When analyzing a sports-card investment, one useful strategy is thinking about each player as their own company, with their cards – either in totality or looking at one particular set – representing shares in that company. It’s not a perfect system, but with so many cards and variations for each player in existence, I’ve found it easiest to visualize the comparison by focusing on iconic and highly sought-after sets (primarily the 1986 Fleer style for the Jordan generation and the Topps Chrome for 1996-2009 era) and converting them to their S&P equivalent against the market-leader (Jordan for cards, and Apple for companies) by looking at market-cap, which is calculated simply by multiplying their PSA 10 populations against the last recorded price for that card. Here is how five of the basketball world’s most popular players stack up against Michael Jordan’s 203 million market cap using this strategy.
The gap between MJ and the rest of the pack is substantial, much more so than in the stock market. If Jordan sits in the #1 spot, the #2 ‘company’ by market-cap would be LeBron James. However, in contrast to the S&P 500 – whose second-largest company (Microsoft) trails the top spot by only 32% – James’ market-cap trails Jordan’s by more than 60%, making his S&P ranking equivalent somewhere between 5th place Google and 6th place Facebook. While the argument of who the basketball GOAT is will likely continue to rage across social media for many years to come, it seems clear that the rookie-card market has long since decided on an answer, and the results are not incredibly close.
Up next with a market cap of 32 million is Kobe Bryant, who trails Jordan by about the same percentage that 13th place Mastercard does vs. Apple. Sitting even further down the list is Kevin Durant, whose market-cap sits as far back from Jordan as 67th ranked IBM’s does from Apple. And while Durant’s former teammate Stephen Curry trails him heavily in market-cap, there is an issue with Curry’s Topps Chrome rookie being the only one of the bunch that had a hard cap of 999 cards, making a direct comparison challenging. However, if we combine Steph’s Topps Chrome with his Topps Base (not a particularly accurate way to calculate his position, but let’s pretend for the fun of it), his distance from MJ would still be as far back as 106th ranked FedEx. Meanwhile, Allen Iverson appears to be one of the most undervalued ‘companies’ around, sitting about 100x back of Jordan in market-cap, equalling the gap between Apple and the 287th ranked e-commerce platform Etsy. This is a seemingly disrespectful comparison considering not just his accomplishments on the court but the cultural impact he’s had on the game at large.
Suppose I was a betting man (and I am!). In that case, both Iverson and Durant – the latter of whose position compared to LeBron should in no way be equivalent to the one between IBM and Google – appear to offer the best value over the coming months or years should the rookie-card market continue to flourish.