#MJ/LJ Rookie Impressions Dual Autograph LeBron/Jordan /25
Quantum_Leap_Front
Quantum_Leap_Back

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: There were 5 LeBron/Jordan dual autographs released in 2003-04. Those dual autos were the i) SP Authentic Dual Autographs, ii) UD Glass One-Two Combo Autograph, iii) Upper Deck Honor Roll Signature Class Duals, iv) SP Game Used Extra Significance, and v) Upper Deck Legends Rookie Impressions Dual Autographs. 2003-04 Upper Deck Legends was a hugely popular set in its own right, but the LeBron/Jordan dual auto set it apart from the rest.

2004-05 SP Signature Edition

#JBJ Triple Authentic Signatures Jordan/Kobe/LeBron /25
e8dKUpR3idi5GHCg1YYT.jpg
e8dKUpR3idi5GHCg1YYT-back.jpg

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: An on-card triple autograph featuring basketball's most collectible players—Jordan, LeBron, and Kobe—is the holy grail for many basketball collectors. Given Upper Deck's exclusive autograph deals with Jordan and LeBron, and their loss of the NBA license after the 2009-10 season, triple autos of this trio are rare. In total, there have been 11 such triple autos released, with 13 when including parallels. The total print run of those 13 cards total 142.  The 2004-05 SP Signature Edition card shown above is among the earliest triple autos of the group.

2008-09 Topps Chrome

#23 Red Refractor /5
N4oSEBlFQE1sV1DTvi0G.jpg
N4oSEBlFQE1sV1DTvi0G-back.jpg

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎💎


About the Card: The pre-game chalk toss is part of the LeBron James experience. He approaches the court's edge, covers his hands in chalk, and pauses before theatrically tossing excess chalk into the air. The act, which LeBron has performed since his rookie year, was perfectly captured in the photo chosen for his 2008-09 Topps Chrome card. In addition to the base version of this card, Topps released a Refractor, Gold Refractor /50, Orange Refractor /499, X-Fractor /288, Red Refractor /5, and Superfractor 1/1. The Red Refractor as 2008-09 Topps Chrome was the Red Refractor's first and only product appearance.

2012-13 Panini Prizm

#1 Silver
Nomar_StarQuest_Gold_Front.jpg
Nomar_StarQuest_Gold_Back.jpg

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎


About the Card: 2012-13 Prizm marked the product's debut and one of the earliest Panini basketball products. At the product's outset, it wasn't a guarantee that Prizm could stand up to the success of Topps Chrome. But a unique take to product design and continuation of rare parallels intrigued collectors. The two most iconic Prizm parallels, Silver and Gold /10, were included in the set's debut and have been included in every Prizm set since.

2013-14 Panini Innovation

#18 Kaboom
Nomar_Pinnacle_Certified_Mirror_Gold_Front.jpg
Nomar_Pinnacle_Certified_Mirror_Gold_Back.jpg

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎


About the Card: KABOOM! The hugely popular and rare insert's humble beginnings trace back to its debut in 2013-14 Panini Innovation. Although Panini Innovation lasted only two years, the Kaboom insert found is way into other Panini products, eventually expanding into football due to its basketball success. The original insert design showcased a distinct manga style design compared to future iterations. The card features LeBron in his number 6 Miami Heat uniform flying towards the basket for a dunk. Love Kabooms or hate Kabooms, this card marks an iconic note in LeBron's catalogue.

2015-16 Panini Revolution

#56 Galactic
Nomar_96_Topps_Chrome_Refractor.jpg
Nomar_96_Topps_Chrome_Refractor_Back.jpg

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎


About the Card: 2015-16 Revolution introduced the "Galactic," an exceptionally rare parallel that quickly became a staple chase in the product. Panini hasn't disclosed the exact print runs for the Galactic, but it is known that the odds are 1:288 packs. Given a checklist of 150 players, a LeBron Galactic would be expected to appear once in every 43.2k packs. Considering there are 8 packs per box and 16 boxes per case, you would need to open 338 cases to expect a LeBron Galactic. Exceptionally rare and captivatingly designed, Galactics have become one of the key parallels to chase in the Panini era.

2018-19 Donruss Optic

#94 Gold /10
Nomar_96_Topps_Chrome_Refractor.jpg
Nomar_96_Topps_Chrome_Refractor_Back.jpg

Prospective Card Cost: 💰💰💰💰-💰💰💰💰💰

Rarity: 💎💎💎💎💎


About the Card: The Los Angeles Lakers, with their storied history and loyal fanbase, created a buzz in the collecting world when LeBron James announced his move to the team in the summer of 2018. Due to the timing of Panini's mockup submissions to the printer, many of LeBron's 2018-19 cards featured him as a Laker but used photos of him in a Cavaliers uniform. One of the first cards to showcase LeBron in a Lakers uniform in game action was his 2018-19 Optic. The gold parallel, limited to 10, pairs beautifully with the Lakers' yellow and purple colors.

A Few of My Favorites

My favorite LeBron cards are early Upper Deck autographs. Doesn't get much better than Ultimate Collection and the Exquisite inserts in my opinion. Minimally designed with each element given a purpose.

2003-04 Ultimate Collection

#127 Autograph /250
Nomar_1999_Skybox_Premium_Spring_Fling_Star_Rubies_Front.jpg
Nomar_1999_Skybox_Premium_Spring_Fling_Star_Rubies_Back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: 2003-04 Exquisite was Upper Deck's luxury brand, but in the tier below Exquisite lived SP Authentic and Ultimate Collection. 2003-04 Ultimate Collection featured a 190 player checklist. The 37 rookies in the checklist had autographed their base cards serial numbered to 250 copies. Also included in Ultimate Collection was the "Ultimate Signatures" autograph was another horizontal rookie auto of LeBron included in the set.

2003-04 Exquisite Collection

#EM-LJ Emblems of Endorsement Auto /15
F15.jpg
Tf0tYChzDHGN8sIN2HbX-back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: LeBron's 2003-04 Exquisite Emblems of Endorsement, while not his most recognizable Exquisite card, stands as his rarest non 1-of-1 autograph insert in the product. The card's design features extensive use of silver holofoil on the front, coupled with a modest patch window showcasing LeBron driving to the hoop for a layup. Its simple black and white background directs the collector's attention to the key elements, making it a favorite among ultra-high-end basketball collectors since its introduction.

2003-04 Exquisite Collection

#LL-LJ Limited Logos /75
F15.jpg
Tf0tYChzDHGN8sIN2HbX-back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: LeBron's 2003-04 Exquisite Limited Logo is arguably his second most recognizable Exquisite card after his base rookie patch auto. The insert set, which debuted with the product, boasts significant brand recognition beyond Exquisite itself. Limited Logos are known for their large patch windows showcasing some of the nicest multi-color patches from game-worn jerseys. If you prefer patch autographs and personally value the patch over the player's image, this card is for you. The Limited Logos concept was also carried through to hockey's version of Exquisite's called The Cup, where it continues to be a prominent feature in annual releases.

2003-04 SP Authentic

#JJ-AA Dual Signatures LeBron/Jordan
Nomar_1998_Fleer_Ultra_Platinum_Medallion_Pizzazz_Front.jpg
Nomar_1998_Fleer_Ultra_Platinum_Medallion_Pizzazz_Back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: I can't finish up my favorite LeBron cards without mentioning this one. LeBron's on-card rookie dual autograph with Michael Jordan from 2003-04 SP Authentic. This minimally designed product emphasizes gray/white space, allowing the players' images to take the spotlight. SP Authentic also carved out a niche for high-quality on-card autographs, dual autographs, and eventually quadruple+ autographs. The 2003-04 SP Authentic design has remained timeless, as evidenced by multiple tribute sets released over the years.

2004-05 Topps Pristine

#23 Refractor /25
Nomar_1998_Finest_Centurion_Refractor_Front.jpg
Nomar_1998_Finest_Centurion_Refractor_Back.jpg

Why It's a Favorite: Topps Pristine had a brief run, debuting in the 2001-02 season and concluding after 2005-06. While collectors associate the Pristine brand with the three Topps Pristine LeBron rookies from the 2003-04 release, the photo selection on those cards is often criticized and leaves much to be desired. In contrast, the 2004-05 design is a masterpiece, blending minimalist design, team color coordination, and abstract art to captivate collectors. BONUS: For collectors seeking rare parallels, 2003-04 Topps Pristine had Refractors numbered to 25 and Gold Refractors numbered to 27.

Honorable Mentions

  • 2003-04 Bowman Rookies & Stars #123

  • 2003-04 E-X Jambalaya #1

  • 2003-04 Fleer Showcase #130 Legacy Collection /125

  • 2003-04 Fleer Tradition James/Anthony/Wade Crystal #300 /50

  • 2003-04 Topps Bazooka #276

  • 2006-07 Exquisite Collection Numbers Dual Auto LeBron & Jordan #DENJJ /23

  • 2008-09 Topps Chrome Kobe Bryant #24 

  • 2013-14 Panini Crusade #238

  • 2017-18 Panini Court Kings #2 Blank Slate

  • 2019-20 Donruss Net Marvels #19

  • 2020-21 Panini Flawless Triple Logoman #3LG-LBJ

  • 2020-21 Prizm #1

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